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What do women want? The age-old question has baffled men and marketers for centuries. NetBase, a social media intelligence company, set out to find the answer by listening to and understanding what women—and men—say in social media, and then asking them for more information via a Harris Interactive survey.

We found that starting with social research to learn what people spontaneously say they want, then using a survey to flesh out details, generates useful and revealing insights into customer behavior.

Via an analysis of the sentence "I want [blank]" mentioned on the Web over 365 days in 27 billion conversations, NetBase found that the No. 1 thing women say they want is ice cream, whereas the No. 1 thing men say they want is a car. Comparing the statements of men and women, NetBase found that 70% of their answers were the same, and the top three "wants" were exactly the same (ice cream, cars, and pizza) but were ordered differently.

But when 1,000+ men and 1,000+ women, age 18-65, were directly asked via a survey, "What is the one thing you want right now? Please be as specific as possible," the answers of men and women overlapped 60% of the time, with "money" the No. 1 want for both genders.

Comparing the social media analysis with the survey results could lead one to conclude that social delivers more emotional results (they speak from the heart), whereas survey results yield logical ones (people stop and think, then answer).

Because the insights gained via social media analysis were surprising and interesting, NetBase asked Harris Interactive to dig deeper into the why, when, and how of consumers' No. 1 "want." Accordingly, Harris Interactive surveyed 1,171 women about ice cream and 1,083 men about cars. Here are some of the results.

Ice Cream Survey Insights (Women)

  • Why do women want ice cream? 38% of women eat ice cream because they are in the mood. Women with children are twice as likely to eat ice cream as an indulgence.
  • When do women want ice cream? 2 in 5 women eat ice cream at least once a week.
  • How do women want ice cream? 69% of women eat ice cream in a bowl.

Car Survey Insights (Men)

  • Why do men want cars? 1 in 10 men buy a stylish new ride because they say they deserve it; 43% buy a car for better mileage.
  • When do men want cars? 20% of men think about buying a car all the time; 20% of men don't think about it at all.
  • How do men want cars? Most men do not trust dealers and are twice as likely to trust customer reviews.

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Lisa Joy Rosner is CMO of NetBase. She contributes to the NetBase blog, and she can be reached via Twitter (@lisajoyrosner).

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