This question is a no-brainer in B2C marketing. In that world, gender-based targeting and positioning tactics are as common as dirt — for obvious reasons. Besides having distinct tastes and preferences, male and female consumers tend to arrive at buying decisions in vastly different ways as well. This begs the $64,000 question: do these differences also affect the way B2B buyers decide?
It’s uncertainties like these that make us envy our B2C colleagues who get the answer handed to them on a silver platter. In their side of the fence, it’s glaringly clear that gender appeal has a strong bearing on their campaigns, making it much more manageable for them to plan around these factors.
Things in B2B, on the other hand, aren’t as clear-cut. While women play an ever-increasing role in B2B spending for such items as inventory, equipment, employee benefits, and a whole lot of other business expense categories, it’s hard to make a case for all marketers to use gender appeal when communicating the value of these solutions to female prospects.
First of all, B2B marketers typically deal with products used by both men and women. Even if the buyers or end users of your solution are predominantly members of a particular gender, it’s highly unlikely that their motivations are going to vary by virtue of their gender alone. It’s business reasons that ultimately hold a huge sway over your prospects’ decision to buy, regardless of whether they’re male or female.
In addition, gender appeal may unreasonably oversimplify the complex traits that B2B buyers have. Gender appeal tactics are usually based on assumptions about things that set men and women apart and these, more often than not, tend to rely on gender stereotypes instead of innovative profiling. With stereotypes, you run the risk of alienating the very people you’re trying to engage.
That’s why, for some B2B brands, gender appeal may simply be an unnecessary clutter. There’s a real danger that when you adopt different marketing tactics for prospects based on gender, you’re leaving the door open for people to accuse your campaigns of being sexist or patronizing, no matter how well-intentioned your plan may have been.
Last year, I learned of a UK-based insurance advisor’s marketing campaign that caused quite a stir, thanks to a miscalculated use of gender appeal. In a press release promoting the company’s new HR software which had primarily been designed for female HR managers, it touted the new product as a “sexy, straight-talking [female] assistant” that HR professionals wouldn’t “feel threatened by.”
It’s not hard to spot where the misuse of gender appeal took place in this example. But hindsight is 20-20. In most cases, however, gender appeal works more subtly, and you’ll probably never know you’ve had a lapse in judgment until it’s too late.
Does that mean B2B marketers should stick to a gender-neutral approach all their lives?
Of course not. It’s completely possible and (advisable) to tailor your marketing messages to your customers’ needs without resorting to stereotypical gender appeal. If your buyer personas require you to segment, target, and position your campaigns to cater to the different needs of male and female B2B prospects, you should do so by understanding the differences in their decision style. That’s the best way to personalize because it involves connecting with persons, not just trying to single out one gender.
Yes, men’s and women’s brains are hard-wired differently, and marketers should consider what these differences mean when engaging with prospects and customers. But the basic human need to build trust and relationship cuts across genders, and it’s what makes marketing work. So the next time you ask whether gender appeal has a place in your strategy, think about how it can impact trust and relationship.
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