Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Lisa Formica

Women on the Web: Influencing an Influential Audience
by Lisa Formica, 1 Jul 2008

Lisa Formica is vice president of fmi direct, inc, a family owned and operated direct mail and fulfillment company located in Philadelphia, PA. She also serves as current president of the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association (PDMA) and is on the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation (DMEF) board of trustees.Formica can be reached at 215-464-0111 or via e-mail at [email protected]. Visit the fmi direct Web site at http://www.fmidm.com.


Women are the ultimate target market, lording over the purchase of every product and service from toothpaste to travel agents. It's no secret that women are powerful and influential. The demographic makes up just over 50% of the population. Women account for an average of 80% of purchasing decisions in the household and, in 30% of U.S. homes, women bring home the majority of the household income.

Today's women report that one of the most important resources in their lives is the Internet. A study from Burst Media cites that women rely on the Internet so much that 66.1% said their "lives would be disrupted" if they were without it for even a week! A recent survey commissioned by Yahoo! and Starcom Mediavest Group found that 43% of women regularly make purchases online.

Lisa Formica | Vice President of fmi direct, inc

While it's not surprising that the Web is the "go-to" place for women researching products and services, it is important to understand why a woman goes online in the first place. Women seek two different types of opinions. Women look for advice from experts. They also seek input from peers. The blending of these different sources is what helps women make informed purchase decisions – and where the opportunity lies for marketers.

Women seek expert opinion

Reflecting on the social psychology of influence and Dr. Robert Cialdini's "Principles of Persuasion," when we don't have personal experience to guide us in a complex decision, consumers look to a recognized "authority" when the decision is objective or fact-based.

Lynne Johnson, a suburban stay at home mom, and her husband decide it is time for a new car. Lynne immediately starts to research. She goes online to visit Edmunds.com, a trusted industry resource, for a full overview of the vehicles she has in mind. While there she sees banner ads for several other car sites and visits three others to get comparisons so that she is prepared to negotiate when visiting the car dealer.

Although the Johnsons ultimately purchased their vehicle from a brick and mortar dealership, it is typical for consumers – particularly women – to do their research online first to gather opinions from experts or authorities as part of their purchase behavior. Right now women generally make big ticket purchases offline. They want a person to hold accountable. If something goes wrong with Lynne's car 1 week after her purchase she feels confident that she can call Bob from the Dealership for some sort of resolution.

Women seek advice from peers

Conversely, Duncan Watts, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, head of the CDG Collective Dynamics Group and author of the book Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, has conducted studies showing that when faced with uncertainty in cases of subjectivity – in matters of taste, for example – consumers are influenced not by "experts" but by many people that are similar to oneself. This is one major reason that social networking is on the rise. An overwhelming number – 95% of marketers from leading international companies surveyed in late 2007 by TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony – believe that social media will continue to grow in significance over the next 5 years and that businesses must grasp how to utilize social media "with a sense of urgency."

Lori Smith, new to the world of jewelry design, relies on sites such as People magazine's online presence – people.com – to keep her up to date on new styles and fads. She also frequents YouTube for entertainment and style reports. Lori also relied heavily on the web to researched purchases for her newly renovated kitchen. She first visited several retail stores to get a sense of what products were available and what she likes. Then she jumped online to find the best prices. Her purchases ended up being a combination of online and offline. She says she appreciates sites that directed her to other online resources for help with the remodel process. She also looked for sites that had a hotline available with a live person and a good response system to let her know when her product was shipped and later to make sure her purchase was satisfactory.

How marketers respond

How are marketers reaching out to women on the Web? In December 2007, Datran Media conducted its second annual marketing and media survey of 2,000 industry leaders. While some marketers pay attention to the how and when customers want information, there are still tremendous gaps related to e-mail marketing and relevancy. Consider that:

  • 82.4% of companies plan to increase their use of e-mail marketing.
  • 55.3% of marketers expect their ROI from e-mail marketing efforts to be higher than other channels.
  • 80% of companies are using e-mail to send newsletters.
  • 78.8 % are using e-mail to drive sales.
  • 70.6% of companies are using e-mail to enhance customer relationships.

Relevancy is a critical factor – the name of the game – when deploying e-mail marketing, but many marketers miss the mark. Women especially appreciate and respond to information that is pertinent to their lifestyles. Targeted campaigns based on past behavior are an art form at companies such as Amazon.com, yet Datran Media reports that only 46% of companies that regularly use e-mail utilize information based on previous purchases or actions. The other 54% represents a tremendous albeit missed opportunity.

Lisa Formica | Vice President of fmi direct, inc

In addition to behavioral marketing, brands should also leverage social networks to promote products or incorporate expert testimony to generate product or service interest. While social marketing is especially effective for viral campaigns, marketers must be wary of the pitfalls. Some companies find themselves attacked on blogs, with the negative stories picked up by the press. Sophisticated companies will directly address unhappy customers that post entries to quickly and efficiently resolve the issue and avoid having their brand labeled with the moniker "sucks" and rated in a Google search.

Best practices

So how are successful marketers reaching women on the Web? Some best practices include:

  • Testimonials – women trust recommendations from both like-minded individuals and credible sources.
  • Engagement – participation and meaningful involvement increase brand loyalty.
  • Dialogue creation – women expect and demand multiple options for communication such as phone, e-mail, Web, and mail. Opening up the channels for communication creates an element of trust and comfort.
  • Relevant, simplistic messages – even complicated information should be presented and communicated effectively, but not in a patronizing way. Remember that every communication is an extension of your brand and creates an opportunity to acquire or retain a customer.

Marketing to women on the Web can be a lucrative investment, if done well. Smart marketers will remember what a woman seeks on the Web and deliver it to her in a way that complements how she makes purchase decisions.

Print Article Brought to you by: Lisa Formica | Vice President of fmi direct, inc

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