Surprise! Not All Women Think Alike

Marketing to Women

This post is by Holly Buchanan.

How many times have you sat down to write a piece of copy and the ideas simply did not flow? It used to happen to me a lot, until I started working with personas. Personas are a copywriter’s best friend for so many reasons, but two of the best ones are:

  1. They are wonderful idea starters
  2. They keep you from stereotyping your customers

I’ve been researching marketing to women for 3 years now, and one of the biggest problems I see is stereotyping. It seems almost any time I work with a marketer who is targeting women, they call them “Soccer Moms.”

So how do you break away from stereotypes?

By using personas. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you’re writing copy to promote a cruise for women – the theme is “Escape” – and here’s the audience information you receive:

Women – 35-49, household income $100-$150,000, works outside the house, lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV.

OK – ready, set, go – start writing copy. No problem, right? “Escape” means the same thing to all women 35-49. Right? They sound like a bunch of Soccer Moms. You might come up with copy like this:

After all you do for the kids, driving them to practice, keeping the house clean, being your home’s Chief Purchasing Officer – it’s time to finally do something just for you. Pamper yourself on a 7 day cruise of the Mediterranean from XYZ Cruises.

Now, that’s extraordinarily bad copy, and I’m sure you could do better. But it’s always hard as a copywriter when you get limited information like this. It’s all too easy to write to stereotypes like “Soccer Moms.” But not all women think alike. Instead of always focusing on their similarities why not look at their differences? Because first looks can be deceiving.

Let’s look at four different women:

  • Mary – Married, 2 children, works outside the house, lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV
  • Helen – Married, 2 children, works outside the house, lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV
  • Connie – Married, 2 children, works outside the house, lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV
  • Susan – Married, 2 children, works outside the house, lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV

They look exactly the same on paper, but do they all think the same way? Want the same things? Let’s take a look:

Connie

  • Competitive
  • Fitness nut
  • Type A personality
  • Wants to experience/learn new things
  • Wants cruise line with best reputation
  • Wants to see cabin amenities
  • Wants to see activities on board and at ports of call
  • Wants to know about any VIP services
  • Internet access on board?
  • Escape means having new life experiences

Mary

  • Methodical
  • Planner
  • Detail oriented
  • Will book way in advance
  • Wants best value
  • Wants full itinerary
  • Wants to know what to pack
  • Wants to know all documentation necessary
  • Is there a medical facility on board?
  • Escape means curling up in a lounge chair with a glass if Iced Tea and a pile of mystery books

Helen

  • Humanistic
  • Cares about relationships/friends/family
  • Want lots of social activities
  • Wants testimonials
  • Responds to pictures of people laughing and interacting
  • Who else will be on board?
  • Wants to make sure her family can contact her when she is at sea
  • Escape means spending time with people you love and making new friends

Susan

  • Spontaneous
  • Loves to shop and enjoys exciting activities like gambling
  • Impatient, quick to make a decision
  • Wants dates, destinations, shopping possibilities
  • Wants to know all about on board spa services
  • Wants a way to book quickly and easily
  • Will respond to last minute specials
  • Escape means non-stop fun with no time schedule

NOTE – these are not full blown personas, but rather what we call “profiles.” But even this limited information can make a big difference.

If you were going to write copy to promote a cruise for women, do you think you could come up with more and better ideas with this kind of insight into who these women really are?

Connie: It’s only half way through the trip and you’ve ordered gourmet meals and a fabulous bottle of wine in 4 different languages. When you went to bed last night you were in Greece. This morning, you woke up in Italy. 7 days, 5 destinations, 4 cultures, 3 on-board seminars, 2 VIP receptions including lunch with the captain, one life changing experience – Escape with award-winning XYZ Cruises.

Mary: Dinner reservations planned for every night – check. A complete daily itinerary slid under your door every morning.– check. Ground transportation and excursion activities pre-arranged and confirmed– check. XYZ Cruises has it all covered. Attention to detail is our specialty. All you have to do is relax. The only unpleasant surprise is who killed the butler in your whodunit. Escape with XYZ Cruises – we’ve thought of everything. Really.

Helen: “Sarah and I met on a cruise last year. We were sitting in a thatched roof bar on the beach. We got to telling stories and laughing so hard the locals almost had us committed. We’ve been great friends ever since.” You never know where you’re going to meet your next life-long friend. Is life so busy you’ve forgotten to take time to enjoy what matters most? Our cruise is about memorable ports, memorable meals, memorable entertainment, and memorable people. You’ll come home with a suitcase full of stories you’ll never get tired sharing. Check out our online discussion boards and meet your future friends before you set sail. Reconnect. Escape with XYZ Cruise and have the time of your life.

Susan: Black Jack in the casino, karaoke on the Captain’s lounge; spit-out-your- Margarita -funny comedians in the Vista Theatre; shaking what your mama gave you in the starlight disco. The only thing more exciting than the nights are the days. 5 different ports, water sports and shopping til your credit cards are exhausted. Can you say hot stone massage? Our world-class entertainment, spa and the adventures of the Mediterranean are at your beck and call. Escape with XYZ Cruises – sleeping optional.

Ok, none of these are masterpieces, but with the profiles above, the ideas flowed effortlessly. And I guarantee you – each of these ads is speaking to each of these women. And there wasn’t one mention of Soccer Moms.

Just say no to stereotypes. Dig deeper to really understand who your customers are and how to speak to them in their own language.

Holly Buchanan is the author of The Soccer Mom Myth – Today’s Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys and GrokDotCom’s marketing to women blog.

[Editor’s Note: Copyblogger readers can save $50 on Persuasive Online Copwriting Seminar March 28th in San Francisco taught by Holly and Jeff Sexton. If you can swing two days, come out March 27th for Call to Action with Future Now Inc. co-founder Bryan Eisenberg.

Be sure to take advantage of Copyblogger’s exclusive discount: $50 off for one course, enter promotion code: copyblogger50, or for $100 off both, enter promotion code copyblogger100.]

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Comments

  1. Holly,

    And it sure isnt limited to soccer moms:)

    We’ve all run across people (even marketers) who think:

    – everyone in Texas is a beer drinking redneck
    – everyone in Montana is like the unabomber
    – every woman in NYC is like the Sex in the City girls

    and so on.

    As you illustrated with the profiles, people simply *have* to get to know their clients and prospects, rather than just sticking them in a nice easy to categorize box and treating them like the cattle.

    Mark

  2. Outstanding post, Holly, thank you!

    (from a mom who generally fails to make it into anybody’s profile repertoire!)

  3. This is a great method to get out of a writing rut. Thanks, I’ll be using it.

  4. Nice job, but I’d like to see the ad copy targeting women like me – the “tough sells,” who, for environmental reasons (raw sewage dumped into the ocean), personal health reasons (norovirus, anyone?) and many other reasons (tacky, obese tourists), would never in a million years go on a cruise and rub elbows with the woman who wants to go “shopping til her credit cards are exhausted.” Blech. If you could convince me, you could convince anyone.

    :-)

    ~Joy (cruise-hater)

  5. Interesting commentary. However, I’m another hard sell and don’t think I’d ever go on a cruise. I’ve been in Jamaica, in St. Martin, in Key West, etc. when cruise ships came in, dumping their passengers. It seemed sad that these people would see so little of these beautiful destinations. I love being on an island and enjoying it for lots of days and nights.

    Mary Montague Sikes, author of Secrets by the Sea, set on the island of Antigua, April 2008 release

  6. Thanks for the great post, Holly.
    I often find it helpful to think of a real person I know who fits the description of the target, and write as if I’m recommending the product to that person. Not only does this help break down stereotypes, it can also help you write warmer, more genuine copy.

  7. Great point. However, what should businesses do about it? Clearly, businesses can’t target each and every individual. Should they target more specific audiences, or create a bunch of different ads for each type of audience? How does one decide when they’re being too general and when they’re being too narrow?

  8. Very interesting commentary. What about the potential cruise customers who really don’t fit the “soccer mom” sterotype? For example, DINKs or singles? Granted, focused advertising can’t be all things to all customers, but to Cindy’s point, how do businesses (and copywriters) find the right balance?

  9. You hit it on the nail Holly…not every one is alike. And our marketing messages must authentically address it.

    Each woman wants your company to regard her as if she is the most important person on this Earth – and for you…she is.

    Women are such multifaceted and awe-inspiring humans who crave that your company gets to know who she is and what she wants BEFORE you try to cram your marketing message down her throat.

    Thus, to get her attention, you HAVE to factor her story, preferences, and her desires into the equation.

    It’s about be geniuinely interested in what it is that she longs for that you take the time to actually listen to and become intimately acquainted with her true story, her needs, and her unspoken desires.

    Holly…just wanted to say thanks for sharing your insight.

  10. Very insightful article, it’s so easy to get caught up in stereotypes. In fact, the human brain automatically creates and categorizes things into stereotypes and later uses them as a shortcut when making certain quick decisions. It is a person’s first instinct to try to fit whatever they are looking at into a certain category, and it is very hard to break away from that.

  11. Marketing folk seem obsessed with stereotyping and classifying everyone. I think they just can’t cope with the idea that everyone is different, and that sometimes approaches have to be flexible.

  12. Personas have been my number one tool for writing copy that not only makes the client happy, but really engages the audience.

    Writing to personas humanizes and emotionally authenticates the message in a way that is hard to describe, but easy to see when done well.

    Kudos for the great, specific illustrations.

  13. Holly,

    As I read, I was screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Thank you for illuminating the need to look beyond generalizations and superficial categories to truly connect with people. I am often turned off by the “pink” and “soccer mom” marketing strategies and your post clearly articulated the need to go deeper.

    Thank you!

    Karen

  14. This reminds me of information architecture profiling in the IA book by Christina Wodtke

  15. Then there’s we pain-in-the-assess who loathe being pigeonholed and make it our business not to respond to anything targetted at us. :-)

  16. I’m a new comer, It’s a good & informative site for copy writing learners. I don’t agree with most of the comments, b/c i have observed that most of the Women think alike in certain matters, so is there anyone who can convince me on this subject?

  17. @Saad, as human beings we all share commonalities. I believe the point of the post was to not make general assumptions about how any one group makes a buying decision. In marketing, we can start with broad assumptions such as marketing to a certain demographic but taking the extra step of identifying and writing to personas within that demographic will give your messages greater power and authenticity because you connect with a “person” not a generalized category. The side benefit is that you will capture more of your target market by focusing on smaller details.

    Karen

  18. Thanks Karen for convincing me, i got your point, i hope everyone will agree with this. Is it your experience that you have given a good picture of marketing? Well i have no interest in marketing in other words i have not a business mind so its really difficult for me to target markets by talking on smaller issues, i will try to take interest in it.

  19. Very interesting post will ahve to try this some more iIhave in the past built personas to use as admins and posters on some female oriented sites.

    Ps isnt the Susan persona Realy A Suzi at heart :-)
    PPs have you got her phone number :-)