Throughout history, innovators and entrepreneurs have been feared, shunned or held in awe, sometimes all at once. There is something to be said for those who stand in defiance of the status quo: those who take on the naysayers and the doubters to champion the cause of customers whose needs have not been adequately met.

Surely, after many years of experience, failed attempts and hard-won victories, the collective wisdom of these entrepreneurs can be packaged and passed along to those coming up behind. Of course, every company, product and technology is different. But much like the 4 Ps formula so widely used by marketers the world over, there must be a set of guidelines for success when it comes to innovation.

From incubators to accelerators, mentors and investors are willing to share their expertise. However, much of the innovation education appears to be tied directly to financiers. Is there another way that entrepreneurs, who have put both their ideas and their money on the line, can learn the ins and outs of the innovation path and avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors? This issue's dilemma asks: ”Excuse me… I seem to be a little lost. Can you tell me where I might find an innovation road map?”

Don't have the need to ask directions? Let us know what keeps you awake at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tap into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of your peers. It works.

Unite and make a difference! Everyone who participates will receive a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

  • Give advice on this issue's dilemma.

  • Revisit our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice on discovering the secret of what women really want.

  • Submit your own dilemma.

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Strength

How can we bring our innovation to market? Is there a road map?

We are an emerging company, composed of a small team of engineers who have developed what we think is a pretty important technology for small and medium-sized business.

Being engineers, we understand the importance of creating a blueprint and using a systematic approach to turn otherwise complex situations into processes that repeatedly deliver consistent results.

I'm hoping that SWOT Team members can share their entrepreneurial wisdom and point us in the right direction with a tried, tested and true formula for bringing innovations to market.

—C. Lee, Founder and CTO, Company Anonymous

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: External Opportunity

Do we need a special marketing approach for our female clientele?

I've been reading and hearing more lately about the importance of reaching women buyers on a different level. We have successful Human Resource Automation software that we want to introduce into and position for new markets.

Over 75 percent of our user base, decision-makers and influencers are women. We are considering tailoring our approach to them and would like to hear feedback and experience from fellow SWOT Team members.

—Janet Helmsley, Company Anonymous

Summary of Advice Received

Janet, your dilemma is a timely one, and not surprisingly the proposed solutions diverge.

Recent studies have begun to shed light on the differences in how men and women view the world and how these differences are reflected in our purchase decisions. Vanessa Freytag, a woman business owner and consultant specializing in helping companies engage women buyers, makes this poignant remark: “This isn't about ‘girlish' things—it is a simple matter of understanding and capitalizing on the different way in which we see things.”

Some SWOT Team members believe that segmenting marketing efforts based on gender is an outdated approach. Others believe that women have long held the majority of power in critical product categories and see this as merely a move toward formally recognizing and profiting from that reality.

Women will continue to make important purchase decisions, regardless of the marketing approach used. But when it comes to standing out among a sea of competitors and establishing long-term relationships, many companies are making a point to communicate in a way that is genuine and personal to the customers and prospects they do business with. Your SWOT Team peers weighed in with their best advice. Here's what they had to say:

  1. Cater your strategy to female clientele.

  2. Focus on subtleties—details make the difference.

  3. Forget gender; women are not all the same.

1. Cater your strategy to female clientele

Recent studies reveal significant and real differences in how women make decisions. With women as a large part of your customer base, it's important to consider the advantage of using a strategic approach to reach this audience and to weigh the costs of not using one.

Vanessa Freytag, President of W-Insight Inc., speaks from experience and points to valuable research that makes the need for a unique approach obvious:

Having been on the corporate side of this question as the head of a major bank's marketing initiative to women, and now as an owner of a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their market share in the women's market, my answer is an emphatic but qualified YES. The emphatic part is based on facts—there are many studies identifying the differences in the buying patterns and preferences of women.

A terrific example is research done by the Center for Women's Business Research and IBM that identified differences in how men and women business owners buy technology. Both wanted a fair price, but men were more concerned with processing power (How fast is it? How much memory? etc.). Women were primarily concerned with ease of use (How easy is it to get this up and running? How easy is it to use? Will someone help me if I have problems?). Now let's look at the regular Sunday circulars from well-known computer/office equipment stores. What do those ads focus on? Price and power. They list all the facts and features of the product, but don't focus on what a female buyer would consider in her buying decision. They aren't offensive; they're just missing the point... the marketing point!

The qualified part of my yes is based on experience. You've got to do this the right way. Too many people think “marketing to women” means “making it feminine.” It's not about pretty colors or girly features—it's about doing the research and meeting her needs. The great news is this can pay off big time when it's done right. I know a number of companies that have substantially improved their bottom line by focusing on a relatively untapped women's market opportunity.

The goals you establish drive everything else. Setting them down on paper and integrating operations, marketing, and sales in the process will improve the chances you'll reach your target.

JoAnn Hines, chief people packager with Women in Packaging, recently conducted a survey and shares some of the feedback received from women on this issue:

Absolutely, women need a different approach. I conducted a survey recently for my seminar “How to attract the female buyer.” The consensus was that companies really don't market to women. They use the same tired approach as they do marketing to men, using male-oriented graphics, themes and sales approaches. The women buyers not only resent this, but also many times it puts the salesperson at a disadvantage, especially if they try to go over the woman's head to the male boss.

Women respondents also qualified the ways and manner they would like to be approached, including what works and what doesn't, along with many caveats. Interestingly enough, women marketing to women employ different strategies than men marketing to women. Women marketing to women is the hardest sell, but once successful, usually creates a long-lived relationship. There were at least five news articles on marketing to women in the media this week. Understanding how and where to reach women is fast becoming an increasingly important marketing strategy.

Lucas Snipes, vice-president of CHS, Inc., is a strong believer in the need for a specialized marketing approach and suggests resources for helping you develop a successful women-oriented marketing strategy:

First, I recommend reading “Marketing to Women,” by Martha Barletta. I have been working with a nonprofit organization where 60 percent of the funders are women. I also do work in healthcare, where 80 percent of the employees are women and probably 80-plus percent of the purchase decisions are made by women.

The who, what, how, why, when and how many questions asked by women require a completely different style of response from a marketing point of view, because the drivers of the decisions are completely different for our female customers. Frequent visitors to MarketingProfs will be familiar with the research that shows women use the Internet more frequently and in a different way than men. Look at sites from companies whose customer bases are predominately women and compare them to sites whose customer bases are likely men—the difference is striking. Yes, you do need a special marketing approach to appeal to your female clientele.

2. Focus on subtleties—details make the difference

Deciding to use a female-oriented approach involves not just a reassessment of your strategies but also an equally important examination of your tactical approach.

Howard Seibel, managing director of Wharton Strategic Services, offers this insight, after having witnessed a few failed attempts at marketing to women:

I've witnessed some disasters when companies (undoubtedly run mostly by men) try to tailor their products for women, such as putting a pink handle on a razor and promoting it as designed for women. The automotive and investment industries were especially transparent and ham-handed in their approaches toward women, although they are much improved now.

In a B2B environment, my best advice is:

  • See what research already exists on this topic (which you are already doing).

  • Tailor your benefits copy to recognize that men and women make decisions differently. For example, it's been said that women prefer to make decisions based on consensus, more so than men.

  • Make sure your ad agency has plenty of women working on the creative portion of your account.

  • Make sure your salespeople are comfortable selling to women (not everyone is).

  • Be subtle; for example, if you are choosing a charity to align with, you could choose one that has special significance to women.

Don't obsess over this—in B2B, it's more important to make sure the advantages and benefits of your product are well positioned and communicated, no matter what the demographics of your audience.

Managing Director of Harris Campbell Pty Ltd. Michelle Harris believes that the success in your approach lies in the visuals you use to draw interest and promote your offering:

I would definitely suggest you do more SHOWING than TELLING. Use lots of screen shots and walkthroughs of particular tasks so they can get a “feel” for the software (like getting to know a person), rather than just listing out the features and benefits.

Certainly have detailed information easily available, but give an overall high-level (preferably graphical) impression first, so that the details are put into a context that makes them easier to relate to. Remember, men give directions by using street names; women give directions by using landmarks.

An anonymous SWOT Team member notes that using a tailored approach does not exclude the interests of your male audience:

Tailoring an approach to women doesn't eliminate the appeal for men. It's just a different approach. Marketing materials should be educational and help the user make an informed decision. Compare your products to the competitions' products.

Products should be presented by how they will save the prospect valuable time. Tell “stories” to relay the benefits you have to offer; they're more memorable than “sales copy.” Use testimonials. By incorporating items important to women in your promotions, the men will come too.

Wamai Robert, consultant with The Bigger Picture, highlights these important nuances that separate women from men and call for a unique approach:

Having worked as a strategic planner for Saatchi & Saatchi, I have learned the value of looking at women at a different level and targeting them that way as well. One of the biggest differences between women and men as customers is that women have better memories. Therefore, they tend to remember experiences, especially nasty ones! Secondly, women have a higher degree of loyalty, as they tend to be creatures of habit more than men. This is both good and bad for a marketer. Good if they are your customers, bad if you are trying to poach them! Tailor your approach to women, you cannot go wrong.

3. Forget gender; women are not all the same

Could it be that by focusing on and catering to our audience based on gender we are at risk of neglecting other more important factors that affect the purchase decisions of our customers and prospects?

Marcus Barber adamantly believes that gender is not the issue. He shares his opinion about focusing on what matters:

Focusing attention on gender is taking the exact same approach to marketing that so many businesses take, which means making the same mistakes, wasting time and money. Lets break down the question to what it really says—“Women are different from men, so we need to talk to them differently.” Yes, okay a reasonable first step. But where most people go wrong (and it is a major mistake) is that from the position “women are different from men” we make the unfounded leap to “all women are the same.” Focusing on gender difference ignores the reality that all women are NOT the same.

I shake my head at the amount of so-called marketing experts who try to claim that “it's all about gender.” It is not. Gender is but one factor to be included. Male versus female is no more advanced in thinking than a “them versus us” argument—who exactly is “them” and who exactly is “us,” and how can you tell?

Do you really believe this group of female users, decision-makers and influencers are all the same? I suspect your answer will be “No.” My next question is, “Why raise the gender issue at all?” Surely it will be more effective for your organization to understand the differences in the way these people think, in what drives their desires and aims, in what “pushes their buttons” in a marketing sense, and then tailoring all sorts of marketing messages to reach each segment of your target group.

Acknowledging that women as a group think differently from men as a group doesn't get you any closer in reality, to achieving a positive outcome. The woman sitting next to you thinks differently from the woman down the hall, thinks differently from the woman behind the counter, thinks differently from the woman presenting the conference—ad infinitum.

Janet, I hope you recognize that using the gender approach homogenizes your audience, and you treat them with disrespect if you try to fit them all into the same box. I recommend you check out a Web site on spiral dynamics and begin learning about Value Systems and the way they drive behavior. Forty years of proven research constantly being added to, used in major corporations and global arenas helps “sell a message” or position a perspective; it is also used in one-to-one sales letters, advertising design and product development. You'll discover that the issue is more about HOW people think rather than what sex they are.

Way to relate, SWOT Team—thanks again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.