Marketing to Women... Some Advice for the Auto Industry

When marketing to women, don't assume all women have the same needs. Look for differences between women and develop products and marketing approaches to suit a greater variety of needs.
09/26/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

Women represent a huge opportunity for the auto industry. In the US alone, 500,000 women are "in the market" to buy a car within a one to three month window. We know that women heavily influence car purchases (up to 85%) and yet 74% of women feel misunderstood by auto manufacturers.

I think the marketing to women discussion needs to move beyond her overall influence and instead focus on some very targeted opportunities to improve the ways in which cars are marketed to women. Based on research for my latest book "Why Marketing to Women Doesn't Work", I highlight four such opportunities.

Opportunity #1: Attract a larger share of her wallet

The Issue: Women spend less overall, and a smaller proportion of their disposable incomes, on cars than men do.

While it is true that women earn, on average, about ¾ of what men do there is growing evidence that some groups of women are starting to out-earn men. Furthermore, women now graduate with more bachelors, masters and PhDs than men and so their earning potential will only continue to increase.

The Solution: In marketing, value is simply the difference between perceived benefits and costs of a product, compared with other products. Car manufacturers need to ask, "What can we do to encourage women to place a higher value on owning a car?" To enhance value, car manufacturers should focus less on performance and user imagery and more on brand judgments (e.g., judgments about quality and safety, brand credibility, and superiority of the brand), her feelings toward the brand and her overall relationship with the brand.

Opportunity #2 - Reduce her post purchase dissonance

The Issue: Fifty percent of women are dissatisfied with the car they buy. Part of the reason for this high level of dissatisfaction is that women dislike the sales experience and blame a lack of openness and dialogue when buying a car. Women's dissatisfaction fuels Facebook pages such as "Women Hate Car Dealers" (which has 6,557 likes).

When I was doing research for this article, I came across a great summary quote: "While the Nissan dealer was a phony and borderline sleaze, the Mercedes dealer was utterly dismissive and only attentive to my husband."

To me it is irrelevant as to whether the problem lies with Nissan, Mercedes or any other brand of car. What is important is that women still do not enjoy the car buying experience and are concerned with, e.g., getting a fair price, being treated well, being taken seriously and feeling that ultimately she has made the right purchase decision.

The Solution: Make women feel more comfortable at car dealerships. Lexus of Massapequa recently held a "Cars & Cupcakes" event for women with an emphasis on car financing (a good problem to address because: (1) 77% of women bring a man with them to deal with the financial aspects of buying a car; and (2) women generally pay about $500 more per car than men because they do not negotiate price well).

These events provide a female friendly environment for women to visit car dealers and address issues that are important to her - price, financing, technology, and the look and feel of the car itself. When interacting with women who visit the dealership, remember she is informed, educated and astute, so treat her as such.

Opportunity #3 - It's time to focus on the service experience

The Issue: 65% of women request service work for their vehicles. Women also trust service advisors - e.g., 70% of women will buy tires when told they need them.

If my most recent experience were an indicator, I would say dealers have a long way to go to improve the service experience. Highlights: "Have you ever been here before?" [To which I thought: "You should know, I've been coming here for 10 years and purchased the last 4 out of 5 cars from your dealership. And I had them serviced here as well."]. "Here is your service advisor, "Jane"." [To which I thought: "You are far too young to know anything about cars. And, please stop applying lipstick while I am sitting in front of you waiting to be served. And, stop chewing gum when you talk to me."].

The Solution: Dealers need to start paying close attention to how women are treated when they bring their car in for a service. The way in which technology can assist will give dealers an advantage by allowing them to become trust worthy partners post-purchase - e.g., by providing service alerts, service scheduling and other notifications. But person-to-person interaction is still important.

To me, whether I have a man or a women assist me is irrelevant. I want to trust the advice I'm given, be treated as an intelligent human being, be made to feel like a valued customer, and feel good about spending a ton of money on a car and then constant amounts of money and time on having the car serviced.

Opportunity #4 - Don't treat all women the same

The Issue: Research suggests that women want small, safe, maneuverable, fuel-efficient cars. Other design features that are important to women include comfort, easy access, quality of materials, color, and technology (especially technology that enhances safety, and maneuverability). While I'm not disputing these preferences, I do ask:
(a) Don't men want some of these same features as well?
(b) Do all women want small, safe, maneuverable, fuel-efficient cars? I don't believe they do because there are a growing number of women buying SUVs, Minivans and Small Trucks.

As a side note, while events like those at Lexus of Massapequa are great, I probably wouldn't go because I work full time and have a lot of other commitments outside of work.

The Solution: When marketing to women, don't assume all women have the same needs. Look for differences between women and develop products and marketing approaches to suit a greater variety of needs.

In my book, "Why Marketing to Women Doesn't Work", and in subsequent work I've written (much of which ends up on Huffington Post), I have expanded upon other areas that are important when marketing cars to women - e.g., the role of women as influencers, buyers and users of cars, the use of technology, and treating women as knowledge customers, but the four opportunities above, to me, represent the most important areas of focus when marketing cars to women today.