Assumptions Can Be Costly With Women Clients

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The financial services industry has been talking about–and has even taken steps toward–establishing programs targeting women customers. In the past decade, progressive companies began by recognizing that the womens market could be a viable one.

The industry has already been through several iterations of marketing to women, but has not always had success hitting its mark.

Companies sponsor social issues/events that might or might not relate their brand to women. They recruit women under the assumption that women only want to do business with women. They prospect for “all” women customers typically without regard for the fit of their products and services to those women. And they take the gender-neutral approach–women really are no different from men, so why have any separate programs/sales approach at all?

Although there is a germ of truth in all of these approaches–for example, recruiting women agents can reassure some women that they are doing business with a woman-friendly company–they alone generally have not proven successful.

Marketing successfully to women requires a deeper knowledge and understanding of what has evolved into a heterogeneous and savvy market.

Women have changed. In the 1950s, women had simpler lives. It was likely that they were homemakers who managed their families and not a business of their own.

The 1980s saw the expanded role of women in the workforce. Many of todays women have a blended role, resulting in a more complex consumer.

Therefore, if you are designing a womans marketing program or you are on the front lines as a salesperson, you would be wise to check your assumptions at the door.

Assumption #1: It is important to educate women about financial matters.

While it is true that women typically spend more time researching purchase decisions, length of research is not synonymous with a low level of financial knowledge.

If you look at the books and seminars targeted at women and finance, most focus on the basics of investing. This tactic might not go over well with a woman who is a business executive or owner of her own business, as many women are today.

Segmentation by financial knowledge can spell the difference between success and failure, particularly if you are targeting the upscale boomer woman.

When selling to her, before discussing needs, products or any other aspect of the sale, you must first determine her financial acumen.

Assumption #2: There is a man in every womans life.

With women marrying later or not marrying at all, with divorce rates higher than ever and widowhood still very much a womans issue, not every woman comes to you as part of a couple. Even if she has a spouse, she may well be the primary decision-maker.

Single women, whether never married, divorced or widowed, are universally overlooked as a target market. If you want to get ahead of the competition, explore this segment for a market with great need and only scant attention.

Ask probing questions to determine how she makes decisions. She may want an advisor to provide information, but will make the final decision on her own. Or she may want someone to take the reins altogether.

Walk the fine line between being a resource and pushing her in the direction you think she should follow.

Assumption #3: Men and women are basically alike in their buying styles.

A woman and her money are close companions, and her relationship with money drives her preferences in her financial style. She is likely to be goal oriented and motivated by what her financial program can achieve for her and those she loves, rather than focused on a dollar amount as a goal.

Market to what the money can achieve as part of her life plan. Women run their finances by setting goals–not numeric goals, but life goals, such as caring for elderly parents or saving for their own business.

Ask many questions, and then ask more. It is critical to know all about her vision for her financially successful future if you are to be part of it.

Assumption #4: Women dont really make these decisions.

While women in generations past may not have overtly taken the reins of the family investment and insurance program, women control or influence 81% of all purchases of both consumer and business goods and services, according to research by Economist Intelligence Unit, the research arm of The Economist magazine.

One of the most stunning examples of this is Ford Motor Company research indicating women have 95% veto power over their households automotive purchasing decision.

When marketing to a couple, understand that whether the woman is in the forefront or the background of the decision-making process, she is there.

Give her at least equal attention, and make sure she is part of the conversation even if she doesnt speak up. You can be sure she will have influence when the couple speaks about it later.

If you have read anything about marketing to women, you probably have read all about how critical it is to build a relationship and establish trust. It is through understanding her knowledge level, decision-making style, vision of her future and power to influence that you have the foundation to build that relationship.

Anne Bernstein is president

of Broad Based Marketing Ltd., Garden City, N.Y. Her e-mail address is

abernstein@broadbasedmarketing.com.

Vanessa Freytag is president of W-Insight Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio. She can be reached at vfreytag@one.net.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 13, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.