Last night when flipping some channels I stumbled upon the movie “What Women Want”. A story about a guy, a marketer actually, who suddenly can hear women’s thoughts. What every guy would want right? Maybe not… Anyway, it also showed many things we as marketers actually run into.
I once wrote an article on movies every marketer should watch and come to think of it, this is one that could be added to the list (so I will). There are valuable lessons in there. When it comes to trying to understand your audience.
In “What Women Want” Mel Gibson is a marketer working for an advertising agency trying to ‘sell’ a product for women. He is good at his job. And most importantly: he makes an effort to understand women. By putting on make up, by wearing a dress, by using the products he wants to sell.
But he doesn’t really ‘get’ women yet, even when trying on their clothes. So he goes another step and tries to picture himself as a woman. He starts imagining an ad of a beautiful woman in a bikini on the beach and then stops and says, “Wait, I’m a lesbian”. At that point he realizes that he is still taking the men’s perspective on the products. He is incapable of stepping away from his side of the story, from the male perspective.
See Mel Gibson trying to ‘understand’ women:
It is not until he starts hearing women’s thoughts that he starts get a better grip on his ‘target audience’ (women). But even then he is still interpreting. After all: there is a difference between understanding and hearing your audience.
By listening carefully he can at least ‘act’ on what he hears, even if he doesn’t really understands women, at least he understands what he can do to speak to them best.
Listening is one part of getting closer to your audience. It will give you a lot of information about your target audience. It will not yet make you understand them though, because that is based on interpretation. You interpret what you hear.
There is something else that is interesting as well here. Gibson can listen into the thoughts of the women; he can hear what they really think. But when he confronts them with it by asking them about the exact same thing they were thinking of, they won’t say that in public. They won’t admit to what they are actually are thinking.
The same thing happens often when you start asking your target audience what they want. With polls or questionnaires for example. In most cases respondents will give you the answer they think you want to hear, instead of the answer they truly think.
As a marketer trying to understand this means that looking at behavior will probably give you more insights than asking questions.
Back to the movie: maybe the title should have been ‘what women think’ instead of ‘what women want’ (altough I realise that sells less), because in most cases the women themselves don’t even know what they want, just like customers and audiences. What they think however will give you more insights.