08/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Lesson About Female Friendship from the Ad World

If you need one more shred of evidence that there are gender differences in interpersonal relationships, you'll find it in a short piece by Alex Mindlin buried in the Business Section of this morning's New York Times. When it comes to customer loyalty, women aren't necessarily more loyal than men; it's just that their loyalties take a different form.

In a series of studies reported in the July 2009 Journal of Marketing, researchers from the Netherlands found that female consumer loyalties are more intimate and personal. For example, women are fiercely loyal to a particular hair stylist rather than to a salon, or to a particular doctor rather than to a clinic or hospital. If you are one of the women, like many, who feel like your hairdresser understands you (and your hair), this shouldn't come as a surprise.

"Women tend to view themselves as being connected with and dependent on a few specific individual others. In contrast, men tend to view themselves as being connected with and dependent on larger groups of people and organizations," write the marketing professors.

Their targeted advice for the ad world: "Because individual relationships are more important to women, they are more likely to develop loyal customer relationships with individual service providers. Conversely, men find group relationships important and are more likely to develop loyal customer relationships with firms and organizations." Thus, advertising strategies focused on personal relationships are more likely to be effective with women.

If we extrapolate these results to our friendships, it reinforces what we already know. In general, female relationships tend to be characterized by greater intimacy (and a different kind of loyalty) than those of men.

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and her book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break-up With Your Best Friend, will be published by Overlook Press in September, 2009. She recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.