I'll admit. I latched onto the numbers Louann Brizendine, M.D. included in the first print run of her book, The Female Brain , suggesting that women use 20,000 words a day while men use 7,000. Those numbers have since been removed from her book, and new contradictory research findings published in Science magazine have emerged to thicken the plot. Why do I care? Because as a marketing-to-women expert, I am ever on the hunt for updated information that may help explain why men and women buy differently. Communication style, including levels of verbosity, may be a particularly fascinating aspect of this topic since it also applies to plain old human relationships.
The research cited in Science shows that there may well not be any significant gender-related difference in number of words used after all. As so cleverly laid out by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in the New York Times on July 5th, here are details of the findings:
396 subjects wear tiny microphones. Result: whoops. Women emit 16,125 words per day, men 15,669. Statistically, even-steven.
But authors admit flaw: all 396 were college students -- congenitally loquacious, no jobs, no commutes, no need for aphonic mesmerization by Monday Night Football.
The study's lead author contends that the result still: "...puts to rest the idea that the female brain evolved to be talkative and the male brain evolved to be reticent."
I remember, early on in my career in this field, when a radio interviewer stopped me with this point: "but, isn't marketing-to-women really just good marketing, in general?" I had to think, but the answer is, of course, yes. Every marketer should be narrowing their focus, getting to know their customer communities intimately, gathering and using feedback, and so on (marketing 101). However, it seemed then, and still seems to be the case for many a business, that marketing strategies are perceived as more worth the budget if they play on the gender game. Are female consumers a whole other, alien life-form to approach separately? No, but they may well hold you to a higher standard of business and marketing that everyone will appreciate.
Reaching people as consumers is about the subtleties and the human differences. Most any market (men, women, men and women) will respond positively to the finest in non-gender-specific customer experience.
There may be a side issue here. Should we start studying "marketer behavior" as much as we study "consumer behavior?" Maybe then we could understand why exploring "new" markets is the glamorous default solution, as opposed to, say, admitting you still have room to grow the customers you already serve. Hmmm.
Anyway, I recently posted about a study that showed men tend to shop more inefficiently than women. The truth may actually be that infrequent grocery shoppers shop inefficiently whether they are men or women, right? Gender-specific approaches can be incredibly unnecessary, but simply feel like a sexier way to differentiate issues, products and services.
Which takes me back to this new study on men, women and words. Studies come and go, and marketers (I include myself in this) can often find one that points to their bias. But, it's time to get serious again about real differences of one consumer segment versus another. For example, a buying behavior may appear to be gender-related at first glance, but upon closer examination be more about the consumer's roles or life stages (parent, careerperson, tennis player, coin collector).
I still believe in the subtle differences in how men and women make purchasing decisions, certainly, but I'm proposing that marketers could be more careful about too automatically giving gender the most weight in a marketing equation. If that doesn't need to be the case, and might risk alienating the opposite sex, why do it?
How much men talk in comparison to women shouldn't be a big issue, for instance. Knowledge of HOW your particular customers communicate, no Mars or Venus about it, will guide good, basic marketing toward the highest human standard.