June 30, 2003
Through the Gender Lens

By Joanne Thomas Yaccato

Few marketers seem to understand gender differences in consumer behaviour

The day of equal opportunity exploitation has arrived. While I watch with alarming regularity women in passionate embraces with mops who also seem to have a startling ability to have orgasms in public places while washing their hair, men are getting it now as well.

Recently I watched, in utter disbelief, as grown men hurled themselves at high velocity into a backyard fence. While you may be forgiven for thinking this was a "B" horror movie, it was the newest example of Fred and Barney advertising-a beer commercial targeting men. And while these alleged grown-ups engaged in ridiculous antics vying for the favour of one of their buddies who was lording Super Bowl tickets over them, my husband laughed his fool head off. Frankly, I'm not sure what was worse, the fact that these men's intelligence was being reduced to that of a shoelace or my dear husband's reaction while he watched. For those who may justifiably wonder about his IQ, he's an aerospace engineer.

Herein lies a big difference in women's and men's consumer behaviour. The Thomas Yaccato Group, along with Maritiz: Thompson Lightstone, conducted a study for my new book, The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers. The study revealed that 61% of women and 60% of men said they felt advertising didn't connect with them or reflect their world. However, statistically significantly more women than men said that advertising was important to them. This is perhaps why many smart, evolved men in our study remain largely unaffected by this "dumbing down" trend. But make no mistake. This will not be your experience with women consumers. The consequence of inane advertising is huge. According to the Television Bureau of Canada, a jaw dropping 70% of advertisements directed at women are virtually ignored.

But the problem goes way beyond advertising. Our study also had consumers rank 22 industries on how well they met women's needs. Using our customer satisfaction level benchmark of 80%, women flunked essentially 22 out of 22 industries. There was a significant gender difference when we asked women and men about why they were so unhappy. Most of the men cited issues like inferior products and lame salespeople, whereas the majority of women cited bad treatment they received because of their gender. In other words, for women it was personal.

We weren't, therefore, surprised to learn that Canadian women's number one consumer beef is "they are not taken as seriously as men." Women's concerns are all encompassing. Mostly they manifest around the lack of understanding of gender differences in consumer behaviour. Women experience this in their face-to-face dealings with customer points of contact, especially in the realm of different communication styles and rituals, in advertising, and in products and services that don't reflect their reality. Our research also cites women's concern with corporate Canada's inability to understand the multi-dimensional nature of their lives and a "disconnect" around the importance corporate soul plays in their decision-making process.

These results prompted us to do a second wave national study where we asked women to "name names." We dared to ask, "Which company actually markets well to women?" A shocking 25% of the respondents were unable to answer the question. This disconnect was especially evident in the investment and insurance industries where we weren't able to determine a single company that markets well to women. All of this from a consumer group that controls 80% of the consumer dollars spent in North America. Frankly, this aptly named 80% minority has moved beyond a business issue and is now a full-scale sociological phenomenon.

Canadian women are very disturbed by the lack of gender intelligence within corporate Canada today. Though very complex, one of the reasons this continues unabated is the dearth of what I call a "gender lens" or female perspective. Until recently, women were noticeably absent from much of product development. For example, a life jacket accommodating women's physiology was only introduced on a mass scale two years ago. (Have women only recently ventured into this strange substance called water?) Frighteningly enough, a female crash test dummy became standard only last year. (Women don't drive cars?)

You can also see this lack of gender perspective in market research. Last year, a highly reputable market research firm released a study that was splashed all over the media claiming that half the people in their survey were "completely satisfied with their car-buying experience." It went on to say that there were "no gender differences in customer satisfaction levels." However, analysing these results through a "gender lens" would have revealed that this was simply the wrong question to ask. It would have been a far more compelling and revealing study had it focused on the "car-shopping experience." It certainly stands to reason that women were eventually "happy" at the dealership where they finally bought their car. However, what about the other three, four or five dealerships they had to visit before they found one where they felt comfortable enough to buy? Once found, women were so relieved chances are good they ranked the dealer somewhere in the stratosphere. In our study, women ranked car dealers 21 out of 22 in terms of their customer satisfaction.

There is an urgent need for organizations to conduct comprehensive gender-based audits throughout all company practices and processes. This includes market research, advertising, sales training, product and service development, and human resources. Not only does there need to be a business imperative that starts at the top to create a workplace that is balanced with X and Y chromosomes throughout, but one that ensures there is enough X chromosomes actually making the decisions and writing the cheques-in every single department.

Those companies that do this reap great rewards. Ask RBC Financial Group. Eight years ago, we embarked on an ambitious project to help the bank create a "gender intelligent sales force." Taking four years to complete, we trained 1,500 account managers on how to meet the needs of women. The results were stunning. After one year, RBC witnessed a 10-point jump in market share and a 29% increase in customer satisfaction levels of women entrepreneurs with their account managers.

Toyota Canada created a whole new sales process called Access that had its genesis in specifically meeting the needs of women consumers. They recognized that a corporate, predominately male culture might not have the necessary skill set to weed out potential bias and male perspectives. We conducted a sales training program audit specifically with the view to create a fully inclusive approach that would be passed on to the sales people. Toyota discovered, as most companies do, if you make something women-friendly, you make it everyone friendly. Today, Access is winning over the hearts and wallets of all Canadian consumers with customer satisfaction numbers exploding.

This list of companies undertaking these initiatives is beginning to grow: Holiday Inn on King Street in Toronto, created a program for women business travellers called Stay Assured. It focused on gender intelligent benefits like safety and witnessed a 400% increase of traffic. Rona has seen a 39% annual compounded growth rate in revenue since creating its women-friendly stores. The Globe and Mail experienced an increase of women readership to 46% from 39% after it put women on its radar. Zig, one of the country's most interesting ad agencies has men-only, women-only and mixed-gender creative teams and assigns them according to the project.

Clearly, the business case is there. Companies just need to develop the will and a gender intelligent strategy. Canadian women are waiting...

JOANNE THOMAS YACCATO is president of The Thomas Yaccato Group in Toronto. Her book, The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers, is published by Viking Canada.


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