IStock_000001198921XSmall Several months ago I read a piece of research in the Journal of Marketing that I found both surprising and believable at the same time. In fact, the conclusion of this research made such an impression, I clipped a report of it and put it on the board beside my desk as a reminder of one important difference when marketing to women versus men that many small businesses completely ignore or forget about.  The research explored the idea of customer loyalty, and uncovered that (on average) men were far more loyal to an organization or group than any single individual within it – and for women this finding was the opposite.

What this means is that for businesses such as a hair salon or barber shop – men are more likely to be loyal to the establishment itself, while women would be more likely to follow the individual stylist from salon to salon. As the research notes, “Women tend to view themselves as being connected with and dependent on a few specific individual others. In contrast, men tend to view themselves as being connected with and dependent on larger groups of people and organizations. Because individual relationships are more important to women, they are more likely to develop loyal customer relationships with individual service providers.”

If you believe in this research, then it has obvious implications for your small business no matter what industry you are in. Here are a few practical tips and advice that you may want to consider to take advantage of this knowledge of the gender difference in loyalty:

  1. Rotate your employees – If you can make it work for your business, there may be a large value in rotating the employees that your best customers deal with on a daily or weekly basis. For men, this may be easier – but in either case having a range of employees working with any customer (male or female) can help insulate you against one employee leaving, and taking your customers with them.
  2. Establish two methods for referrals – Knowing that referrals are often the lifeblood of many small businesses … this study also offers a clue to how you might want to slightly modify how you pursue getting referrals from a client based on their gender. For female customers you may want to encourage the main employee who works with them to ask for referrals – whereas for male customers, you might ask more on behalf of your company.
  3. Balance your recommendations – When online reviews or ratings are a part of your business, you may find that they go in one direction or the other in relation to talking about your people versus your business as a whole. To get a better balance, try to illicit these reviews from a more even spit of male and female customers and you can add more balance to the reviews and ratings about your business that are appearing online.

NOTE: This post is part of Small Business Friday (SBF) – a weekly feature to share marketing ideas for small businesses and was originally published on the Amex Open Forum site.