I received an e-mail the other day from someone suggesting that I write about marketing to women, and my first reaction was to think, “Is there anything I can add to this topic?” There’s been talk about the opportunity in the female market for over 30 years. Talk, talk, talk -- so much I am tired of it! Yet in surveys, female investors still report dissatisfaction with our industry, and the number of female advisors still lags. I don’t want to waste your time (or my breath) with the reasons that change has been so slow. Instead, I’ll share a few ideas based on my experience as a marketing executive and one of those women you want to market to.

First and foremost, don’t lump all women together -- it’s insulting and ineffective. Having said that, I apologize in advance for any generalizations or broad sweeps I use to make a point. I’m also aware that many firms are making positive market share gains with female investors, and there are “rock stars” among female advisors, many of whom are my friends. That’s the challenge with this topic, so I appreciate your understanding.

You can’t succeed if you focus on marketing to women without paying attention to the total experience in your office. Try to see and feel things through their eyes. Here’s a true story: I was recently interviewing creative agencies to help me on a marketing project focused on couples, and the male/female perspective was critical. I really liked this one group of young, hip guys, but I went on their Web site and saw that out of the 17 employees at their agency, there was only one woman and she was the secretary. Oddly, they had a bunch of dogs on the site, presumably their pets. When we had the pitch meeting, I asked them how they could relate to my target market without any women on the creative team. Silence. Then one said, “Two of the dogs are female.” Seriously?

I’m not saying all women want to work with female advisors; in fact, that is not true. But they will look at your Web site, your staff, your space and your marketing materials to see if they feel welcome. Just welcome -- not pandered to, not excluded. Comfortable.

Lasers Compared To Radar

There’s been a ton of great research on how the average female brain differs from the male brain. One study is recounted in the book The Female Vision by Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson, which characterizes the female brain as “radar” while men’s are “lasers.” The relevance to our business is that women tend to scan, have a bigger peripheral vision and set of complexities because of their multiple roles. Men are often better able to focus on one thing at a time and have a preference for straight-line thinking rather than nuance. Again, in general.

Was your client experience built for lasers or radar -- or better yet, both? I spent years as an advisor myself, and I remember the typical meeting where the wife would want to talk big picture and the husband would eventually say, “Let’s get down to business.” For her, the context-setting and self-expression were the “business of life” while for him the meeting was about the “business of money.” By the way, pretty important stuff gets revealed in these conversations! Many advisors defer to the impatient male and start talking numbers, often much too soon. Meetings have a set agenda and a ton of slides, leaving little time for conversation. In fact, women care about the numbers, too, and want to know their money is performing, and men of course care about their non-financial goals. You will benefit everyone by making sure life and money are balanced. Find ways to get a woman talking, not shut her down.

Making Both Genders Comfortable

Sometimes, men’s and women’s priorities change. In the old days, most guys went to the barber shop and women went to fancier, more expensive beauty parlors. Smart hairdressers, seeing an opportunity to expand into the men’s hair market, changed the names of their shops, toned down the pink and made sure their locations were comfortable for men. Men found out how great it is to get a head massage, enjoy good products and leave with a style rather than just a cut. Men and women are both happy, and now men’s hair appointments are the most profitable treatments in many salons.

In our industry, it’s critical that both men and women are comfortable with how they are served. As a segment, women are powerful wage earners, consumers and wealth holders. In addition, family financial decisions require common understanding and the ability to make shared choices. The advisor needs to help partners communicate with each other. Your practice should make a woman comfortable and incorporate her needs, communication style and personal wisdom. If it doesn’t, any marketing you do is a bait and switch, and you’re wasting your time. Women have become very good at knowing what is authentic and what is not, as so many firms have let them down in our industry.