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Women and Web Marketing - Internet 2003

You know the scenario - the business sites showing all the guys huddled around the board room table, or the general retail site showing the pretty young lady with the headset just waiting to take your call. It's all good web marketing copy - for men... but where are the depictions of business women or the very powerful slice of the retail market where women make the purchasing decisions in the home? Gender bias is still very much alive and well on the Internet; some of it due to cultural differences, but in the case of Western sites it's mostly due to ignorance.

The trigger for writing this article came from ecommerce statistics reporting from BizRate for the holiday season of 2002 showing that a staggering 60 percent of  ecommerce sales were generated by women, compared to 1998 when they were only making 39 percent of the online purchases. This was a huge web marketing wake up call.

A little more research showed that women haven't suddenly discovered the Internet, the gender gap has been closing rapidly since 1999 from both the perspective of women as online consumers and also as powerful online business people.  Being typically male, I hadn't really given this much thought in relation to web marketing except in terms of women specific products and services -which was really stupid. When I look back over the clients I've had the privilege of dealing with in recent years, women have played a major, if not predominant role in many of the projects I've executed. 

A trip out to the Center for Business Women's Research was quite an education and well worth visiting. Among some of the many interesting statistics:

  • Between 1997 and 2002, it's estimated that the number of women-owned businesses increased by 14% nationwide which was twice the USA national rate
  • The nature of businesses owned by women in recent years has diversified greatly, with construction, manufacturing and transportation showing the greatest increases.
  • 61% of women and 55% of men use the Internet for business. 50% of women- and 54% of men-owned businesses have web sites.
  • Most women- and men-owned businesses are ecommerce enabled, but women are more likely to purchase goods and services for their business (75% of women, 74% of men) than to sell their offerings online (52% and 51%, respectively).

So what does this all mean? Quite simply that it's high time that we mere males engaged in Internet development and web marketing really wake up to this very important demographic. This applies to everything from the colors we use to the tone of marketing copy, regardless of the products and services we are promoting - well, within reason anyway. As with men, there as some products and services that just aren't of any interest to women.

This doesn't mean that we should depict a monkey wrench on a bed of daffodils with Air Supply ballads playing as midis in the background - I am sure that women don't want to be patronized in this fashion - but I feel it does mean that the monkey wrench shouldn't be held by a scantily clad beach beauty who would have no idea as to its operation. Most women would find this somewhat degrading. There needs to be a balance, no gender bias in representation and marketing copy.

Why would women buy a monkey wrench? You'd be surprised. Within many companies, women are also in charge of purchasing - it's something to bear in mind. Women mechanics and general handypersons are ever on the increase, and I'm sure that the woman buying the wrench for her husband wouldn't appreciate the association. This is just one example of a product that has been traditionally been associated as "men only".

As for strategies in relation to web marketing and women, stay tuned for the next installment in this series. I'm off to do a stack of research, and I won't be asking any guys for advice :0).  By the way, if you are reading this and wish to offer an opinion on gender bias on the web, I'd love to hear from you at the email address below.

Related learning resources:

eCommerce, Communications and the Global Internet Community:
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/globalinternetecommerce.htm

Web marketing -The great Internet advertising debate.
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/webadvertising.htm

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast.net
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