By Andrea Learned

Let’s face it. Whether or not men sign on the bottom line, women are your real customers. They are the ones that actually make or influence the bulk of household purchases, so they are the ones you need to persuade. Learning to speak a woman’s language is one powerful key to more effectively reaching them with your product or service offering.

Women, not data
Famed advertising man, David Ogilvy, once put it this way: “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” Your customers are women—just like the ones you know personally. They are actually quite savvy in their purchase and listening decision-making. Though you are already interacting with women regularly, you still may think of your market as simply a demographic profile or one of your many sales figures.

But you can’t rely on data points and long-held assumptions about women if you are marketing to them today. In fact, your incredibly unique customers have been undergoing a powerful societal shift. Due to educational and career pursuits, among other things, U.S. women are postponing childbearing. The moms you serve are therefore likely a bit older and more life experienced. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2000, the number of births to women aged 45 to 54 rose to 4,565—the highest number ever noted for that age group.

Pollsters note that there is another significant trend toward singlehood, making the women you serve the sole decision makers. To be specific, the number of unmarried women (never married, divorced or widowed) has reached 22 million, or more than double the number of women living alone 20 years earlier.

Part of adjusting your thinking from data to women is learning to recognize (and allow for) how societal shifts such as these may change the needs of your own customers over time. The overall challenge is to understand them, respect them and show your appreciation for them in order to achieve the powerful connection you will continue to seek and need to do business with women.

Build a board
Keeping your mind on the women and not the data is made easier when you give your interactions with customers some structure—consider forming some sort of advisory board. That may mean that you pull together 10 of your already actively involved customers (and I bet you can almost name them off the top of your head right now), by way of email, or post or occasionally in person to hear more about their lives to discover ways your products or services can become more relevant.

Forming such a board, rather than simply compiling and analyzing the many random listener comments, should be a priority to be handled by someone who can take the time. It has to be considered more than an extra task for a staff member with an already busy schedule. When you make this investment, you will be amazed at the insights you gain or the type of partnerships you might form, what sorts of promotions really interest your customers and what you can do to get their attention.

Take, for instance, the owner of a Philadelphia-based camera and photo-processing store who made building a customer advisor board a priority last summer. Before he could even organize anything formal, he started to make sure to talk more frequently with the 10 or 15 moms he already recognized as passionate customers. Using his ‘over-the-counter advisory board,’ he gained knowledge of what other groups or events interested these same moms and how his store might participate as a sponsor or educational source. He also quickly discovered that once he asked these women, they started seeking him out, on their own, to follow up and give him ideas that had occurred to them later.

Today, he gains all this ‘insider’ understanding of how his customers are spending their time and what their interests are, plus he gets the big bonus of their newly-impassioned word-of-mouth referrals.

While it truly astounds and delights most women just to be asked by a business for their opinion, the final follow-through will be the clincher. You have to show that you are actually using the feedback you get.

Here’s the full-circle process: 1. You seek their input; 2. listen to and absorb their comments; 3. close the circle by thanking them and actually demonstrating that you are utilizing their feedback. For example, the following announcement reflects a business’ close connection to its customers and its follow-through on the advisory board process: “Thanks to what we heard from you, we’ve changed the timing of our deliveries and service calls around the school drop-off/pick-up schedule to better match your daily schedule.”

Getting your customers’ opinions directly in their own words and following through with the process, full circle, can have powerful implications for your future as an expert women’s market language translator.

Translating status into connection
Only your customers know the most relevant words or phrases for selling your product or service. You may be using all sorts of traditional industry terminology in your marketing efforts, but still not be as persuasive or effective as you’d hope. In addition to just taking note (literally and figuratively) of what women are saying about your product and their own busy lives, there is one, communication-style key to keep in mind. Consider the ‘status’ versus the ‘connection’ communication style with prospective customers. Are you relying too much on superlatives or one-ups-man-ship to sell your wares, as in, “We are the best in the industry and have been at it the longest.” Linguistics expert Deborah Tannen, author of the now classic, You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation (Morrow, 1990), might call that more linear way of getting a point across a status-based approach.

On the other hand, Tannen points to a less linear, more inclusive method for communicating: that of ‘connection.’ If you want to play on sameness or connections in getting your point across, which tends to be a more female-brain method, you might present a person or idea with which a lot of your customers can identify. Using an actual user’s words and/or voice is one point of connection (“Hey—that woman sounds like someone I know…maybe I should try what she’s talking about.”). As the customer is connecting with your brand in this way, they are also connecting with other like-minded people around your brand. They become one more member of the community of smart people who have already found your product or service.

Though status-oriented descriptive terms may mean a lot to you or your industry peers, check in with your customer advisory board to see what those words mean to them. It will likely be well worth considering what you have to sell from a ‘connections’ perspective.

Speak their language, earn their loyalty
Because women hold so much economic influence in the U.S. today, their language should become the native tongue for marketers. Denying that and perhaps falling into the habit of communicating with listeners in a status-driven manner, means you miss out on all the hugely powerful connecting possibilities with your women’s market.

I recently noticed a shining example in a pet store industry ad appearing in a women’s magazine. The image on the full-page ad was of a woman happily running alongside her obviously graying mixed-breed dog. That photograph speaks a female dog owner’s language, certainly, but it was the copy that really caught my attention: “He’s 70 and he still lives with his mom.”

The language women (and plenty of men) use to talk about their cats or dogs—to friends, family and anyone else who will listen—involves a subtle switch from the term ‘owner’ to that of ‘mom.’ Dog moms will find an ad like this so much more relevant. It’s what they are, in fact, thinking.

Focusing in a bit more on the terms women use when talking about your product, service or industry can help dial you into the subtle terminology changes you, too, can make in your pitches, web site and other marketing materials.

As a businessperson, you will not be alone in learning the language of women. Many businesses in a host of industries are experiencing this transition from male-oriented marketing to female-oriented marketing. Now is the critical time to learn to translate features, benefits and brand stories into the phrases and shared terminology of women.

The closer your sales team is to the customer on a daily basis, the greater the opportunity you have to learn and speak the language of women. Knowing that women make or influence 80 percent or more of consumer goods purchases in the U.S. today should be all the motivation you need to listen in.

What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live (Free Press, 2005); Conway, Kellyanne; Lake, Celinda; Whitney, Catherine.

About the author
Andrea Learned, the co-author of “Don’t Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy And How To Increase Your Share Of This Crucial Market,” is a women’s market expert who specializes in translating the language of women for male-dominated industries. She can be reached via her site, which also links to her blog, at:



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