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Content sites, not social networks the hot ticket for reaching women: study

When it comes to connecting and communicating with women an old-fashioned, bog-standard website may be a better bet than the in-vogue world of social networking. These are the surprising findings of a new US study by authoritative brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value in partnership with Yahoo!.

The newly-released research, called Connectonomics, details women’s needs and how they relate to the online channels they use on a daily basis. The findings are both interesting and surprising. The independent research appears to support Yahoo!’s business model — one that exists predominantly in the online publishing space as opposed to that of social networking.

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The study found that the “anonymity” that content channels offer can lead to deeper emotional connections for women. Women said these sites offer users access to “like-minded women and solutions to problems without the risk of being judged by people they know in real life”.

There’s no doubt that the internet is an important space for women. A Harris Interactive study found in 2008 that 46% of US women said they would rather give up sex than their online time for two weeks.

But the surprise-factor about this new research was that it found social media to be “less relevant” in the context of shopping, brands and purchase decisions. Content channels such as lifestyle and special interest sites offer three times the impact on purchase decisions compared to other online channels, creating much better opportunities for advertisers to build relationships. Marketing messages resonate more with women when presented in the context of content channels as opposed to social media sites.

Added Value Vice President Nima Srinivasan told that these findings support an increasing number of studies that point to Facebook and Twitter “not offering great ROI, reach or living up to the social media hype”.

“We were trying to explore the optimal social media strategy since that seems to be the oft-repeated question of the hour. Consumers likened Facebook to a ‘cocktail party’ or ‘bar’ where this was about projecting an idealised self for ‘Validation’ (a need state) and ‘Mutual Sharing.’ A marketer (brand/ad/product) butting in to that space simply felt disingenuous to them. And is it is already widely known in the US — Twitter has a lower following among women than men here,” she says.

The study further found that despite “demographic differences”, women share the same core needs which revolve around personal growth and a shared interdependence on others.

Companies may be better served by understanding women’s core “needs” or what drives and motivates them rather than subscribing to existing stereotypes about “Xers vs. Millennials”, “moms vs. non-moms”, “stay-at-home moms vs. working moms”. Understanding women’s need states allows marketers to have more relevant conversations with them.

The study notes that various online channels cater to “different need states”. Women receive, share and are receptive to information in varying degrees on each of these channels. Understanding this is key to media and marketing effectiveness.

“Women aren’t as complex as they are misunderstood. Since they hold tremendous clout in terms of consumer spend and decision-making, it’s critical to understand the best ways to connect with them,” explains Srinivasan.

“Connectonomics weaves learning from various disciplines like sociology, psychology, consumer behavior and social media usage to arrive at more accurate insights. Rather than subscribe to widely held stereotypes about gender or media use, this study tries to answer very basic, critical questions like ‘What do women really want in 2010?’ and ‘Where should marketers be to connect with them?'”

“Connectonomics builds on our goal to help marketers and brands better speak with women,” says Radha Subramanyam, Yahoo! VP and Head of Corporate and Media Research.

“Understanding the basic needs of why women leverage online communication channels leads to more powerful and nuanced connections. The end game is about portfolio management, knowing what women are using each channel for, and how to activate each through integrated marketing.”

Yahoo! presented the key insights from the study to a select audience of marketing executives recently, including a panel of content and marketing experts such as Erik Logan, president of Harpo Studios; Phillippe Schaillee, CMO of Sara Lee; Kim Moldofsky, a blogger and founder of MomImpact; and Danielle Wiley, senior VP of consumer brands at Edelman Digital Chicago.

Qualitative and online quantitative interviews were conducted with more than 3 000 women across the US to understand their most prevalent core needs and which online channels, from social media to blogs to special interest sites, best fulfill those needs. The research is specifically useful to advertisers who are looking for the most effective means to maximise their engagement with women online.

Key findings

1. Needs: Understanding women’s needs should inform product, marketing and content decisions.

  • Women’s need are not as varied as you might think.
  • The most important needs for women revolve around personal growth, as well as their interdependencies on others in their lives.
  • 2. Channel: How women navigate the web should dictate how the channel is used for marketing communications.

  • Communication channels like social networking and IM are used most often by women. These channels enable women to stay connected and share information, but these connections are more casual. Marketing messages are often ignored in these environments.
  • Content sites like women’s lifestyle and special interest sites fulfill the most needs for women. These channels also offer anonymity which results in deep emotional connection.
  • Email continues to be one of the stronger channels in terms of usage and a great channel for content sharing.
  • 3. Receptivity: Women are most receptive to marketing messages on lifestyle, specialty and review sites.

  • These channels deliver 3x the impact on purchase decisions compared to other online channels.
  • Women are most open to advertising on content channels compared with communication channels where ads are often ignored.
  • The study can be downloaded from Added Value, and additional information is also available from Yahoo!.

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