Is Most Marketing to Women All Wrong?

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An ex-frat boy says his research upends the conventional wisdom on marketing to women. Do we believe him?

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

What do women want? The hoary, old joke that this is an incredibly difficult question to answer has launched at least one Mel Gibson movie and countless quips. But for marketers it’s a more serious puzzle -- what’s the best way to reach and speak to women in order to persuade them to fall in love with your brand and buy your product.

You could rely on focus groups or rely on traditional wisdom or gut feelings, but recently Inc.com proposed another method to unravel the mysteries of the female mind -- ask Ryan Harwood. Who is he? An ex-frat boy and investment banker who started and runs PureWow, a media company for women that is the subject of a profile intriguingly titled “Everything You Know About Marketing to Women is Wrong.

Being “a guy's guy,” Harwood did plenty of research before launching PureWow, Christine Lagorio reports, and he claims to have uncovered some counter-intuitive advice about female consumers. Women 2.0 readers probably won’t share Harwood’s surprise that “any tech article we write is shared a ton,” but his other findings might be more discussion worthy. The article lays them out:

Women of all ages are sick of parenting advice. Focus groups seemed to think the mommy-blog space is oversaturated, Harwood says. A lot of the women surveyed were not mothers--but even the parents in the groups were sick of being pigeonholed as only interested in reading about parenting.

Women don't necessarily read what's targeted at them. About 25 percent of the women at the focus groups said they were reading magazines and websites for much younger women. Women well into their 20s, for example, were picking up Seventeen. Why? Because whatever Seventeen's flaws, nothing served them better.

Women don't define themselves by their narrow interests. They said, in Harwood's focus groups, that it's fine for publications to write specifically for women, but they didn't like being categorized any further--because the bucket rarely fits. Harwood says: "The message was, 'When you're targeting me, don't silo me. Don't say I'm a divorcée, a mom, an office worker. We are women at the core, and identify with that, regardless of stage of life."

If you’re interested in reading more about Harwood and the story of PureWow, then check out the complete profile, but what do you think of Harwood’s insights?

Are they actually surprising, and are they actually right?

jstillman Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter @entrylevelrebel.