Spanning The Gender Divide

12 04 2012

There is no better way to stir up a party than to start talking about politics, religion or gender differences. Especially the latter. It’s the “Tastes great, less filling” debate of Miller Lite fame writ large. Why can’t there be just one way to do things?

Of course, our lives would be pretty boring if we were all alike. Our country is a better place precisely because we have Republicans and Democrats (not to mention Independents and Libertarians). We are more the richer because of our religious diversity (regardless of what your preacher, rabbi or imam tells you). And, for better or worse, there’s no shortage of discussion fodder when the gender wars heat up.

From a marketing perspective, there are many companies that would give anything to figure out how to get the “other half” to purchase their products. There are many consumer products that are gender-based. By and large, men do not use make-up. Women prefer feminine fragrances, while men opt for WD-40. Guys like bold, primary colors, while women choose pastels.

I know, I know. Stereotypes can get you in trouble, but they can also earn you a good solid return on investment. Now if marketers of goods aimed at one sex could just figure out how to get the other one to also buy.

And that, of course, is the ultimate challenge. Figure out how to double sales just by appealing to the other sex is a sure fire way to keep the stockholders happy.

Except, of course, if you fall flat on your face.

So my eyebrows raised this morning when I read that Birchbox is launching a monthly subscriber program to men. Birchbox has been wildly successful in attracting female consumers willing to pay $10 a month to receive a box of personal care product samples of items they have probably never encountered before. The goal is to put these products in consumers’ hands at little risk to the user, in hopes that they will return to buy the regular-sized product at full price.

Birchbox, though, is making the assumption that men shop like women. And therein lies the big mistake.

In terms of consumer behavior, women are more likely to shop in exploratory or discovery mode, whereas men shop more decisively and goal-driven. That’s not to say there exceptions on either side of the gender divide, but these traits have been observed through the years. Women thrive on the thrill of stumbling into that perfect product; men, on the other hand, treat shopping as a surgical strike, a bombing run intended to be completed in 15 minutes.

Or less.

And that’s why I am skeptical of their new service for men. Never mind that they are charging men $20, a full twice as much as for the comparable women’s package. If men are already proven to be less than conciliatory shoppers, then why charge them twice as much for the privilege? I’m thinking that maybe $5 would be a better enticement.

Furthermore, we are dealing in personal care items, not tools. While men are not necessarily aloof to hygiene and personal care, let’s just say that it’s probably not at the top of our shopping list. If we even have one.

Sometimes we are all just better off to let the difference fall where they may. Protestants and Catholics (and all other religions). Liberals and conservatives. Men and women. Admire and honor the differences, but keep your distance. Because trying to resolve them may be a waste of energy and money.

And the perfect way to ruin an otherwise good party.

Dr “No Sale” Gerlich

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