Marketing to women, male brain vs female brain

Let’s try to understand women from (at least) a marketing point of view

Understanding the psychology of marketing is a study in its own. After that you also have to differentiate between how men and women think and behave differently. And let’s face it, men and women haven’t got a clue how the opposite sex think and behave. And when it comes to making purchasing decisions there are some surprising discoveries!

Market research and studies in neuroscience have brought us one step closer to understanding how the opposite sex thinks – at least in terms of how we react to advertising and use the internet for shopping. For digital marketers, understanding the differences between the male brain v female brain is critical on a number of levels.

Scientists have discovered approximately 100 differences between the male and female brain. Even among people that are considered balanced there are subtle differences. In the past, businesses marketed to both sexes by using a ‘gender washing’ strategy. As Jenny Darroch writing for the Huffington Post notes: the strategy for selling to women was to “shrink it and pink it”.

With that in mind, it should hardly come as a surprise that 91% of women say marketers don’t understand them. Yet women typically spend more than men, use more of their brain when making purchasing decisions and prefer physical stores than online shopping. Communicating with women should, therefore, be a priority for marketers.

Differences between male and female brain

It’s well known that human beings are androgynous. Men have a feminine aspect to their psyche and vice versa. The prominent 20th Century psychoanalyst, Carl G. Jung explained this by using the archetypes of the anima and animus which he deduced plays some role in the traditional roles of gender within society.

The critical difference between men and women is the way the mind works. The “extreme male brain” is systematized and typically processes information analytically. The “extreme female brain” is empathetic and can relate to other people. In between these two extremes are various balances depending on whether the person has developed their anima (in women) or animus (in men).

It is impossible to know which part of the brain your audience is thinking with of course, but the safe option is to appeal to female consumers as more men have developed their animus than you might imagine. Men still make purchasing decisions based on emotion as well as rationale. But more importantly, women are the superior shopper.

Furthermore, women make the majority of household purchasing decisions. Research published by the Pew Institute reveals that 45% of women surveyed manage the finances in a family home compared to 23% of men. Women also think of other people and not just themselves so are more likely to spend more.

Not only do women control the money, they also make the vast majority of purchasing decisions. And we’re not just talking groceries and healthcare for the family here. Statistics reveal that 80% of women influence car purchases and girls are buying more electrical equipment than they did in the past.

How the female brain works

In recent years, neuroscientists have performed numerous tests on the brain and have identified differences between men and women that bust some myths. It turns out the female brain functions quicker and more effectively than the male brain which is why women can multi-task and speak more fluently than men.

Females also have a higher density of neural connections in the hippocampus, the memory centre of the brain. This enables women to absorb more information using their five senses and process emotive information better than men.

From a marketing perspective, girls will register more in an image and feel emotionally moved by human connections. Furthermore, the human brain naturally recalls visual stimuli and stories easier than textual content. Visuals also release serotonin, a neurochemical that effects mood and a sense of wellbeing.

The striatum, the part of the brain responsible for assessing potential rewards, is also more active in the female of the species. This region of the brain becomes active when a decision in made. Women have a stronger reaction when they make prosocial connections, or decisions for the family. In men, the striatum is most active when they make a decision which has a self-focus.

Mothers represent a $2.4 trillion market, and with 18.3 million actively reading blogs every month, publishing great content that appeals to family needs increases your chances of pressing emotional buttons. Women are also good influencers and mentions brands they trust an average of 20 times more than men.

Female behavior in the digital space

Men and women also act differently with how they interact with brands and use the internet. Girls are much more likely to provide brands with basic information, confirm purchases and check availability of products. Women are also more optimistic of a result when conducting transactions via a chatbot.

It is interesting to note however, that women are not as comfortable when making online purchasing decisions that require complex activities such as getting expert opinion, exchanging goods or making travel arrangements. In general, men feel more confident of making the right choices when purchases require more consideration.

The reason for this is because women do not change their attitude towards shopping regardless of their stage in life or social circumstances. A survey conducted by AMP Agency revealed the mindset women develop towards shopping in their teens remains the same in their later years. Therefore girls that lack confidence making difficult purchasing in their teens are likely to retain the habit. It is programmed in their “shopping genes”.

This discovery accounts for why only 1 in 10 women are prepared to try new products and start trends. Furthermore, this same category of female shoppers is more likely to seek out value for money when trying new products and services in order to ‘test the waters.’

Both men and women understandably want convenience to be a part of their shopping experience, but a study performed by DDB Life Style revealed men are more likely to make online purchases using a mobile device than women. In a somewhat surprising turn-up, men are also more inclined to use QR codes, mobile coupons and apps to find the best deals. The assumption here is that men adapt to high-end technology quicker than women.

That’s not to say women are not willing to shop online. A report published in IBTimes reveals 18.2% of women shop on their mobile phone. But in general, women enjoy physically going shopping and visiting stores, feeling fabrics, testing devices and the rest of it. For 57% of women, shopping is a source of entertainment.

Statistics reveal that women are more astute at shopping than men. They are willing to invest more time and energy in finding products and services that are best for themselves and their family and use both sides of the brain when making purchasing decisions – unless the decisions are too complex.

Women typically act on how they feel and give purchasing decisions a lot of thought too. Although that doesn’t always mean they will make useful purposes. As any man will tell you, women just like to spend money! 😉

From a marketing perspective, the smart approach is to use visuals that appeal to the core emotions of women but keep the message simple. Even with all the statistics and fMRI scans, we still don’t really understand how the female brain works.


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