Neuromarketing: How Men's, Women's Brains Differ

Advertisers have heard all the same Venus/Mars clichés and Louis C.K. monologues that consumers have. That said, some marketing experts, including A.K. Pradeep, believe that many companies still can’t tell their estrogen from their testosterone. The CEO of Nielsen NeuroFocus, a Berkeley, Calif.-based neuroscience research company acquired by Nielsen last year, tells Marketing Daily what companies should know about gender differences in the brain.


Q: What’s one of the major misunderstandings that marketers have about the way the brain works?

A: We’re all very keen to segment consumers into various groups, but that misses the fact that Mother Nature has already done a segmentation -- she calls it men and women. Marketing needs to honor that segmentation. 

Q: So what are some of the major differences?

A: Female brains have a larger prefrontal cortex. That has an impact on emotions, and the regulation of emotions, and so emotions are a primary way to talk to her. There’s also more intuitive reasoning. The portion of the brain that is responsible for worry is also somewhat larger. 



Another big difference is that women have a larger corpus callosum, which is like an eight-lane superhighway connecting the right and left parts of the brain. Female brains distribute their thinking quickly, and can multitask. It comes naturally to them. It’s also significant that the hippocampus is bigger in women, so the level of nuance in emotional details is much greater. A man might remember the day he proposed; a woman can likely tell you everything about that day. 

In men, there is a larger parietal lobe, which means they tend to be better at spatial perception. They like images better than reading. And the larger amygdala in men results in more aggression.

Q: How can that inform marketing?

A: Well, it helps to know that women tend to be more social, empathetic, and verbal. She is a multitasker and a big-picture thinker. So for example, we can show men and women an image of someone drinking a beverage, and their brains react about the same. But then if we show someone drinking that beverage, and then touching someone else on the shoulder, the women’s brains tend to really light up. The image of someone drinking something doesn’t create much of a response at all. But when it is shown with a social interaction, it does.

Q: What’s the impact of the emotive difference?

A: We don’t know why, but women have a better-developed suite of emotions. Women smile a lot more than men. Female infants make eye contact many times more than boys. Eye contact is critical in connecting to women. When girls play or do any cooperative activity, they are more than 20 times as likely to take turns as boys -- 20 times!

Q: But women are also very smart shoppers, and very rational. 

A: Yes. But they respond better to pitches with a combination of fact and feeling. A low price is a fact. A happy price is one that is low, and also emotive. 

Q: So that’s what she likes. What turns her off?

A: Stress. Conflict. We know that cortisol -- the stress hormone -- actually stays in women’s bodies longer than men, so she is conflict-avoidant. 

Q: Which companies get it right?

I won’t name names. But in general, I see many health and beauty companies getting it right, combining messages for women in a way that is most likely to appeal to them. The worst are CPG companies, which is interesting -- it’s a trillion-dollar space, and women do most of the purchasing. 

2 comments about "Neuromarketing: How Men's, Women's Brains Differ ".
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  1. Erin Read from Creating Results, Inc., May 23, 2012 at 6:47 p.m.

    Are there any details you can share about the ages of the brains studied? Because past work by David Wolfe (Ageless Marketing) found that as we age, men's brains become more like women's. And he found that all people become more visual/more photo focused as they age.

    As a marketing pro focused on the 50+ consumer -- and their brains! -- I am really curious to see how NeuroFocus' insights contrast with Wolfe's

  2. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, May 25, 2012 at 9:29 a.m.

    A very interesting field. One other related neuro piece that I have listened to and enjoyed several times is from Dr. Susan Weinschenk. The interview in the link below is a quick read, but what I really liked was the video of one of her seminars on this neuromarketing topic. I've no connection, only an appreciation for this field and how to use it to better connect and impact.

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