A Male Marketer Challenges She-conomy. Who’s Right? You Decide.

I just love a good debate. Don’t you?

Last week I received an email from a former male client in response to one of my recent blog posts – Men and Women Solve Problems Differently. Therefore, They Shop and Buy Differently. He and I worked together for quite a few years and during that time we were always honest with each other – rarely holding back on our differing viewpoints. Marketing can be a tough job for anyone, no matter what gender. There are Interim Marketing Roles out there for anyone who interested in filling them.

So, less his name (we’ll call him Bob), but with his blessings, I’d like to share his opinions as well as my rebuttal. And you decide. Who’s right?

Oh, and what he probably didn’t know, until now, is just how instrumental he was in the inspiration of my developing the She-conomy blog. Please, read on. I think you’ll see why.

Bob’s Viewpoint:

Hello Stephanie,

After reading your insightful articles, I’ve come to this conclusion:

With exception to the deeply offensive marketing campaigns, the Male Marketing Gurus can do a poor job, or a fair job, or even a great job marketing a product or a service that speaks directly to women. The general quality of their work product created from their male perspective doesn’t really matter when it comes to the company’s bottom-line. The reason it doesn’t matter is because of the fact that most women consumers are: 1) smart, 2) resourceful and 3) energetic – when it comes to being an informed consumer. Most women will conduct a degree of research, analyze it to death , and finally resolve their needs – all in order to decide “what to buy?”. Just like the Rabbi’s wife. Do you think I’m wrong? I’m not, here’s Why? As you’ve said, “85% of branded products purchased for the household are bought by women. Yet, almost all of those items were marketed by men who haven’t a clue and gone so far as to have implemented pissing Rhinos, talking toilets and paper knives – to spread icing on a cake. In response to those uninsightful marketing efforts, women simply roll their eyes and buy the stuff anyway.. Right? Yes, they do, irregardless of the male’s marketing disasters.

SUMMATION: Male Marketing Gurus don’t reeeeally need to work diligently to “speak to women” in their marketing campaigns. This is simply not warranted because women always figure out what to buy on their own, at least 85% of the time. 85% is good enough for me.

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!

If you think I’m wrong, you may be right. I’d love to hear back from you on this. But before you respond, please ponder this. If a male marketing guru develops a marketing campaign that reaches women “perfectly” it still has to be launched. The “Approval” prior to launch usually comes from a MAN (the CEO or Pres.).

At this point, the approval will hit a brick wall because the CEO or Pres. doesn’t get it. He thinks the Marketing VP is a real moron and is FIRED. My point is, until you convince the Male CEO or Pres. about the need to speak to women, you will have ads that do not speak to women. But, as I said above, these types of ad campaigns are simply not warranted because of the resilient women consumers resolving their problems in spite of the crappy Ad campaigns.

If I missed something I’d love to know about it. But I believe that changing this machine’s direction is a mammoth task and sort of unnecessary.

Take care.

My Rebuttal:

Hi Bob,

I am sure it won’t surprise you, but I actually do have some thoughts on your comments. I’d like to make 2 main points.

  1. What worked in the past is no longer going to work in the future
  2. Women are responsible for 85% of all brand purchases (ie. 91% homes, 92% vacations, 65% new cars, etc.) but the question is… Is she choosing your brand?

I’ll elaborate:
1. What worked in the past is no longer going to work in the future.
You can check out a blog I posted referring to this for more explanation. But essentially, I would agree with what you describe as the way things have been – certainly throughout my career in marketing. I even ran the numbers after I started the She-conomy blog. A review of over 300 companies revealed that 96% of the decision makers I have worked with in my 26 year career have been men. I wrote about that here. And with 80% of the products I marketed being purchased or heavily influenced by women, I found myself trying to sell men on marketing to women… without ever saying it. I knew who the market was and I knew how to connect with them… but I had to learn to sell it by speaking to men. Which is why I talk in terms of proformas, capture ratios, build outs, etc. in order to sell my ideas. It was not until the data began to surface that I would ever have attempted to come right out and say that I was trying to appeal to women.

So, the fact that women are making the decisions and men are providing the products and services is not what has changed. What has changed is that now we all have a voice. As a result of Web 2.0, social media, and the rapid influx of Web 3.0… call it what you like…. the consumer is in control, loud and clear. It is estimated that within the next 3-4 years companies will be yielding to the whims of these online communities and vying for their dollars. You will hear advertisers saying (actually, you already do)… “We are listening to you. You said you wanted this…. and now we have it.”

2. Which brand is she choosing?
Gone are the days of marketers telling the consumers what they want. The pretty ads and how to call, simply will not cut it. They are no longer just rolling their eyes and buying it anyway. If they don’t like it, they will tell you and their 1,000 closest friends. Motrin® found this out when they put an ad campaign out that mommy bloggers resented. Within 3 days Motrin pulled the campaign, placed an apology on the homepage of their website that stayed up there for a month.

But we are not just talking about offensive messages. As a matter of fact, at least Motrin® knew they messed up and could address it. More at risk are those whose ads never even connect or resonate with the female – not even enough to get on their radar to talk about. Women are insanely busy. So much is thrown at them on a daily basis. If not connecting appropriately, the ad/message/etc. is simply a waste of money. Can the female eventually find you somewhere? Maybe. Maybe not. While she does intensive research, she does it based on what and who is connecting with her. It begins with knowing where she is spending her time, connecting with her and building a relationship.

Companies that realize the changes that are taking place and react accordingly, will move ahead of their competitors. Just because the female is making 85% of the purchases does not mean she is choosing your brand. A few years ago knowing women were your market was a competitive edge for those who connected effectively. Today… most know they need to do it, but few do it well. I anticipate that more will learn how to effectively reach the multi-dimensions of the female mind and it will no longer me a competitive edge, but instead a “must” to survive.

To summarize, I think you may be underestimating the female consumer and the platform social media provides to think this machine cannot be moved in a different direction. It is already moving. There is no “choice.” The consumer is in complete control. And the “machine” will ultimately move to where the money is, period.

Thanks so much for your comments. It is actually this exact mindset that I am attempting to reach and help with my blog. Obviously… I have much work left to do! 🙂

Here is a recent Newsweek article titled, What Do Women Really Want? that someone sent me yesterday. It might be helpful as well.

Have a great day!


But what do you think?



Stephanie Holland is President and Executive Creative Director for Holland + Holland Advertising, Birmingham, Alabama. Working in an industry that is dominated by men, she is one of only 3% of the female creative directors in the country. Stephanie works mostly with male advertisers, helping them successfully market to women. Subscribe to She-conomy by Email

12 Responses to “A Male Marketer Challenges She-conomy. Who’s Right? You Decide.”

  1. The big piece missing is the interpersonal communication between women. Me? I ask my mother-in-law what products to buy for maintaining my house, because she’s a pro. I ask my mom her opinion on clothes and new toys for the boys.

    Advertising? Marketing? Sure… they have an impact. But, these two women buy the product first and then recommend it to me, my sister-in-law, and all our friends. Reach those two women, and you have a score.

    We keep zeroing in on our area of expertise and forget that a clever ad campaign (or a sucky one!) can’t fix a product that doesn’t work. Nor can it hamper the effect of a product or service that truly meets our needs.

    Focus on getting a great product or service out there, and you’ll know enough about your audience on how to reach her adequately.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Stephanie’s POV, but I’ve never espoused that only women can market to women (though men in my audiences constantly ask me that), As I imagine Stephanie would agree, successful women’s marketing can only be achieved by deeply-attuned, intuitive-listening, highly-connected, obsessively-women-focused marketers– and while men can fit that description, I haven’t found that many who really want to. Women’s marketing is a 365/24 job, not an “account” or an “ad.”

  3. Great point Mary Lou!!! I should have said “his” point of view and “my” point of view. I agree with you 100% that it is not only women who “should” be able to market to women effectively, She-conomy’s purpose is just that – to help men see the possibilities. And I also agree that it takes a certain willingness on the man’s part to do it right and yes… they are few and far between. Hopefully that number will grow. And, thanks again for the clarification!

  4. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” They MUST have been someone’s last words. Like the last words of the Titanic’s captain could have been ‘We’ve ALWAYS had more lifeboats than we needed – except, maybe, for just this once”.

    Male or female, I deplore anybody thinking that getting by with a half-assed job is a reason to feel smug. So, ‘Bob’, you are so comfortable about you and your mates’ achievements that you are indifferent to alienating your customer base by making lack-lustre efforts to catch their attention? Is this really the right time to be contemptuous of your target demographic?

    And, FYI, marketing is moving out of the 1950s and it’s learning that the shoe is on the other foot. It’s no longer enough to have the biggest bullhorn in the market square, customers are challenging your credibility. They’ve been exposed to politizing, spin and lies over the last couple of decades and they ARE more discerning.

  5. Bob’s statement that “women simply roll their eyes and buy the stuff anyway,” tells me that he’s missing the bigger picture. To me, it sounds as if he’s saying that women are going to investigate and research anyway, so the fact that your advertising is crappy, doesn’t really matter as long as your product or service is excellent. In that case, let’s sell everything in plain brown wrappers and let the customers sort it out.

    Why would any marketer want to make his customers have to think and work before purchasing his product or service? Granted, some people will always do that, but isn’t it our job is to make life easier for our customers, not just add to the “noise?”

    The saving grace to me in what Bob has to say, is that my job becomes a lot easier, because if most male marketers think like him, I’ll have a lot less competition marketing to women.

    Great post, Stephanie.

  6. Really interesting discussion – thanks for sharing it with us.

    I’m with you Stephanie.

    But I do want to bring up one other point for advertising folks (rather than consumers).

    Tom Jordan, author of Re-Render the Gender calls himself a “reformed sinner” . He gives presentations and ptiches where he has pictures of himself winning awards at Cannes and examples of ad campaigns similar to the ones “Bob” talks about. But he did research and found out many of the award winning campaigns aimed at women actually turned them off.

    Tom’s agency now gets business because he ptiches AGAINST the very attitude Bob talks about.

    Brands are getting smarter about their creative thanks to great research and education from folks like Stephanie Holland and Mary Lou Quinlan.

    As the ad culture shifts from winning awards to proving ROI – my money is on the brands who do a good job advertising to women vs. those who don’t.

  7. Couple of things, AKA red flags jump out at me re: Bob’s comments.

    #1. The phrase ‘analyze it to death’… Sounds like Bob is married and has been for some time. I say this because I have been married for some time and my wife analyzes everything. Ok, so you know that going in re: a campaign… factor it in to any and all decisions. She’s gonna kick the tires many times and they best not deflate…

    #2. Re ‘women simply roll their eyes and buy the stuff anyway’… maybe Bob isn’t married cause I never met a woman that that statement would apply to…

    #3. I think Bob is painfully bereft in the world of Social Media. (dont always get to use the word ‘bereft’ LOL) but you nailed it saying ‘the consumer is in control, loud and clear.’

    Finally, as I tend to do, I relate everything to Seinfeld.

    To paraphrase one Elaine Benes as she attempted to “convert” a gay man to straight…

    I will reverse it slightly and put it in this context, speaking from a male marketer’s perspective…

    “Being a man, I only have access to the equipment, what, 30-45 minutes a week, and that’s on a good week. How can I be expected to have the same expertise as people who own this equipment and have access to it 24 hours a day their entire lives?”

  8. I sell a women’s product in a male-dominated industry (motorcycling). Many men I speak with in motorcycle dealerships lament the fact that they don’t have many women customers and declare that women just aren’t interested. I know the motorcycle dealerships that give women reasons to return buy plenty! What works for them? A product tailored to them – women-specific apparel; good old-fashioned customer service; a knowledgeable patient staff that will answer their questions; genuine interest in their business; and respect – not ogling or talking down.

  9. I didn’t have time to read the whole post in depth, but believe me I will come back to it!

    I did want to make a comment about the point you bring up regarding how “what works in the past isn’t going to work in the future.” It doesn’t just apply to women (though women definitely have different responses and take different actions based on what they see/hear/read), the old rules of Marketing don’t work in general.

    You’re absolutely right about social media and the web changing everything. Companies that still advertise on TV or with elaborate advertising spreads in magazines do it for one of two reasons. Either they have not accepted that jumping into social media and interacting with your customer (as well as keeping tabs about what people are saying about you via social media outlets) is the new marketing and PR campaign OR they are advertising to compete in the world of advertising awards which is a different playing field all together.

  10. Hear Hear! I agree with you Stephanie, & Steve. The world of social media has changed everything! It truly has created a ‘revolution’ of sorts (although local male marketers have disagreed with me on that point as well:).

    No one had to advertise “the internet”, or “social media” yet it has taken over like wildfire. Why? Because we are ALL sick of having no choice, and no voice.

    I too am one of those women who will ‘analyze to death’ – hand raised! However, I AM busy, and quite frankly, too tired to do it if I don’t have to! If a company is clearly ‘speaking to me”, I’m in! Just the fact that they care and are trying to appeal to me is often enough. This goes for design, as well as marketing.

    Case in point:
    I was shopping yesterday and came across a really cool set of headphones (earbuds actually). Now I don’t even own an ipod (I know, Gasp!:), but I do have a cell phone and have bought a few sets in the past. I have usually bought the $3.99 ones because I know that I rarely use them. Yesterday I spotted a bright orange and hot pink set that came with a polka dotted case. (clearly not being designed or marketed to men). They were 4 times the price I have ever paid.
    As a consumer, here is what went on in my decision making: LOVED the colors. Noted that they were actually small enough to fit in my ears (rare find), they were by a company that I had heard of, so I told myself that they were higher quality (aka justified the price), and decided that the case also justified the price because they wouldn’t get destroyed in my purse. Done! No expensive marketing campaign required by the way! Only design & packaging).

    As far as ‘what worked in the past’…Yeah, about that! NONE of us really liked marketing ‘in the past’. In case Bob hasn’t noticed, we didn’t like it at all! That is why women AND men jumped on the do not call list, got spam filters, and ran out to get DVRs! We don’t even want to hear the messages to begin with!

    Excluding impulse buys like above, we often do need help in choosing, or at least narrowing down the choices.

    If I am trying to decide what video camera to buy for example (which I recently did), I post the question on Twitter and facebook. Although I do get many male responses, the majority are always women (because there are more there & they are more likely to comment).

    Lastly I would add, in regard to the ‘we don’t have to’ mentality, no you don’t. You don’t have to, but not because “they will buy anyway so why bother’, but because plenty of others will! The world has changed, and being stuck in the ‘way it used to be’ will be the demise of many companies.
    (Read “Defy Gravity” by Rebel Brown for more on this).

    OH, and as far as his obvious fear that ‘the CEO won’t get it and I’ll get fired so I’m going to keep appealing to him so I’ll have a job”, well, went the company goes under…just sayin.

  11. Stephanie –

    The “evergreen” post is always timely and relevant and needs to be brought up again and again. In the past week, I’ve fielded (read “de-bunked”) two articles asserting that it’s an overstatement that women wield the wallet in about 80% of consumer purchase decisions. Of COURSE it depends on the category; but considering that her choice carries the day in Americans’ #1 and #2 spending categories – housing and groceries – you’d have to weight that pretty heavily toward the 80% right there.

    And I’m delighted that some of the well-funded, analytically sophisticated companies are finally getting into the game. Boston Consulting Group’s worldwide study of 12,000 women is terrific; their analysis showed that women “control” 73% of US consumer spending… and that’s pretty much based on just the transactions themselves, not even factoring in the pre-buy phases of initiating and researching the buy, nor the post-buy phases that so strongly influence the next purchase by themselves and/or their connections, which are the customer service interactions and word-of-mouth.

    Even before social media, women’s word of mouth was much more active than men’s. As you so rightly point out, the tools and channels of social media give women a bigger megaphone, enabling and encouraging them to reach a wider network.

    Thank you so much for all your always insightful posts. Your observations and analyses are spot-on, and you help keep us all up to date on new developments and new approaches everywhere.

    I’m also really impressed at the quality of your Comments. It is such a delight to see real professionals articulating well-grounded opinions and contributing new thinking. Such a relief from the junk you see even in the more prestigious business publications.

    Thank you!

  12. I spent about a year of grad school doing research into marketing to women after hearing the 85% stat that is often tossed around and realizing that I had fallen into many of the same marketing traps that are common to my gender. I knew I had to change my own marketing behavior to be successful. (I also read Ms. Quinlan’s books, so I am a little biased toward her perspective).

    What struck me in my research were the social shifts that were happening in my generation (leading end of Gen Y), with women aggressively pursuing more education than their male counterparts and the growing (if grudging) acceptance that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in greater numbers (if those women are getting married at all). This, combined with other shifts happening with boomer women makes the marketing universe considerably more difficult when targeting the masses. These shifts mean that buying priorities are changing, as “our money” becomes “my money”.

    I do actually agree with “Bob” to a great extent — while men haven’t done a great job as marketing decision-makers, it hasn’t had much of an impact on sales and I don’t suspect that it will for quite some time. While there are public missteps (Motrin as mentioned above), I don’t see the brand being pulled off the shelves because of one insulting ad campaign. Plenty of brands insult women while still being purchased, mainly because they’re well-known behemoths that can get away with poor marketing (for instance, about 40% of light beer is consumed by women, which is counter-intuitive when you look at how macro light beer is marketed).

    Where I see marketing-to-women having an impact is the launch of new products and new product categories that hit on themes that women tend to care about more than men. Many well-established products are beginning to struggle with new realities that are impacting the marketplace — organic, gluten-free, carbon footprint, etc. I see brands like Method impacting Windex not because Method has simply branded itself in a more women-friendly way, but because the products themselves are more in tune with what women care about. The greenwashing of Windex just isn’t going to be good enough.

    Finally, I believe that social media is important, however, I also believe that its importance is overstated. The ability to engage with brands has certainly changed marketing and customer service (see @DeltaAssist), but it takes a whole lot of voices to make a dent in how a company behaves (that requires emotion, mobilization, and messaging). More importantly, research is showing that people are relying less and less on recommendations/criticisms made by friends on social media sites. Real WOM impact doesn’t happen on one-to-many forums like Facebook, but through the same one-on-one conversations that have been the only consistent brand-building exercise. Companies that place too much emphasis on what appears on social media platforms about them is as dangerous as ignoring it completely.

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