Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan is a fascinating book which provides a different perspective on selling to women. Below is an excerpt from the book:
The Lesson of Ryland Homes: If the woman doesn’t want it, the man doesn’t get it
Myth: Men drive all the big decisions in married households.
Reality: Women are the deal breakers.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry more male-dominated than home building. The average home-building company is staffed like a World War II aircraft carrier, at least in its management ranks. But times are slowly changing. While most senior executives are still white and male, these companies are waking to the fact that their real customer are women, and that they’ve been leaving money on the table by creating and selling homes from a male perspective, from underdesigning closets to using sell sheets that focus purely on technical data and architectural blueprints.
The Ryland Group is a $2 billion, publicly traded home-building company-one of the top in its industry-that has changed the way it designs houses, based on a new understanding of who rules America’s roosts. In one of the world’s biggest housing downturns, the company is leveraging its knowledge of the alpha consumer ever way it can.
If you’ve never thought of a home as a product before think again–a new home is the ultimate consumer lifestyle product. For most people, there is no bigger purchase, literally or figuratively. As is the case with all major consumer product categories, women dominate.
“Women influence 91 percent of new home purchases,” Eric Elder, the senior executive who has championed most of Ryland’s female-focused efforts, For several years now, single women have been the fastest-growing segment of the home-buying market, buying twice as many homes as single men. I worked with Ryland on a two-year research project to understand what: women want in a new home. As a result, the company implemented a variety of covert, female-friendly efforts across the company. The goal was to make these changes imperceptible to home buyers, so that women would feel drawn to Ryland’s homes but men would not feel excluded.
As discussed in Chapter 3, when a woman goes off to the workforce, she changes her personal traffic patterns, along with those of everyone in her family. As such, working mothers were the biggest catalyst for modifying Ryland’s floor plans. The company redesigned the common areas Of many of its models so that multitasking moms could keep one eye on the kids and eye on the stove. Windows were built over kitchen sink to provide a direct line of sight to the backyard. Open kitchen/family room layouts were designed with nooks for decks, so that kids could do their homework on the computer or watch TV while Mom looked on from nearby. These designs were an acknowledgment of the “time compression” that occurs within families when both parents work. Instead of parents spending an hour or two helping kids with homework and then making dinner, both activities are now likely to happen at the same time.
Time compression and the blurring of boundaries between work and home means that home isn’t quite the sanctuary it once was. With cell phones, BlackBerry devices, laptops, and the Internet, work is “part of the furniture” at home, too. In an effort to replace what’s been lost, Ryland redesigned its master bedrooms as oases for stress relief. New master suites were designed as retreats for the adults in the house-and in particular, women. “A private, relaxing, reenergizing space is especially important to single mothers, who don’t get much time on their own,” says Elder. Many of Ryland’s master bedroom suites now feature a coffee bar, mini fridge, and lounge area.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Modifications to Ryland’s floor plans were just the beginning. The company also embarked on design changes to its neighborhoods. It learned that women don’t view themselves as buying just a house with four walls; they feel like they’re buying an entire community, a neighborhood, a school district, and a lifestyle. Women believe a new house is going to improve their life, along with the lives of everyone in their family. If it won’t, they might as well stay where they are. Subsequently, Ryland began creating more female-friendly amenities in its neighborhood designs, including cul-de-sacs, better street lighting, pocket parks, electronic garage doors as a standard feature, better lighting around home entryways, and secure gated entries in townhouse communities.
As part of the female-friendly process, Ryland completely overhauled its design centers, the places where customers pick out their options and upgrades after signing a contract for a new home. These centers had a history of being housed in the bare garages of model homes.
“In our industry, picking out home options and upgrades used to be a back-office function,” says Elder. “We’d have a hodgepodge of display cases given to us by random suppliers, with a few samples of products here and there; bad lighting … the whole experience was an afterthought.” It couldn’t be more different now. “We actually embrace the personalization process, when we used to fight it,” explains Elder. “It’s one of the biggest changes that’s occurred at the company, and it’s wholly driven by women.” A senior female executive at Ryland, Diane Morrison, was the force behind the company’s new design centers. She recognized that for many women, the appointment at the design center is the most exciting part of the home-buying process: it is here that they get to pick out all the things that will make the home distinctly their own.
Ryland also broadened the color palettes on its home exteriors, to help women feel that their new home has a unique, personal identity, and to diminish the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect. Instead of offering three exterior colors in a one-hundred-house community, Ryland now typically offers from nine to fifteen.
LESSONS FROM THE COVERT APPROACH
Ryland is a great example of a masculine industry that’s responded to women with subtle design changes that benefit both sexes.
“Every architect that’s designed homes throughout the history of this company has been a man,” says Elder. “Closets used to be leftover spaces that were essentially a door and a hole. Now they are a design element of the home, with functionality built into them. Our sales lobbies, which used to be fairly bare, now have places to sit down, with inspirational reading materials, like home design magazines, and toys for kids. And we’ve changed our merchandising displays so that they are more emotionally charged and filled with pictures of people.”
When the covert approach is done right, men don’t even notice the design elements that have been added for women. , It turns out that men like the idea of having a hot cup of coffee in their master bedroom, too. “From a consumer stand-point, men would live in the garage if they had to,” says Elder with a grin. “Women want the home, and men want the women to get what they want. The great thing for us is that the changes we’ve made have been driven by women but are appreciated by men, too.”
When you appeal to women in a covert fashion, the men find themselves on the receiving end of things they never knew they wanted but are happy to get-and maybe even pay more for the next time. The lesson is this: when you make women happy, you make everyone happy. Women are the leading economic indicators of what people want. Key learnings from Ryland include:
- Never underestimate the influence of women in a couples” purchase. Women are the veto vote for buying decisions large and small, from deciding what home to buy to where to eat. The individual who conducts the financial transaction (which can often be the husband) is not always the primary decision maker. If you sell to a lot of couples, figure out the “hot buttons” for both your male and female customers. They may be very different.
- Study how the divorce rate and the increased spending power of single women may be impacting your industry. The phenomenon can open new opportunities in product design, as it did with Ryland and its master bedroom retreats, and also in the services that support your product offerings.
- A well-crafted, subtle approach attracts women and pleases men, too.
- It’s socially unacceptable for men to buy products that are overtly feminine. By being subtle in your appeal to women-through a covert approach-you have the ability to attract both sexes without alienating either one. Married women never want to see their husbands alienated or emasculated. (Not if they’re happily married, anyway.)