Gender and Marketing: The Female Brain

"When women are depressed, they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country."

Comedian Elayne Boosler may have stumbled onto a truth about the difference in the sexes, but she didn't even scratch the surface.

When it comes to the brain -- which, if you're interested in understanding anything at all about human behavior, is where your search begins and ends -- the variations between the sexes are many. And they're not only deeply fascinating, they also have clear implications for marketers.

NeuroFocus specializes in understanding and measuring how the brain responds to literally any stimulus that a person can receive, through any of their five senses, and we have a lot to offer on the subject -- especially when it comes to consumer behavior. And the fact is, women buy or influence the purchase of 80 percent of all consumer goods in the United States. Everything from riding mowers to consumer electronics to homes.

X and Why
But first let's start with the basics. Your suspicions are correct: there are fundamental differences between the male and female brain. They're both structural and behavorial, they're formed at birth, they last throughout life, and they affect many different aspects of our attitudes and behaviors. Some of the most important differences:

Women's brains have more distributed functions than men, especially for language and memory. Women's brains have stronger connections between the two hemispheres. Women have a larger hippocampus, a major area of the brain that is involved in memory function. Women rely more heavily on brain areas that contain mirror neurons during empathic interaction. Mirror neurons enable a person to feel what they see another person is feeling.

What are the practical implications of these facts? Women have better memory for detailed information than do men. In terms of evolution, this may be related to female competition: females compete with other females in more subtle ways that may rely more on processing finer details; for example, of social cues. Women have a greater capacity to empathize, enhanced language ability, and stronger emotional memory. Men tend to have superior spatial ability, and the ability to build systems. These hard-wired brain differences are revealed in infancy: female babies make more eye contact with caregivers than baby boys. On the other hand, male infants prefer to look at machines or puzzles.

Emotional Rescue
Here is a vital insight for advertisers: NeuroFocus' research confirms conclusively that women have a markedly higher tendency to attach emotional significance to stimuli than men. What does that mean for marketers looking to reach and persuade female consumers?

NeuroFocus has compiled a series of guidelines to follow if you want your messaging to be as neurologically effective as it can be with the female shopper. They're important because, as our chief science advisor, Dr. Robert Knight, one of the world's top neuroscientists puts it, "The brain makes behavior." Our neurological research reveals that women respond significantly more strongly to certain styles of packaging designs, advertising messages, and store layouts. We also know already, from our library of neurological 'best practices', that women respond to language and imagery differently than men.

The message for marketers? Get your product design, packaging, pricing, branding, messaging, in-store presentation and more in sync with how the female subconscious mind receives and processes information, and directs behavior, and your chances of marketplace success rise accordingly.

Here is a small sampling of NeuroFocus' guidelines for marketing to women:

--Be authentic
--Focus on cooperative, reciprocal, collaborative conversations
--Keep messaging exploratory, not flatly declarative
--Provide plenty of information
--Acknowledge that she's integrating many goals with every shopping experience and purchase

While these guidelines apply to female consumers, they are not always enough to guide marketers to the right decisions. Context and delivery play a huge role in how women respond to advertising and to any type of experience. An authentic, informative, exploratory experience can fall flat in the wrong context. Marketers are getting much better at understanding how the female brain perceives the world, but it is not always obvious exactly how to translate this into marketing messages and materials.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth
The power of neurological testing is that the results are factual and scientifically sound. They are not subject to flawed interpretation and variances due to a whole host of corrupting influences such as language, culture, education, ethnicity, and others.

Since consumers' responses are captured at the earliest stage of cognition, the results are neurologically pure and therefore inherently representative of the true way that consumers perceive and react to brands, marketing, prices, packaging design, the retail environment -- the entire spectrum of consumer touchpoints.

The brain is a vastly complex and elaborate series of neural networks, with multiple regions and processes at work at all times (especially true for women). While local brain activity reveals some of what is happening in a consumer's mind, the entire story can only be understood by measuring all parts of the brain, using extremely sensitive EEG (electroencephalography) equipment. Women use different parts of the brain differently than men do, in ways neuroscience is coming to understand in ever greater depth.

It is not possible to draw out gender differences, much less anything else about how the brain truly functions, with quick and simple methods, although some claim to do so. Your doctor will use only medical-grade EEG equipment to assess your child's brain. This testing includes a system that covers the entire brain, and a highly trained lab technician to collect and analyze the data. Don't settle for anything less for your customer -- female or male.

Nielsen and NeuroFocus have teamed up to better understand the elements of successful consumer engagement using science-based market research innovation together with conventional methods. The combination provides a powerful tool for generating greater returns for the investment dollars.
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