Marketing to Women (and Men) in the Conceptual Age

Let's face it. We are living in a time of commoditization, where logic/linear thinking doesn't necessarily help us differentiate or guide our decisions like it used to. In his already-classic book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink addresses this as he writes of a new conceptual age. To simplify his words to the extreme -- he points out that in the previous "information age," logic (and B School) were emphasized. Today, a more holistic way of thinking/processing information (and perhaps an MFA) should be encouraged (in fact, right-brainers will "rule the future" -- as Pink's subtitle puts it).

Especially as consumers, we are looking for more of that which is above, beyond and around those straight, linear facts to help us make purchase decisions. We still need the logic, certainly, but with so many choices we are now freed up to prioritize the the non-rational, more emotional side of things. For instance, since all cars in a given price range have the same basic features, there need to be a few more emotional, "other" reasons that sway a buyer in the direction of one brand over another. That might be a storyline in an ad campaign, the way the salesperson treats the buyer or what friends have previously said about the car, for example.

From my "learned on women" perspective, the conceptual age may be another, less gender-ized way, to package the idea of marketing to women, and I'm all for it. As experts in my realm have long been encouraging: to be successful in business you need to be able to think more like a woman. Women make or influence the majority (80 percent or more) of consumer purchases in the U.S., so businesses and marketers have to take a more typically female, holistic approach -- including storytelling, design and empathy (among other conceptual age "senses" that Pink highlights). That approach, whether you call it marketing to women or conceptual age marketing, will be the best way to reach the bulk of consumers who all now have much higher standards and expectations.

To be clear: everyone, whether in a business role or as a consumer, has female and male brain traits they can tap. (Take this fascinating "brain sex ID" evaluation to see where you lie on the female to male brain trait continuum.) The marketplace we all want to reach is full of both women, who may use their female traits more naturally, and men, who are now much more likely to be embracing their "conceptual-age awareness" (which happens to be a lot like using their female brain traits). Especially as we face the truth that products and services must compete more often on what is beyond the facts/features, men and women alike are going to expect more meaning from the goods they buy.

If you consider just a few categories today, both genders are already looking beyond the linear in this land of abundance. Take the iPhone, for instance: that product seems likely to inspire LOTS of people to switch carriers (with all the headaches that can cause) and pay up to $499, last I heard. But why? The non-linear reasons are why. Consider the irrationality of: sleek design, hip ad campaign or the stories they can tell about how they got the ultimate in technology before all their friends. Or, take the less-techy lawnmower as another example: All things being equal, as a consumer peruses the salesfloor of their local hardware store, how will he/she decide? Look and feel as well as carbon footprint/environmental concerns may be some of the non-rational aspects that come into play. Price and horsepower are no longer the absolute bottomline they used to be.

Even at the most basic level -- like email subject lines, as a businessperson you can start orienting toward conceptual age thinking/female brain traits and see positive results very quickly. In "Subject Lines for Left and Right Brains," (reg. required, MediaPost), Chad White recently wrote about how email that offers language appealing to both brain hemispheres was actually more effective than simply touting sales or discounts (strictly linear/one side of the brain). A few brands are already revising their subject-line ways in a more "conceptual" direction by changing the language into a hybrid (appealing to both right and left brain at the same time). For example: "20 percent Off and Spring Fashion Show" or "Free Shipping and Lawnmower Buying Guide." A linear brain attraction (free shipping!) and the less rational (some additional free entertainment or information) are just the ticket.

If the hybrid subject line or anything I've written about here intrigues you from the business perspective, you may be ready to take the non-gender specific, "conceptual age" plunge. If you do, you'll reach women very effectively and you'll give men more practice accessing their right as well as their left brains. The more we all use our holistic brain traits (call them what you will), as business people and consumers, the more exciting and productive this conceptual age can be.