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You Can't Market Financial Services To Women

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

Before you jump to conclusions — and all over my head — read first, and then let me have it if you’re so inclined.

There’s renewed talk these days in financial services circles about “marketing to women.”

Renewed, because I remember that 11 or 12 years ago, in the height of the dot-com boom, start-ups emerged dedicated to providing financial services to women (I still remember Jennifer Openshaw coming into our offices telling us about the Women’s Financial Network). I haven’t been involved in the financial services industry long enough to know if there was focus on marketing to women (specifically for financial services) before the dot-com era.

Recently, the topic has reappeared a number of times in the past few weeks:

  • In a CU Times article titled Marketing to Woman Require Cultural Change, Roger Conant writes that the reason why many credit unions’marketing programs don’t directly speak to women is that “the majority of the industry’s leadership are still primarily male…and most males are unable to transfer facts to actions when challenged to focus their attention on the growing power of women, both in the marketplace as well as the workplace.”
  • On her Marketing To Women blog, Holly Buchanan penned a post titled Marketing Credit Unions to Women which encouraged credit unions interested in marketing to women to (among other things): 1) Make them feel smart; 2) Use female-friendly language; 3) Create kid-friendly branches; and 4) Support her causes.
  • An email from Currency Marketing announcing its Money Mom marketing program.

My take: Marketing financial services products to “women” is doomed to fail, and simply not a very good idea.

[Put the gun (and keyboard) down, and keep reading before you shoot, and argue with, me]

In her post, Holly quotes a source that says women make 89% of the banking decisions for their families. In my research, which dates back a few years ago, I found that women were the primary financial decision makers in a majority of US households, so I have no reason to dispute the claim.

But, if 89% of the decisions are made by women, then pretty much ALL of the decisions are made by women, no? Which means, the ONLY people worth marketing to are women.


But let me ask you marketers something: Imagine for a moment that you there was no way for you to know the gender of your customers and prospects. How would you segment consumers in order to learn their needs, attitudes, and preferences, as they pertain to the products they buy and how they buy them?

You would look at age, income, lifestage, channel preferences, etc., right?

If you did that you might find differences in behaviors and preferences between Gen Yers and Boomers, or differences between low income and high income consumers, or differences between people with young children and those (even of similar age and income) who don’t have children.

You would then use the segments you identified to learn how to best design products and marketing campaigns to reach consumers within each of those segments.

After doing all of the above, if I then came back and told you that all of your customers and prospects were of just one gender, what would you change? Answer: Nothing! You would have already learned what the real drivers of different needs and preferences were.

What I’m trying to convey here — and I’m worried that I’m not articulating this clearly — is that “women” is not a manageable, marketable consumer segment. It’s simply way too broad (oh geez, no pun intended).


Roger’s comments bear some analysis here, as well. In the history of consumer products, many companies have successfully sold feminine (or female-oriented) products via male product managers. Marketing is about learning about consumer needs, designing products to meet those needs, and implementing marketing programs that reach and influence the target market(s).

Should Fisher-Price fire everybody over the age of six because they’re not the primary users and audience for the products (toys) they produce?

Of course not.

Roger goes on to quote Verity Credit Union CMO Shari Storm as saying ““I think the hardest part is to have the fortitude to carry this through.”

Shari is 100% correct. But her comment applies to ANY strategic marketing effort — it’s just as applicable if the focus was Gen Yers, people of specific ethnic backgrounds, or Martians.


Verity’s “marketing to women” efforts (which are the model for Currency’s Money Mom campaign), also needs some more scrutiny here. Primarily because Verity’s Verity Mom marketing campaign is NOT an example of “marketing to women.”

Verity is focusing on “moms.”

Verity did what I advocated for above: It  identified the segment of the market they wanted to market to. Now, while the overall market of Moms is pretty large, effectively, Verity is really focusing on a subset of that “market”: Women in the their late 20s (at the younger end) to the early 40s (at the older end). In other words, mostly Gen Xers who are hitting the prime of their earning years, and the prime of their financial needs.

It’s also important to note (I’m talking to you, Roger) that Verity did this without firing the entire leadership staff, and replacing them with Moms. At least, I don’t think Verity did this.

What the credit union did do, was hire a Mom to blog, tweet, and be the “face” of Verity to this market segment. While certainly filling an important role, this person is hardly a senior manager in the organization.

In fact, as has been proven with other Young & Free marketing campaigns launched by a number of credit unions (which is, essentially, a similar model to the Verity Mom campaign, but focused on marketing to Gen Yers), this important role can be filled by many different people, a point proven by many credit unions who have replaced their “spokesters” after a one-year stint.


Bottom line: “Women” is not a viable, realistic consumer segment for financial services firms to market to. There are other attributes and dimensions of the market that better determine how financial services firms should design products, and take those products to market.

You may now load your guns and take your shots at me.

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Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

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  1. Spot on Ron!

    It’s all about understanding the various consumer segements/Persona’s and far too many product/marketers completly overlook the basics.

  2. Thanks, Mat, that’s one for me. I’m expecting some disagreement on this one, though.

  3. Tim McAlpine says:

    Great article Ron. I’m not sure if this is for or against our approach, but it’s certainly a well reasoned argument against broadly going after woman aged 20 to 70!

    Financial institutions should attempt to focus their products, services and marketing to segments that are large enough to support their business model and narrow enough to help differentiate their firm in the marketplace. This is basic positioning. In an undifferentiated vertical like financial services where choices are interchangeable and everyone trades on having the best service, this is harder said than done.

    Since I’m Canadian, I wouldn’t even know what a gun looks like in person (I have seen them in the movies though), so you don’t need to be scared of me. BTW, I think the Martian idea is solid, do you mind if I use it?

  4. Holly Buchanan says:

    Thanks for your article Ron. I think you bring up some great points and you’d be surprsied to learn I actually agree with you on many of them.

    You can’t market to all women the same way. They are an incredibly broad and diverse group. That’s why in my latest book about selling financial services to women I share research and surveys I did that showed big differences in the way women under 50 and over 50 look at finances. I also found women have a vareity of investment styles and comfort levels, so I shared 4 types of women investors, what each cared about, what each was concerned about and specific questions to ask each type to center the conversation on what she cared about.

    There are even more than these 4 types, but in order to make the information actionable, you have to take a higher level look. I use personas extensively in my work (both male and female) and find them very helpful.

    That said, there are some generic – high level differences that can be helpful to understand.

    I tested images from actual financial services ads (for retirement) and women 50 plus had a really negative reaction to the images. They were images of couples. In many retirement ads, the woman is leaning her head on her husbands shoulder, standing behind hime while he gazes into the distance, or he’s carrying her (usually on a beach). 78% of the women 50 plus (who I assume the ads were aimed at since they were for retirement services) said, “I don’t relate to these images. I don’t want to have to rely on someone else (husband or otherwise) for financial security.

    So, I think it would be helpful for marketers to know that women 50 plus responded better to images of families interacting than to couples where the woman is in a subservient position. It’s that kind of information that is valuable.

    Thanks for continuing to shed light on this issue.

    Holly Buchanan

  5. Tim: 1. It’s for your approach. 2. Have you ssen the book Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Mars? Martians=men. That approach has already been tried. Looks like it failed.

    Oh, and thanks for subscribing to the blog. You’re subscriber number 100. You get a prize next time I see you in person.

  6. Ondine Irving says:

    I also agree with you, Ron- utilizing myself as a prime example. Last time I checked, I am definitely a woman- and I’m also a mom.

    By choice, I have raised my daughter independently for 19 years. I am the breadwinner and the decision maker in our small unit- so it makes no matter my gender- that’s just the way it is. My role is that of “decision maker” – and THIS s what should matter to financial marketers- not my gender.

    I personally find many of the Mommy Blogs and Mom marketing tactics almost insulting and turning back the clocks 50 years. Assuming women are less educated than men in this area- but I would guess in today’s financially illiterate world, there are just as many men that are financially illiterate as well. (And can’t help but mention, Suze Orman’s “Money Minded Moms Blog” died after a year).

    Do we have Daddy Blogs or Male-Specific Marketing for financial services? Or what about the gay community? Would we market to them any differently? Of course not- because gender and sexual preference is just not as important as someones ROLE in the decision making process.

    Thats my two cents…

  7. Niche markets need three things to be successful – homogeneity, affiliation and influence. Unfortunately for financial institutions, the niche also has to be substantial in size. That limits your choices.

    If you choose to market to women, at a minimum, you have someone in mind when you are building your marketing campaign and creative. While it might not speak to every woman, at least you instill some consistency in your message. Consistency breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds trust.

  8. Roger Conant says:

    First off, I am thrilled that you commented on this Ron. Before I address your points (and while I have the floor), I need quote the following from Bridget Brennan, author of Why She Buys (one of the books Shari Storm recommends in the recent article by my buddy Laura Enock about Verity MOM in CU Business)

    “Gender is the most potent determinant of how a person views the world and everything in it—more powerful than age, income, race and geography. While there are mountains of research done every year segmenting consumers and analyzing why they buy, it doesn’t take into account the one piece of information that trumps all else: the sex of the buyer. It is stunning how many companies overlook the psychology of gender,when we all know that men and women look at the world so differently.”

    Candidly, I hate the term “marketing to women”. It’s outdated, but it’s what we are still stuck with as a general reference point. Perhaps “engaging” women would be better. But that would probably let too many marketers off the hook.

    My purpose was to shift the conversation…no, begin the conversation in a different direction than its been in past articles. There has never really been an extended conversation about this subject in financial services before. It always stopped with…”wasn’t Verity MOM a great program”! Or, “isn’t the FTWCCU’s Gabby program novel!” Or..”that program from Mountain America, the Women’s Financial Services Network…now there’s a good program.”

    I simply wanted industry to weigh in on this subject a little deeper. And especially the marketing people. I’ve always said that time was on my side with this opportunity…I only hope I live long enough to see more financial institutions wake up to it!

    1. I totally agree that “women” is too broad a market…and could have done a better job in clarifying that. I will say that financial services could expand their “sales training” to cover the differences in male and female communication styles. That’s an area totally void in FI training circles (although it is covered in financial advisor training??)

    2. As for singling out the challenge with the male culture,,,I’ll stick with that one. And I believe that Tom Peters would agree with me. I don’t expect fully employed financial services people to comment on that. After all, there are things one can express as an independent contractor that they’d never say if they had a job in the industry. And as I said in the OPED…”it’s not a matter of fault, blame or even “doing the right thing”…it’s just reality!

    I’ll end with an email I received from a prominent industry CEO after I sent her an advanced copy of the OPED…

    Oh nicely done Roger. Go for it. Several years ago, the average age of an American widow was 56. My guess is that that number hasn’t changed much (my Mom was just 45 when Dad died) . Women are handling more of the finances than ever before. I wouldn’t be too hard on the male CU CEOs though. We just don’t know HOW to market to women in this country. I’ll bet that most of the people filling the marketing roles in CUs are women and yet even THEY don’t put forth stuff that appeals to women! And I don’t believe it’s because a male CEO is stopping them. We are ALL in our comfort zone doing marketing just the way it “should be.” Shari is right when she says you have to use a lot of fortitude. You also have to really think out of the box. There’s no set it and forget it when marketing to women — this is new territory and that takes creativity and extra effort. Love the article! THANK YOU for sharing again!

  9. Roger: Thanks for your comment. A part of me just wants to sigh and say “I knew I wasn’t articulating my points very clearly.”
    Let me try a different angle: If 89% of the decision makers are women, and 89% of the decisions are made by women…then, effectively, the entire market is already WOMEN, and has been for at least 10 years (when I started researching the financial services space).

    If the market is so predominantly skewed to one gender over another, then gender is a useless differentiating dimension.

    I am pleased that you got the letter from the CU CEO. No offense to her, or to any other CU CEO, but let’s be honest: Most CEOs (especially those who haven’t come up through the marketing ranks, and very few have, just ask Hap Landies) just want “more members” “satisfied members” and “profitable members”. They don’t really understand — or care (a case could be made that they don’t need to care) — about the segmentation approaches to the marketplace and how different tactics and strategies are targeted to those segments.

    The cries for “marketing to women” imply that there has been a conscious, concerted effort to market to men. I know I’m going to tick a bunch of people off with this comment but here goes: That’s ludicrous! Most financial services marketing — especially that from credit unions — isn’t good enough to have done that.

    Financial services marketing efforts have been focused on students, new movers, people who meet certain lifestage events (new kids, retirement, etc.) or even WORSE, focused on product features (FREE CHECKING!, LOWEST RATES!).

    As for your points regarding the predominance of a “male” culture, I simply can’t comment. I hold myself out as a marketing expert, not an expert on corporate culture. Would love to hear if Matt Monge has any thoughts on this.

  10. Ondine – Listen to sports radio or read Esquire and you’ll hear/see male-specific marketing. As for the gay community, we do some outreach to that market because it is such a fantastic niche and we have a lot of personal connection with the Seattle community. Our messaging and creative is certainly different than what we do in other segments.

    I’m sad that you think our mom-specific marketing insinuates that moms are less intelligent. Moms participate on blogs more than dads. The online mom community is just more active and I don’t think that is a commentary on anyone’s intelligence, just their preference.

  11. Short and sweet . . . I would prefer to segment based on channel use, transactions or lifestage as opposed to gender. More differentiated insights and more actionable.

  12. Sheila Nott says:

    Segmentation marketing is smart marketing. Regardless today’s emale consumer is mostly interested in one thing – what other women (an men too) are saying about that brand. That’s called recommendation marketing, in other words what “strangers with experience” are saying about that brand or business. The Women’s Choice Award is the best example of smart marketing to women as its given to only businesses that are voted by women as one they would highly recommend. Kudos to Delia Passi for figuring this out. And her book Winning the Toughtest Customer, the guide to selling to women is worth the read.

  13. Really really interesting comments. To some degree I think most of the comments are in violent agreement on the topic. My first comment is on Marketing, my second is on Corporate Cultural Competency.

    The financial services consumer is female (everyone has the facts straight, no argument). Also agree with segmentation as the next step, (age, life-stage, etc). Finally marketing cannot be homogenized. You have main-thrust (targeting most of your efforts and initiatives) and you have segmented marketing (a portion of your budget for different strategies, (students, retirement, home buyers).

    As a member of a Credit Union for 30 years, I think the entire industry needs to re-think it’s strategy. Tired direct mail and generic point of sale just doesn’t get the job done today. Marketing is about developing a relationship with your brand. A personal bond. Think Apple, Coke, Harley-Davidson, (do you know any one who has gotten their CU tattooed on their body as a sign of commitment.

    You have to be razor sharp and hit your target where they live. If your target is women, (and I believe it is) how are you building a relationship with her and her life and needs? How are you addressing her busy lifestyle, her need for more flexibility, her need for financial security. These are speak to changing the Corporate Culture and putting your consumer in the middle.

    When Target (one of today’s best marketers talk about their shoppers it is always in a female pronoun. What does ‘she think’, what is ‘she buying’, ‘how do we make her life easier?’ That is a Corporate Culture that gets who its customer is. McDonalds is another great example. Their main-trust media today is 100% multi-cultural lead. They talk about it often. But it is not so edgy as to off-put anglos. That’s great marketing.

    This is so easy and yet most companies just don’t get it. And in my business I will tell you the number 1 reason is that leadership doesn’t get it. And leadership today is still old white and male.

    As an old white male myself I can attest that men have never been trained in Cultural Competency, (let alone the principles of marketing). And with the exception of the Mattel example above, the majority of people in Marketing at Target are Women, at McDonalds are multi-Cultural and at Harley they all have tattoos.

    At the end of the day, it is about driving more people to use our products and services. Marketing to Women is about great Marketing. Re-building an organization that mirrors the needs and lifestyles of your consumers so as to best service their needs requires a change in culture!

    Jeffery Tobias Halter, President YWomen

  14. Roger Conant says:

    For Jim M Jim– What about with training front liners how to sell to men versus women. Don’t you think there is a difference in how men and women communicate about financial matters? Really, about everything?

  15. The same thing could be said when credit unions say we want to target Gen Y. WTF does that mean? Are you talking high school, college or the young working pro. And like Tim said, what is your reach into those sub markets. Are they large enough to sustain an on going effort or will it be a waste of time and money. And Tim… next time you make it down to Texas you are welcome to swing by the office and can show you our entire arsenal of guns (nerf of course).

  16. I wanted to “like” this comment!

  17. Ron, I take issue with your assertion that because 89% of the market is women makes that irrelevant because that’s essentially everyone. I don’t think there’s agreement that men and women perceive things differently. THAT is the point of marketing geared toward women. It’s more about male perceptions of your marketing mattering less. And of course that’s a very broad demographic but when you’re talking about sub-demographics, then you’re talking more about tactics rather than strategy.

  18. Sarah: I’m wrestling with your statement that “I don’t think there’s agreement that men and women perceive things differently.” If men and women DON’T perceive things differently, then why would any CU need to “market to women.”

    Also, I will continue to try to elaborate on what I’m trying to get across, because I’m clearly failing:

    Different people have different needs in terms of products, services, how they like to deal w/ financial institutions, and how which channels they interact and transact in.

    The “old” way that CUs and banks interacted with, marketed to, sold to, etc. consumers is outdated. It has nothing or little to do with gender. It has to do with the fact that more and more consumers research their needs, research providers, ask for (seek out) recommendations, etc. Because women are the predominant buyer in financial services, there are people in the industry who think that modifying service, marketing, and selling practices to the new behaviors and needs is “marketing to women/” bullshit. Men want the same thing. We’re just not the predominant buyer/decision maker in financial services.

    For the 10% of the decisions where the man is the decision maker, the new “marketing to women” approach is JUST AS APPLICABLE.

    Thanks for reading.

    I’ll keep trying to explain myself.

  19. Leigh Philibosian says:

    Great discussion. I completely agree with the above comments that “women” is too broad of a target audience. Rather than reiterate all the wonderfully made points above concerning the diversity of women and their interests, I’ll say I wholeheartedly agree.

    However, I believe there is a point to be made about male CEOs being slow or reluctant to embrace marketing to a female demographic. I worked with one CU marketing executive on a television/radio campaign that was targeted specifically to reach women of a specific age and income level. The campaign launched, and the credit union was getting great feedback about their ads. Even better, they saw a 30% increase in new membership over the previous month before the campaign started.

    However, the CEO was quite upset with how the campaign was going. He was not happy because he wasn’t seeing his ads on TV. The marketing officer tried to explain that it was because, as a 55+ male, he wasn’t the target demographic. This CEO is a smart man who runs a great credit union and is progressive about product introduction and branch strategy, but the strategy behind the campaign didn’t matter. He was spending a lot on advertising and he wanted to see those ads when he was watching ESPN, etc. He also wanted to be sure that his Board (largely male and 55+) were also seeing those ads.

    We had to modify the placement schedule to include programs where he would see these ads, thereby decreasing the effectiveness within the target demographic. Overall, the campaign was still delivering a great return, but we just weren’t hitting the target audience as hard. In the end, keeping the CEO happy ensured that we kept a successful campaign running, even though we sacrificed greater reach within the female demographic.

  20. Social dynamics just aren’t that simple, I’m afraid. In my mind, it’s not as simple as “market to women” or “don’t market to women.” What if we said something crazy like “market to white people” since the majority of our members are white? (I don’t know the actual stats–I’m making this up as I go:)). And then make sure we fire all member service reps who aren’t white since they don’t understand as well how white people think. And since white people are the primary decision-makers, let’s care more about what white people care about than we care about other what other people groups think.

    Obviously none of us think that, and none of us would do that. It’s an imperfect and admittedly silly analogy, to be sure; but it’s more meant to point out that I don’t think we can boil this down to simply a gender thing. Our identity—our makeup as humans—is more complicated and amazing than that. I’m not equating marketing to a gender with marketing to race; I’m simply trying to point out that I believe it’s a bit more complex than “let’s market more to women.” There are so many sociological and cultural layers to consider here, and time and space won’t really permit us to dive into all those. (read: it would be really boring) 🙂

    There’s also the issue of society becoming increasingly less-defined by traditional definitions of gender and gender roles. “How women think” is such a general and fluid concept right now. Don’t misunderstand—just because it’s fluid does not mean it shouldn’t be considered and taken seriously. But it does mean that we have to admit that not all women think/act/make purchasing decisions in the same way. We can point to trends in data, but the fact that we use the word “trends” tells us that the data changes; it ebbs and flows and demonstrates change over time.

    That said, I don’t have a problem with “marketing to women” (though that phrase rubs me wrong for some reason), per se. I love the Verity Mom program. But as Ron pointed out, that wasn’t simply marketing to a gender—it was Verity doing a really good job engaging a certain demographic within their membership. And we know that Verity doesn’t simply “market to women” and then call it a day; it’s part of a broader marketing strategy and scope.

    As an aside, there was a car dealership here in town that recently started pushing a “car shopping experience for women” thing. They hired a female sales force, had pink advertising, pink billboards, etc. Time will tell if and how that worked out for them, but I’ll say that after that initial push I haven’t heard a peep about it. Perhaps that plays into the conversation about need fortitude to persevere with ideas like that; and perhaps it was just a bad marketing decision for that company at that point in time; and perhaps it was a good idea that was executed poorly. There are just so many other dynamics at play with something like that. I can tell you that another side of discussions like this one is that when you “market to women,” you run the risk of enforcing stereotypes and coming off as patronizing. I don’t personally perceive it that quite like that, but I know others who do.

    Further, and separately, I think we do need more diversity on our exec teams; we need more leaders, regardless of gender, to be willing to be vulnerable and say we don’t have this figured out but need to honestly wrestle with it. But I wouldn’t limit that to a gender thing. I think we need more variety in regards to gender, but also race, age, and so on. But that’s for another discussion I suppose. 🙂

  21. Roger Conant says:

    Great story, Leigh. By the way, I enjoyed the time I spent in your fair city when I was calling on my largest CU…PSECU. I was with a CU services group called CUTS–who sold TurboTax exclusively to CUs…to market to their members. They are now part of the InvestInAmerica Group.

    But your story also reminds me when I was an AE for a radio station here in Houston…this was the 70’s. At that time, selling the advertiser on being the spokesperson for their product (on the air) was often the formula for a long running, successful campaign. Whether the spots got results or not. 🙂

  22. Great story, Leigh. But I have to say that I think it demonstrates a CEO that doesn’t get marketing. Period. If the target market in question was Gen Yers, or Hispanics, then it’s just as likely that he (and the board) wouldn’t have seen the ads. Once again, this isn’t about “marketing to women.”

  23. Ron,

    In your examples of M2W it seems you’re identifying scenarios where an institution would engage in analysis of consumer preference, profitability, usage, etc. to design a product or campaign from the ground up. Certainly that’s a common recipe for a new product launch, but I don’t believe that’s a great way to leverage the data out there about how women influence the financial decisions of the household, how they do more research regarding selecting a new institution, are more likely to be confident n their selection of a new FI, and will consolidate their accounts more than men (sources:

    Instead, I’d argue that the best use of this data is to look for ways to apply marketing techniques designed to subtly engage more of the potential (female) customer base without alienating your potential male customers. It can be done but if you look to redesign programs, products, and processes from the ground up without a firm grasp on your current run rate or a predicted growth rate of the new initiative, then you won’t be set up to succeed…with men, women, or your CEO.

  24. Mark: If women make 95% of the decisions (per the MC study, up from the 89% that Holly cited), then it DOESN’T MATTER that women “do more research than men’ or “are more confident in their FI selection than men” or “are more likely to consolidate accounts than men”.

    If men aren’t making the decisions.. then NO POINT OF COMPARISON to men is even worth considering.

    The only points of comparison are BETWEEN segments of women: WHICH women are more likely to research than other women, WHICH women are more confident in their FI selection — and more importantly, WHY they’re more confident, and WHICH women are more likely to consolidate than others.

    There’s a misconception that FIs have been marketing to “men.”

    In a sense this is true, but in a way it’s nonsense, and Leigh’s story bears this out. The CEO in Leigh’s story shows that in that instance — and I would bet it’s indicative of many other FIs — the CEO was marketing to HIMSELF. So yes, that was marketing to “men.” But it’s only coincidental that he was a man. If he was a she, it’s possible that the attitude would be just the same.

    So now you have to show me that female CEOs manage differently than male CEOs. 🙂

    Time for the weekend. 🙂

  25. Brian McLaughlin says:

    Interesting post. When I started in banking back in the 70s, First National Bank of Chicago (and I suspect a lot of others) had a “Women’s Banking Center” that was very reminiscent of today’s “Private Banking”. It was focused on customized personal service to women in the higher financial tiers.

    Today, as pointed out in the blog post, women simply are the financial decision makers in most homes. My personal experience tells me that women are much more thorough in the purchasing of goods and services than men. Many women who go into an auto dealer to buy a car, have more completely research the vehicle they are going to purchase and have a much less emotional attraction to a particular choice than many men.

    Women tend to investigate pricing and convenience and the capabilities of the service providers they consider. They spend more time investigating these and are patient when it comes to making a final decision. The perception has traditionally been to “sell to their ‘soft’ side”. In reality, we have to sell to their intellect.

  26. Roger Conant says:

    Thanks for your comment Brian. Are you on the banking or credit union side?

    Sounds like you have extensive experience…do you think women and men communicate differently in a face to face situation (in reference to financial services”? Thanks again for your input.

  27. Ondine: Thanks for agreeing, but I think you’re being too harsh on the Verity Mom approach. What I like about it is that it’s focused on a particular segment of the market — women who identify with the “mom of a young family” role. (Please note that I am not referring to the age of the mother, but the age of the children).

    With a 20+ year old daughter, you don’t identify with that, neither does my wife, and neither do a lot of other women, even those who do have young families. But I believe that there is — and I think Verity believes it, too — that there are meaningful-enough number of women who DO associate with that.

    Our (yours and my) view that the “marketing to women” approach is wrong is not inconsistent with what Verity is doing.

  28. Thanks for commenting, Holly, and I’m not all that surprised that you agree with at least some of what I’m saying (or trying to). I don’t, in any way, dispute the IMPORTANCE of women in the financial services decision making process. I just think, that from a marketing perspective, “marketing to women” glosses over important differences in how the decision makers decide on financial products and services. Decision makers who just happen to be women.

  29. Valerie P. says:

    I am a banker, a woman, and I often find “marketing to women” to be insulting because they usually try to make it “girly” or in some way dumb it down. Are you implying that I can not understand figures and market trends or that I am in some way much to busy to bother? I don’t care about puppies (although I find them cute) on my marketing material. I care about you being able to meet my needs financially.

    That being said, a child friendly area in any business is a good idea because there are single parents (of both genders) that this would help. I agree wholeheartedly with your argument. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Brian McLaughlin says:


    Thanks for your response. I had been in commercial banking for all my career, all in Chicago. In 2008 I was hired by ESL Federal Credit Union as their Chief Lending Officer in part to establish business banking. That has now been completed and I have decided to “retire” but hope to be very busy working with other CUs that are looking to set up business banking. I see this as a very exciting opportunity for CUs and if done correctly a very beneficial service for members.

    As to your question concerning men and women and communicating about financial services. In all likelihood there is some difference. Society says that women are more “challenged” with regards to many things including financial services. As a result, many women feel compelled to research/prepare much better for this and therefore are more versed in issues quite often. This is not to say that men are not, but men usually assume they know things. Women actually do know what questions to ask and therefore get better answers. Like any generalization, this is not universally true.

  31. Roger Conant says:

    So glad you are staying in the CU space. CUs need your help with biz lending.
    Send me your email address, would you? Would love to place you with a good seat in my balcony! 🙂

  32. Holly Buchanan says:

    Really interesting discussion. I love this.

    I want to address a few key points

    “In her post, Holly quotes a source that says women make 89% of the banking decisions for their families.”

    Those are the exact words from my source, but I think a much better way to phrase that would be “women influence 89% of banking decisions for their families”

    Women don’t make decisions in a vaccum – they are taking into consideration the needs and opinions of spouses, family members and trusted friends. Men are participating in these decisions as well. It just may be that she is the one doing the research online or executing the final decision. So you can’t leave men out of the equation. That would be dangerous – which brings me to the next point….

    Creating campaigns that explicitly say “we’re targeting women” often fail. LIke the car dealership Matt talked about
    “As an aside, there was a car dealership here in town that recently started pushing a “car shopping experience for women” thing. They hired a female sales force, had pink advertising, pink billboards, etc. Time will tell if and how that worked out for them, but I’ll say that after that initial push I haven’t heard a peep about it.”

    i would imagine it was a failure. Women are not necessarily looking for a “separate” shopping experience. How’s her spouse going to feel? Is he going to enjoy that experience?

    And any time you come right out and say, “Hey, we provide a great experience for women” and throw around a bunch of pink women will be very skeptical and likely call BS.

    Lexus is consistently a top rated brand among women. they don’t have separate campaigns or experiences for women. The overall experience and car simply feature things women care about. Men either enjoy them too, or simply don’t notice them.

    There’s a car dealership in Richmond where the owner is a woman. So among all the commercials with male car dealership owners (many of which are super gimmicky), that commercial stands out. She’s not saying, “Hey, women, come to my car dealership.” Simply featuring a female owner in a NON gimmicky commercial sends a message to women that this car shopping experience might be one she won’t dread. And guess what, a lot of men don’t like gimmicky car commercials either.

    Here’s the bottom line, when it comes to financial services, or any other client, you want to create marketing that generates results.

    In my book, Leigh made the most convincing argument of how marketing to women, donte correctly, can have a big impact on your bottom line

    “I worked with one CU marketing executive on a television/radio campaign that was targeted specifically to reach women of a specific age and income level. The campaign launched, and the credit union was getting great feedback about their ads. Even better, they saw a 30% increase in new membership over the previous month before the campaign started. ”

    If you’re a credit union – would you like a 30% increase in new membership?

    You can see my complete response here –

  33. Sandy Pitkethly says:

    Ron, I think I get what you are saying, and I guess if women are already the decision makers, than somewhere along the line financial institutions have already done a good job of marketing to them.

    I’d also suggest that even though women make up half of the population, and an obviously mass market, that there is a difference in mass marketing to women from broadly targeting men. And it’s way, way, way more complex than the option of using pink in the creative, although I’m sure with enough research we could find a sub-set of women would appreciate that stereo-typing!

    With International Women’s Day coming up this week, I’ve been contemplating your discussion here and, how an “International Man’s Day” would differ. I think the difference is that instinctively, International Women’s Day is about celebrating the difference within the club that makes women women. Women understand that there are countless subsets and by targeting “Women” there is more of an inherent understanding that it’s an accumulation of a variety of subsets.

    If there were an International Men’s Day (see PS line), I’m guessing it would celebrate, at the end of the day, that men are all part of the same “man” club and need to be reminded of that.

    This could sound like I’m trying to start a new debate, and I’m not. To me, the fact that there is a well-marketed International Women’s Day is an example that women are more open to being marketed to as a group, despite the sub-sets within it.

    Just my two-bits.

    P.S. After drafting this, I googled International Men’s Day and discovered that, “it’s held annually held on November 19 to improve gender relations and promote unity.” Who knew?

  34. meant to say “arguement” not agreement. 🙂

    I’m as equal rights as the next woman but there’s no denying that the majority of women would think and perceive the world differently than men. Hypothetically, say you feature little girl playing dress up with make up in a commercial (just work with me here). A woman might think, I remember doing that and create a feeling of affinity. On the other hand, a man might think, I will not be able to handle my daughter’s teenage years. Life experiences help shape your perceptions, whether it’s cultural or genetic when it comes to gender, and they may be shared by most former little girls but not most men.

  35. Another interesting perspective on the marketing of financial service to women:

  36. Katelynn Bruggeman says:

    Thanks again for the blog post. Want much more.

  37. cardanalysis says:

    From Forbes on April 6th- Another Perspective – “Who Decided That Girls Need Pink Toys? Why Gender Marketing is a Bad Idea”

  38. Ondine: Thanks for that link. I think the author of the article doesn’t get what gender marketing is, and isn’t. Personally, I’m in favor of any kind of marketing that customizes and personalizes marketing efforts to a manageable, identifiable, and unique segment of consumers. My argument, in this blog post, is that “women” does not meet that criteria. Pink is not a marketing strategy.

  39. Reblogged this on Always On! and commented:
    I am currently exploring the issue of whether financial institutions are or should be marketing, communicating with and developing products and services for women – particularly in the digital and social arena. I found this article and the large number of comments worth sharing.

  40. And how much does Verity’s program appeals to Mr. Mom’s? Quite so. Mom’s have specific needs, no matter what their gender.

    As you point out, the key is to market to NEEDS. Do women need something different? Not so much as a gender. Wearing a bra doesn’t necessarily change your banking needs. And it’s insulting and gender-blind to assume so.

    However, if you design business solutions that meet the unique needs of single people, starting families, re-starting families, small business owners…. you will be able to garner their business and trust — whether or not they choose to wear a bra.

  41. Ondine Irving says:

    This blog post has always bothered me- and I commented a year ago, and I’m commenting a year later (mainly because I got an update in my inbox which prompted me).

    Last time I checked, I am a woman- 100%. But I am also a parent, business owner, child, sibling. I am defined by my roles in life- and not by those “gender specific” roles. I do not define myself as a mother, minority business owner or a daughter- the gender specific descriptions of each role.. Yes I am female and a “mommy” – but that does not define my marketing preferences. My roles define what I need in life. I am not “leaning in” or “leaning out” as Sheryl Sandburg might suggest- I am defined not by my gender.

    As long as women continue to pigeon hole themselves into these gender defined groups- versus roles and life stages- things will never change. Last I checked, women still only may 70%-75% of mens wages for same work- why do women continue to do this to themselves.

  42. Roger Conant says:

    Ondine–So glad to see your post. I saw the same update!

    This subject has fascinated me for a decade. And having 2 daughters has only made me more interested.

    Sandburg has a point with leaning in, but its not that simple.

    Your suggestion about roles and life stages makes sense.

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