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Marketing to women on the web

In late 2002, I published a brief article on web marketing in regards to women involved with business. At that point in time, there were many misconceptions about women as a target market for online ventures - the web was still seen by many involved with marketing b2b products as a male oriented place.

So how have things progressed 2 years later? The "geek" reputation attributed to those who spend their lives online was shed long ago, and it seems that the Web is by no means a male bastion any more - both in terms of business and general consumer oriented markets.

I came across a very interesting survey commissioned by Yahoo and Starcom Mediavest Group (PDF file - 1 megabyte) released a couple of months ago in which 1,199 women ages 18-49 participated. It really was a fascinating insight into how the Internet has and is rapidly changing the lives of women. 

The information is a gold mine for marketers targeting this demographic and is also invaluable for anyone launching an online business, bearing in mind that women have a huge influence on spending decisions in relationships.

Survey findings

The key findings of the survey, "Real Women. Digital World" concluded:

  • The Internet is the favorite form of media among women and is the 4th most time intensive activity behind work, sleep and time spent with the family.

  • The content most popular with women includes subject relating to news, weather, finance and games - items not found in most popular magazines.

  • Women use other forms of media to learn about web sites.

  • Women fall into eight personality types, often overlapping, in their online activities.

  • Women have a tendency to "surch" i.e. surfing and searching the sites they frequently visit.

  •  Women are comfortable spending time online at work related to non-work activities, mainly because of the increasing amount of hours they are spending in the workplace and the amount of personal time they spend on work related issues.

  • The important finding for marketers - women's online spending habits are increasing and they are also using web sites extensively to make decisions before purchasing in the offline world.

Women on the web - statistics

The survey provided some very interesting insights into the activity levels of women that really blow away a lot of myths:

  • Average time spent actively online each day was 3.3 hours.

  • If offered only one choice as to a source of news, information and entertainment, 65% of women surveyed chose the Internet.

  • 46.9% of women stated that they had been spending more time on the Internet during the previous 12 months.

  • 47% of working women used their personal Internet connection for work related issues during non-working hours.

  • Women visit news and information sites more than shopping, family and entertainment sites.

  • 43% of the women surveyed make regular online purchases.

  • Only 10% had never made an online purchase.

  • 58% stated convenience as the major motivator for shopping online.

The importance of convenience to many women is very different to what males would refer to as convenient. For the majority of men, convenient means easy, more akin to freeing up time for leisure. For women, especially with the increase of single parent families, it means a lot more - not having to leave children in the care of others (and the sometimes associated costs), more time to spend with the family etc. - every second saved counts.

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One of the very important points brought to light by the survey results is that the web is *not* a spare time activity - it is forming an integral part of the lives of the women surveyed and it is accessed at various times of the night and day.

My own experience

As a mere male and living in an otherwise all female household; I often thought that the activity of my family was rather unique, influenced by my own habits of spending the majority of my conscious life sitting in front of this monitor. I realized that women were a powerful force on the web, but I was unaware that what I'm seeing in my own family is by no means unique.

Women - adventurous, communicative & shrewd

A couple of years ago, we had 2 computer systems, there was mine and "theirs". We now have 4 active computers, one for each member of the family, and they are in constant use. The landline phone now sits relatively unused; most communications are carried out online or via SMS text messages. The school library is used less and less as the web has become the main tool of research. Homework assignments are sometimes submitted via email and it's great to see teachers embracing the web as a means of communicating with school students.

Kathy and the girls spend hours on IM (Instant Messaging) each week and their ability to hold simultaneous conversations with their friends, while keeping track of what's being said, constantly amazes me. The URL's of many web sites are exchanged and visited. They buy tickets to rock concerts online, purchase CD's and other entertainment related products. They keep up to date with world events which are discussed between us all. They are proficient searchers, and not so much through training I've given them - they've developed their own techniques for quickly locating information they want. They are adventurous, yet cautious - questioning the information they locate and steering clear of dubious URL's and marketing strategies, comparing information that they find in order to establish credibility.

Women and trust - a powerful motivator in sales

And that brings me to this major point - trust. It's been my experience that women in the online world do not whip out their credit card as quickly as men will - they are very shrewd. They want to feel a connection with the company that they are considering purchasing from. They will connect better if there is female representation - and I don't mean pink web sites with flowers. I'm referring to female images depicting women in powerful roles - in business and as domestic decision makers. Marketing statements offering solutions and benefits on an emotive level, without overdoing the hype, work very well.

Women also want to know that there will be sufficient support and after sales service - and believe me, they will use it :). Men have a tendency to battle through things on their own, much of it due to pride, and wasting a great deal of time in the process. I've noticed that if women have time to explore and solve a problem on their own, they will do so, but if there's a deadline involved, then asking for assistance is no problem to them. 

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Women also *generally* connect better with women, so if you do have female staff in your support areas, flaunt this. For example, on your contact page, instead of using an email contact address such as support@fdfaafdreedf.com; use lisa@fdfaafdreedf.com and larry@fdfaafdreedf.com. This will not only help with flagging the fact that your company has strong female influences, it gives both genders the choice of who they would prefer deal with an issue - while also making your entire company look more personal. Of course, this is a difficult thing to implement if you are a large company with many people involved with support, but appropriate text and images on your support pages can convey the same message.

Another good strategy is to ensure that on your "about" page is to highlight the role of women within your business, even if the proportion of male staff is higher.

Whatever choice you make in raising the profile of women and your company, *never* go about it in a condescending way. Run anything you intend using by the women within your company and listen carefully to any feedback.

Don't forget that women make up over 50% of the population and if your marketing material has a male or neutral orientation - you're probably missing out on sales from this important slice of the market. 

Women are rapidly changing the web and given our history as a species, women of today want to be recognized, respected and acknowledged as the powerful force that they are - so do so.

Related learning resources

Women and Web Marketing - Internet 2003

Writing effective marketing copy

Email marketing - challenges and strategies

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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