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Businesses largely ignoring marketing to women

Corporate America just doesn't understand women or their buying power. If it did, corporate advertising and marketing strategies wouldn't be virtually ignoring women or, worse, marginalizing them.

That's according to "Marketing to Women," by Martha Barletta, who aims to get companies to understand and profit from what she calls "the world's largest market segment."

The most provocative parts of the book sum up in a punchy style the facts and figures behind women as an economic force and the scientific studies examining potential gender differences in behavior.

"The simple fact is that women are now deeply integrated into the workplace, are more educated on average than men, and often earn as much as or more than men. The result is power: the power of the purse that comes from earning," writes Barletta, a gender-focused marketing specialist who has worked on such brands as Kraft and Allstate.

And citing studies from evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, and elsewhere, Barletta suggests there are real differences between men and women when it comes to perception, behavior, and communication.

"It can be tricky to talk about male/female differences in a way that nobody finds offensive. For lots of good reasons, it's still kind of a sore subject with a lot of people. That's why it's important to review the data," Barletta writes. And the data suggest women are more likely to think holistically than men, to be more attentive to details, among other things, she writes.

But because the audience for the book is chief executives and corporate sales and marketing executives -- and because Barletta is advocating her trademarked "GenderTrends Marketing Model" -- most of the chapters focus on how to use such research to target women as consumers.

Unless you feel you or your firm can profit from the strategies Barletta lays out, it's pretty tough sledding through a lot of the jargon in those chapters, even with the charts for illustration.

For instance, in explaining something she calls the "Star Gender Culture," Barletta uses an illustration of a four-pointed star to highlight what she calls the different perspectives and priorities that enter into a woman's decision to buy.

With each of the points on the star bearing such labels as "Synthesizer Dynamics" or "Communication Keys," it's a hard concept to grasp, unless you study it real hard.

But if you're a consumer, man or woman, trying to understand how corporate America might target you next, there are some valuable nuggets to be unearthed from the jargon.

For example, in a chapter with the title "The Circle and the Compass," Barletta compares two ads by Fidelity Investments. One ad shows a "square-jawed, vigorous-looking older man on the phone with the headline, `Fundsnetwork. To a mutual funds investor, it's command central.' -- perfect for men, less resonant for women," Barletta writes.

The other ad "shows a pleasant-looking woman, also on the phone, next to the headline, `New job? Call family, friends and Fidelity.'

"I like to present these two ads together in my seminars, because they are literally a side-by-side demonstration of the different approaches more likely to appeal to men and women," Barletta writes.

Dolores Kong, a former Boston Globe personal finance reporter, is a financial planner and Business 1060AM radio show host. She can be reached at Dolores@business1060.comDolores@business1060.com.

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