07/30/2009 12:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Men Are in Marketing, Women Are at Retail

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book Brandwashed: What's Wrong with Marketing and How We Can Fix It;

Men Are from Marketing, Women Are at Retail

The vast majority of marketing decisions for consumer products are made by corporate and ad agency men, and the vast majority of consumer product purchase decisions are made by women. Consider this: Do we really think that men know women as well as women do?

In the '70s, marketing innovators such as McDonald's hired Hispanic and African American owned and operated agencies to reach their respective ethnic populations. After all, the experts surmised, who could better understand those populations than members of said populations? Yet, when dealing with the nation's largest purchasing population, the female population, corporate America and agencies rely on men to make the vast majority of critical decisions to reach the female consumer. You need only to look at the male laden management rosters of agencies and consumer products corporations to see this truth.

Psychology experts believe that there is substantially less of a difference between the various male or female ethnic populations than there is between genders. Simple logic would assert that, when attempting to reach and influence a female population, those best equipped to make key marketing decisions are female. Whereas my male colleagues might not find this a great idea given the exceedingly high number of female-driven products, it is a truly consumer-centric proposition.

If you want to sell more to the female population, it makes common sense to place women in agency and corporate management positions where they can make the final marketing decisions regarding products that are predominantly purchased by women. Women are less allured by the "sexiness" of a hot ad campaign or the latest pro athlete who wants to sign a soup deal. If the job is to sell to another female, women are best equipped to figure out how to do it. That's not to say that men can't, but that women are better suited for it.

Recently, a male member of a major retail corporation's sales force explained in a meeting that Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres weren't good choices for use in the company's promotional marketing campaigns. Both celebrities test extremely well with women, and yet the sales force said he couldn't sell a program featuring either celebrity to his retailer group because they were too "controversial." The salesman's inability to step out of his own gender and bias to embrace the wants/needs/desires of the target audience adversely affected his ability to be successful.

A marketer at a major automotive company made a large sponsorship and media deal with a television sports program. The research had shown without doubt that the hefty majority of cars his company sold were to women, many of whom were single mothers. Whereas women watch baseball, it certainly wasn't the sweet spot of the target. Further, the executive didn't have a lot of money to burn on ineffective media buys. So why did he sponsor a baseball show? Because he liked baseball, and so did the guys from the ad agency who worked for him. When pressed about his rationale, he said simply, "Oh. We think it's a growth area." Growth areas are great if you're already delivering to your target, and a waste if you aren't.

Working on a children's marketing program in the '80s, experts guided the choice of toys that were given away as part of an added value promotional effort. If you're going to make a toy and need to choose between a more boy skewed or girl skewed toy, they instructed, choose the Hot Wheels and leave the Barbie at home. Boys wouldn't play with girls' toys, but girls will cross the line and play with what would be considered a "boy toy." Girls don't fear the masculine in the way the boys are fear the feminine. The program was extremely successful, in large part because expert advice guided the decision-making.

The research also showed that women are generally more empathetic, making it easier for them to understand the opposite gender than men. Female marketers, it can be argued, are better equipped to understand the point of view of male target audiences than men approaching female target audiences. Women are brought up to consider the wants/needs/desires of an entire family construct, whereas men are typically raised with a more male-centric, egocentric point of view. It may not be pretty to say such things out loud but, according to psychologists, they're true.

At a large New York advertising agency, the women employees were asked to participate in focus group research. The topic? Feminine hygiene products. Several of their male colleagues who were leading a new business pitch for a feminine hygiene brand wanted us the women to share personal, intimate experiences in a conference while the men sat on the other side of a one-way mirror listening. Not surprisingly, no woman agreed and many were offended. Not understanding their audience, the men failed miserably in their quest for enlightenment.

Some skeptics may ask why any of this matters, or may try to write it off as feminist musings. It's actually a matter of sales. Let's say you own stock in Acme Corporation and it sells widgets. The consumers who purchases 90% of Acme's widgets are female. Would you want the major marketing and sales decisions directly affecting this target made by a competent male or a competent female marketer? Now, before any men out there claim that they can fully understand women, think about how completely and totally you understand your wife or significant opposite gender other. One only needs to read the reams of research and best selling novels to see that women and men are wired differently (see Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or a host of other publications). Until more women are in decisive positions within marketing and sales forces, corporations risk not selling to their full potential because the consumer's point of view isn't fully understood or considered.

Understanding your consumer as deeply as possible and delivering against that understanding are the keys to successful marketing and sales strategies.

Sarah O'Leary is the owner of Logic Marketing for Sales and author of BRANDWASHED: What's Wrong with Marketing and How We Can Fix It. The book is due for publication in Fall '09. She can be reached at