Interview With Mary Hunt

I had the opportunity to chat with Mary about her new book, In Women We Trust, and she shared some of her thoughts about the softer side of business.

What led you to write about this subject?

Prior to writing this book I focused on the field of marketing but as I began researching and writing, I realized I wanted to focus more on business and consumers; businesses who were serious about equality in the buy/sell relationship. I was looking for companies who allowed the customer to receive as much from the experience as the company.

Most companies have a long way to go to create a culture in line with the female consumer’s needs as you described them, if they are taking baby steps toward change, what is the first thing they should focus on in your nine trust points? Have you laid them out in the book in order of importance?

Well, I put “community” first, only because logically you have to “meet” someone before the rest of the friendship factors will matter. In truth, I believe having and showing inherent “respect” would be the most important. That’s very hard to define and harder to internalize, but you can tell when someone has respect for you or not. It’s a level of empathy or understanding that comes from appreciating women as a gender first, and not dismissing what they think or how they operate as trite. I hope business people reading In Women We Trust come away with one thing, a new found willingness to work with women customers vs. selling to them. The first is how friends operate, the second isn’t.

You mention relying on female employees for insight and advice. Often times companies will begin gathering the information and then, once they realize the task is bigger than they thought, fail to follow through. What is the potential harm from an employee relationship perspective? What do you advise?

Sounds like a good problem to have. If it’s that big of a problem, then thank goodness it was finally brought to light. Once the problem is identified, I would put it back on their female employees to contribute more ideas as to how to fix it. Use an internal forum or a blog and chunk it out into triage-type issues, what needs to be looked at first, second and so on. Even if they can’t fix it, being able to voice their opinion is worth it. Some will jump at the chance, others won’t, but to have the option is the important factor. All companies have problems; it’s when they ignore them that rumors form. That will drive control freaks crazy, but you can’t control bad news anymore, with 50 million blogs and more forming every day, someone’s going to talk. All you can control is how your own employees feel about the company. Keep them happy and talking and you’ll have a good foundation for keeping your customers happy and talking to you.

Having been in the corporate environment, I’ve experienced that a company’s culture stems from the top and to change could be paramount to changing a cruise ship’s course 180 degrees in a hurricane. Are you focusing your message on smaller companies that might have a more realistic ability to change? Have you seen any large companies that have changed their culture to mirror the softer side? You mentioned Toyota – any others?

Certainly small companies can change faster, there are less people involved, but big companies are under the same pressure. If they sell to consumers, then they must do whatever it takes to align with the women’s culture. That includes changing the mindset of the individuals who work directly with customers. In Women We Trust was written to change how individuals feel. Change that and the rest will happen.

I think that Best Buy is changing the retail business model by changing the individual mindset. It started from a sincere effort by Julie Gilbert to provide a networking forum for women inside of Best Buy. She believed that if you want women to shop at the Best Buy that you have to make Best Buy place that women will want to work. What has happened is the extended good will and ideas coming from the forums are fundamentally changing the way that Best Buy operates. A full interview with Julie is on my blog.

I predict that this internal networking structure will become a new business model to follow. It doesn’t replace the departments already in place, just gives the company a service soul that flows from the inside out. It builds trust on a very deep and very real level.

You mention that an insincere effort or an automated effort could do more harm than good when attempting to build trust. Jump ahead 10 years – do you see colleges offering new training and new marketing techniques that will incorporate this growing trend?

II hope they do more of it. It could be something as simple as blending women studies programs with business with a focus on human relations. Tactics work once, human relations work all the time. That’s especially important when you’re working with women and working in a world where everyone can compare notes online.

I recently bought a car online. I knew exactly what I wanted and typed the specs into the online site. Almost immediately three dealers sent a canned reply. The first bounce back reply said, “Hi, thanks for writing ‘someone’ will get back to you shortly…” The second one said, “Hi, I’m Jim, we have more cars and are the biggest shop around” The third one said, “Hi, I’m Dave, I’m going to call you in a few minutes and make sure we have exactly what you want so you don’t waste your time. I want to make buying a car easy and even fun…” Who do you think I called? That’s right, Dave. The irony is that Dave didn’t write that letter. It was crafted by the women sitting next to him. I responded to the warmth of the person who had my interest at heart. Was it a tactic or just being nice? When I arrived I learned it was sincere. The whole place oozed warmth. You can’t fake it from department to department. That takes attitude training and trust in your people.

You talk about loyalty being the sum of all the trust points and yet in business today we hear that loyalty is a thing of the past that consumers are just looking for price and convenience. What do you think?

That could be true, but what happens when the price and convenience are the same? While buying the car, the price, the car and the drive to the showroom were exactly alike, the only thing that made me go with one company over another was the attitude of friendliness that they extended. They extended their hand out to me and now have a loyal service customer until I have a bad experience.

How about the loyalty people show Starbucks? Yes, it’s convenient, but not as convenient as the coffee pot in your kitchen and certainly not as cheap. It’s worth the price for the safe, friendly atmosphere and predictable experience.

More things affect loyalty today, that’s why we have to work extra hard to maintain it.

You mention WOM and blogs as a way to effectively reach the female consumer and yet most marketers view blogs as a chatty, gossipy, potentially harmful method of communication (I can hear you say – exactly – it is how the women are sharing their view points) so how do you convince the primarily male marketer that embracing blogs as an effective way to spread the word is a good thing?

Blogs will happen whether marketers embrace them or not. They need to look at bloggers like they look at media now. For example, BlogHer the organization of women bloggers has over 5000 women bloggers in their directory. Over 1000 of them are Mommy Bloggers, or those very women who they are trying to reach, each one of them talks to multitudes of women weekly. If they read Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” they’ll want to be every one of those bloggers new best friend. They are the connectors that can set off a change reaction tipping point in sales…. Or spell doom to those who don’t understand what can tick a woman off.

So what’s next for Mary Hunt?

I’d like to focus on working with companies who are involved with consumers, perhaps non-profit organizations. I see myself as a consumer advocate and would love to align myself with companies who understand the importance of the trust experience and are working toward creating a culture that embraces the softer side of business.

We wish you all the best and thank you for your vision. See more about Mary on Diva Marketing this Friday, August 25.

Mary Hunt is an author and advocate for both sides of the buyer/seller equation. In her former ad agency and business marketing roles she has worked with retail, service and industrial companies. At the same time she purchased 10 cars, furnished 7 homes, selected groceries for 24,000 meals and compared notes with hundreds of other women.

In her new book, In Women We Trust she outlines the converging trends that are driving women to seek each other’s advice – trends such as Economic Clout, New Girls’ Clubs and Word-of-Mouth Referrals.