Will Women Make More Empathetic Marketers?

First published Feb 27, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

empathyAt the risk of sounding sexist, I wonder if women might make better marketers then men?

If you’ll remember, I proposed a new way of defining the job description of a marketer in last week’s column: to understand the customer’s reality, focusing on those areas where we can solve their problems and improve that reality.

If we’re painting with incredibly broad strokes here – which we are – and we had to attach that description to one gender, which gender would you pick?

I know I’m dancing on shaky ground here – or, in my case – thin ice, but I think we all agree that while equal, men and women are different. Men are better at some things. Women are better at others. Yes, there’s a normal distribution curve in both cases, but for some things, the female curve is going to be further to the right. When I look at the qualities that might make an awesome marketer in the new world order, I have to say it seems better suited to the natural strengths of women. That’s why I don’t believe it was coincidence that more women showed a positive response to my column last week then men.

Let me give you an example of a sex based difference we found in our own research that will help explain my reasoning. We looked at how men and women navigate websites using an eye tracking station. When we looked at aggregate heat maps, which showed all activity, there was little difference. But when we sliced the activity into half-second by half-second increments, there was a significantly different scan pattern between men and women. Men went right to the navigation bar and starting mapping out the architecture of the site. They made a mental wireframe to help them get around. Their first priority was how they were going to get things done. Women, however, first looked at images, especially people and the main content on the homepage. Their first priority was whom they were dealing with and what the site was about.

That, in a nutshell, sums up a crucial difference between men and women. Men are driven by tasks – they work to get stuff done. Women are empathizers – they work with people.  In the end, both often get to the same place. But they may take very different paths to get there.

The new world of marketing I’m proposing is all about nurturing relationships – true one-to-one relationships. It’s much more about “who” and “why”, and less about “what”.  It’s about sensing what the world looks like from the prospect’s perspective and moving an organization’s internal strategy closer to that perspective. I’m not saying men can’t do that, but I am saying that women can do it at least as well as men. And perhaps that can help bring more balance to the world of marketing. While total head counts of men and women in marketing are roughly equal (with some reports giving women a slight edge) the same cannot be said of pay scales. According to the latest Marketing Rewards Survey, published by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the gap between men’s and women’s salaries has widened by 10% since 2012. This gap shows up most noticeably at the highest levels of the industry, where twice as many men (18%) reach director level as women (7%). This also holds true for marketing heads, with men almost doubling women again – 22% vs 12%. These numbers are out of the UK, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics has similar numbers for the US.  They’ve lumped in Marketing and Sales Managers, but the stats show that women earn about 67.7% of what men earn.

There are going to be some massive shifts in marketing in the coming decades. One of them might be between the genders in who holds the top marketing roles.


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