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The science behind marketing to men

“Women are from Venus and men are from Mars” is more than just a catchphrase from the 1990s; to some extent, it accurately captures the differences in gender appeal when it comes to consumer behavior.

Though men, in general, can be cutthroat competitive, goal-oriented, interested in power and, frankly, wired very differently from their female counterparts, marketers must focus first on aptly targeted emotional marketing and the relevant benefits that products can provide before focusing on who is making the actual purchase: the man in question or a woman in his life.

SKIM has performed message testing across categories, markets and genders. Through meta-analyses on the messages tested across studies, we continuously learn more about what makes for effective communication. In this article, we will share four tips to keep in mind when creating claims and communications messages for men – and the women who buy for them.

Avoid extensions of feminine benefits, make benefits relevant to men

Jill Avery, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School found that most men fear being interpreted as feminine, more so than women fear being interpreted as masculine. This finding is very much in line with SKIM’s research on how to market to men through well-articulated messaging.

Men like to hear benefits that are functional and relevant to them – body wash to wash away the dirt, or their face wash to cleanse their pores. Women generally prefer more descriptive articulations that bring the products to life – with moisturisation, supple skin, nourishment and other aspirational adjectives. Even when women buy for their men, they look for a promise of efficacy that produces a desirable result. “Leaves hair smooth and shiny” or “leaves skin lightly scented” are claims that can appeal to women for themselves, or bring to life how they would like their men to look or smell. Men would vouch for “flake-free hair” as it addresses a more relevant problem. Given the dynamics of shopping behavior in households with couples, the balance between these is critical in determining motivation to buy.

Touch the emotional nerve behind the machismo persona

Across studies, we see that men focus on functional elements. A razor must be rust-proof; an aftershave must be cooling and eliminate razor burn. The common theme is a mandate that marketers leverage an emotional connection to preventing a negative—like men’s fear of balding, razor burn or dandruff on shoulders. A deeply emotional insight lies within their pursuit of the functional, and it can be tapped by showcasing how to avoid such negatives with claims that specifically target them.

Even with sensitive topics like hair loss, men perceive that products should “correct,” again implying a fix or alternative to a negative. Women aspire for products to revitalize and strengthen hair, and when they buy for their men, they continue to look for something that can be visualized. “A fuller scalp” would appeal to a woman because she can envision this on her man. It brings the benefit to life better than “Clinically proven to stop hair fall,” which would negate the fear better if a man was buying the same product for himself.

Give men proof, validation of numbers

It is critical to be crystal clear to men as they are not browsers, which is why men’s products tend to feature stark contrasting colors so that benefits can be viewed clearly and immediately: Nivea’s white packs with blue font or L’Oréal’s grey or black packs with neon accents. Men also prefer facts and numbers over the lengthy descriptions of benefits; they are more inclined to purchase a product that cites clinical proof versus simply a promise of “softness.”

However, marketers should keep in mind that the numbers need to be relevant and credible. Extreme numbers, such as 100% blockage of a negative, dampen believability. To the other extreme, saying that the product prevents 25% of something seems inconsequential. It is a balancing act, but our research has shown that men are noticeably more driven to numbers than women.

A key distinction with women is that speed drives differentiation when they buy for their men. Women know that men spend less time than themselves on grooming, and speed of a benefit and convenience of use are larger factors in searching for male grooming products. They want to ensure the product actually delivers what it promises with minimal hassle and a quick application process.

Men focus on specific attainable long-term benefits, not immediate and implausible gratification

Men generally tend to prefer a long lasting benefit—for example, with hair styling products, a 24-hour delivery of benefits is most motivating, as it conveys a notion of being hassle-free. Women, however, regardless of whether they are buying for themselves or for men in their lives, are inclined to seek out the “right look.” They would rather invest in perfection as opposed to long-term “hold” and “staying power,” even for their men. In fact, the long lasting element is so assumed that they are often even turned off if the longevity of a beauty product is mentioned. Take “Stronger hair for up to two weeks” versus simply “Stronger hair,” women would likely prefer the latter as it implies timelessness.

On the topic of perfection, men are more likely to respond to healthy grooming messages than women, who seem to prefer products that amplify the beauty quotient. Case in point, a woman is likely to prefer a body wash product that claims to “Nourish your skin with a rich lather and gentle cleansers” while an identical men’s product is likely to claim “Fights skin dryness to help maintain skin balance.”

Naturally, this research does not indicate that men are unemotional; just the fact that men and women emote differently, and women look for more aspirational gratification while men exhibit their emotions in overcoming a negative in their life. Which is why it is so important to understand what matters to your target group, and adjust your communication accordingly: Does your target group consist mainly of men? Or of women? And do you know which message resonates best with them?

The contributors for the article are Scott Garrison and Robin de Rooij, manager and director of SKIM Asia Pacific respectively. 

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