Gender-Based Communication Styles
How They Differ & How They Affect Marketing

Male Versus Female Communication

Men and women have differing communication styles. No surprise there. Just look at all the relationship books focused on helping each gender understand the communication style of the other. How and what you communicate is absolutely key to persuasion.

Whether you are a husband who wants to convince your wife to have another child or a marketer who wants a woman to buy your product, what you communicate and how you communicate it will determine your success in reaching your goal.

Men's and women's differing communication styles are based both in science and nature. As the ancient hunters and gatherers, men were often put into a position of competition. They were competing against nature while trying to hunt and capture dinner. They were competing against one another for tribal status and mates. Winning, whether in a fight against an animal or a fellow tribesman, meant staying alive.

Women, on the other hand, were often put into a position of cooperation as the family caretakers. They would band together to help with child care and other domestic duties. For women, avoiding fights meant staying alive.

That history still affects us today.Men are competitive and hierarchical. They establish rank and status. Women look for similarities and value cooperation.

In their book Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps, Barbara and Allan Pease quote an interesting study. This study, conducted in five Western countries, asked men and women to describe the kind of person they would ideally like to be. Men overwhelmingly chose adjectives such as bold, competitive, capable, dominant, assertive, admired, and practical. From the same list women chose warm, loving, generous, sympathetic, attractive, friendly, and giving.

Understanding what each gender values can have an effect on every communication you have with your customers. If you want a man to respect and trust your company, you may want to stress the adjectives he uses to describe what he admires. If you want to win the respect of women, you may want to consider using the adjectives she uses to describe qualities she admires.

How do you handle conflict? Have you noticed men and women handle conflict differently? Many men, especially in a business setting, resolve conflict by escalating it. They take a strong position and argue it until one of the two parties involved gives in or submits to the other. Many women resolve conflict by de-escalating. Rather than focusing on differences, they focus on common ground and finding compromises.

Men try to differentiate themselves – Women look for points of similarity

Where men may focus more on facts, women focus in on personal details, but only if they feel like it is safe. We suspect women may be quicker to trust because they rely on more senses to judge people.

Women have the ability to detect a wider range of emotions than men. Men can detect straight forward emotions like rage and aggression, but women can pick up on subtler emotions. It could also be that in the role of a nurturing mother, a woman is required to pick up on the more subtle emotions of her baby in order to understand its needs.

"It seems that a woman can tell if something is wrong with her child, a parent or a spouse as soon as she lays eyes on them, while men can easily miss even the most blatant signs of distress."

Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget
– Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP

So how do a woman's need to connect and a man's need to establish hierarchy affect what and how the two sexes communicate? They determine which messages and communication styles will be more effective with each sex. In other words, it affects which marketing messages resonate with each sex.

This is not to say that women don't appreciate and crave status. But how you communicate that need for status may need to be framed in a different way.

Car commercials are an easy target because so many of them are testosterone driven.Start with hard-driving music (a la Led Zepplin), show a car/truck/SUV driving really fast around sharp turns or going ultra-rugged on a mountaintop or steep trail. End with a strong male voice-over making a bravado statement. Very male communication style.

Compare that to the Lexus "December to Remember" commercials. These are all about gift giving. Women are natural-born gift givers. The commercials are focused on people and their stories. In one, a woman is shopping online (imagine that!) for a holiday present, when she looks outside and sees a car with what appears to be a red bow on it. The focus is more on the reaction of the gift receiver than it is on the car.

Or look at the Volkswagen Passat ad. It is a dark night on a curvy mountain road. You might think this is another typical car commercial.But then you see the car encounters a biker without a headlight. The Passat driver follows the biker, guiding the way down to the bottom of the winding road, where streetlights can now light the biker's way. It is a guy driving the car, but this is a much more female communication style, highlighting how you can use this cool headlight feature to help someone else (as opposed to bragging about it to your friends).

HOLLY: I recently talked with a friend who was in the market for a new car. She'd driven Hondas all her life and loved them, but she wanted to try something different – maybe just a little more upscale. When I asked her what cars she was considering, she had it narrowed down to the three: A Volvo, a Lexus, or a Volkswagen Passat. Who says advertising doesn't work?

How Our Differences Affect Marketing

Okay, enough of this nature and nurture scientific stuff. What are the actual differences that affect how we market to women online and offline?

Women differ from men in many ways. It's even suggested we are so different we must come from different planets! But how do all of the above-mentioned factors affect marketing? They all affect how men and how women shop.These differences affect what information each gender is looking for, how they want to receive that information, in what order they want that information, and how they process that information. Let's look at some of the differences.

Expressing Emotions

How do women feel about your product? What outlets do they have if they feel positively? What if they feel negatively? Women actually remember stressful, negative events more than men. Do you give your web site visitors and offline customers a way to give you feedback? And what do you do with that feedback? There are specific steps you can take not only to listen to your customers but to let them know you heard them. And most importantly, there are ways to harness the most powerful marketing on the planet, word of mouth.There are even ways you can take a negative event and turn it into a positive.

Having a Conversation

What language do you use in your marketing material and on your web site? Are you writing copy that truly speaks to a woman in her own language, which creates a dialogue? Or are you preaching at her with a bunch of corporate techno-speak? A web site visit truly is a dialogue. Each click is a question.Are you answering her questions? She can either enjoy the conversation or tune you out.

Reacting to Problems

What's your customer service like? Handle a problem professionally and take care of her needs, and she's a customer for life. Don't address her problems, and she'll not only never come back; she'll tell all her friends not to come back, either. How do you handle error messages on your website? Are you making her feel stupid? BIG mistake. You can create error messages that address the problem without placing any blame. What are her objections? Are you addressing them or avoiding them?

Giving and Receiving Instruction

Take a look at your website navigation. Are you giving her obvious clues where to go and what to do once she gets there?Do you have clear, strong calls to action? What about your website check out process? Do you spell out exactly how many steps are involved and what's involved in each step? Are your forms intuitive and only asking for the information you absolutely need?

Establishing Connections

What are you doing to create a relationship with your customer? Are you treating all your customers the same? She wants to feel special. She wants to know you genuinely care.What kinds of cause marketing are you doing?

Ethical Practices

Some research shows women are more ethical than men.This could be due to a combination of biological brain wiring that allows them to see the big picture, and societal pressure on women to "always do the right thing."

Whatever you do, do not be deceptive in your practices or copy! Deceptive e-mail headers may get high open rates but low conversion rates. Once a woman feels she's been deceived, her opinion of your ethics goes down the tube, no matter how tempting the offer. Do not promote something as "free," then in fine print tell her that she actually has 30 days to try it and if she doesn't return it, her credit card will be charged $79. You need to make this kind of offer very clear. Even if she likes your service, if she feels you've deceived her in any way, she and her credit card will walk away, AND she'll tell others of your "unethical" practices. What you're doing may be completely legal, but often ethical is in the eye of the beholder.

The bad news is, there are a lot of differences you need to take into consideration when you're truly trying to reach and understand your female customers.The good news is, if you take the time and make the effort to really do it, your reward could be a rocket – fueled leap ahead of your competition and a big fat a la mode piece of a trillion-dollar pie.


What's your company's communication style? What is the communication style of your advertising message? Are you paying attention to the details? Are you recognizing the importance a woman places on everything you do? Remember, what may not seem like a big deal to you could be a relationship breaker for her.

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