“The customer is always right.” The famous slogan was designed to remind organisations that without customers, users, buyers, clients (call them what you like), they are nothing.
It’s hardly rocket science then to say that understanding customers is critical. After all, not all customers are the same. The most successful organisations understand each type of customer: their outlook, their behaviours and their views. And I would argue that reflecting those differences in communications activity is central to an organisation’s ultimate success.
Gender is just one way customers can be segmented. I recently attended an event hosted by the Financial Services Forum which explored what financial services brands need to do to appeal to female customers as much as males.
Research presented at the event by Kantar hammered home why this is such an important issue. Women make up more than 50% of the market in the UK. The commercial benefit for brands who can appeal to women best is clear. And yet, the perception of women (and men, interestingly) is that financial services is “a man’s world.” Designed by men, run by men, for men. Women are not fully engaging with large sections of the industry as a result.
So how can financial services companies go about changing this perception?
Central to their efforts is understanding how men and women think about financial issues differently. Kantar’s research threw up some important distinctions. For example, women tend to be responsible for more everyday spending decisions, while men typically deal with longer term saving and investment decisions. Likewise, women tend to seek more validation for financial decisions they make than men.
Mortgage borrowing offers a useful visualisation of some of the differences between men and women. Women tend to worry more about the potential costs of a big loan, like a mortgage, than men. Men tend to plough ahead and then be more surprised about the costs that emerge as they look into it. However, despite being more surprised by the costs as they emerge, rather than considering them earlier, men are also more likely to ultimately make a purchase than women.
It is important to stress that simplifying this down to a binary split between men and women is neither accurate nor productive. The research reveals differences in tendencies rather than declaring that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Indeed, consensus at the event was that ‘pink finance’ products are not the way to get more female customers engaged with financial services brands.
Instead, the industry needs to empower women to feel more confident about dealing with finances. Kantar’s research found that women tend to be less confident on financial matters than men, and that if women’s confidence increased by one measure on their scale, it could result in an extra £130bn going into UK savings and investments.
How firms go about doing this will be multifaceted. But I believe good communications will play a fundamental part. Furthermore, when you consider that building better relationships with female customers is seen as central to the solution, taking a thought leadership approach to communications could be particularly powerful.
Why? Because the best thought leadership engages with its audiences, rather than talks to them. It demonstrates an understanding of their concerns and collaborates with its audiences to explore solutions to longstanding problems.
For a financial services company aiming to boost its standing among (and ultimately do more business with) women, taking a thought leadership position on issues that matter to women could be a giant step forward in boosting female perceptions of the sector.