Just thinking pink? Think again. Unless you are conducting a cause-related marketing campaign for breast cancer awareness (where the pink really means something), steer clear of using it in the business world, especially if you are trying to appeal to women. Research shows that most women are turned off by insincere marketing efforts to reach them. In other words, it takes more than clever packaging to make a brand female-friendly. In my opinion, there are four attributes of female-friendly brands, in this order of priority:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Experience
  3. Voice
  4. Visuals

Let’s work our way up the list. Visuals, or creative treatment, are the least important factor of the four, but the wrong images can backfire, particularly when it comes to photography. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a creative review session where I’ve looked at marketing items and had to say, “Where are the women?” Women do not want to be overly idealized, generalized or objectified–they simply want to be included. Just like the men do.

Slightly more important than visuals on the list is the use of voice. I was recently reviewing websites and found that firms known to successfully engage women had a common trait: they create a conversation. For example, they organize their materials around questions such as, “What’s important to you?” or “Why does this matter?” Beyond this, I have also found that it is highly effective to explore the deeper reasons behind a woman’s buying decision. In my company, a wealth counseling firm, we talk about our clients’ lives and how they think about money, not just the typical financial returns. Positioning your message in a way that creates conversation helps to show that your company has depth and personality, effectively creating a brand that makes women feel comfortable.

When it comes to creating a female-friendly brand, marketers must consider this basic truth: you can have the best campaign in terms of creativity and content, but the real test will ultimately be how female-friendly your client experience is. Case in point: the auto industry tried to market to women for years. However, their sales model was built upon a very male-centric, competitive paradigm and dealerships did not make women feel welcomed, resulting in very low satisfaction scores from female buyers. Over time, it took changes to the pricing strategy (more transparent), dealership designs (comfortable environments, snacks for the kids), and even how cars are marketed (cup holders, lighted mirrors, easier access and storage) to change the way this experience was perceived by women. Car dealers still sell lots of cars to men, but the brands that have substantially improved their responsiveness to female buyers are leading the market.

And finally, authenticity. This is the most important message I can offer. Throughout this post, I use the term “female-friendly” very purposefully. Serving and marketing to women aren’t separate strategies in my organization–women are a majority, not a niche. We see women as diverse–they are not all the same–and extremely valuable clients. By incorporating how women’s thought processes, biological makeup and life experiences are different from men’s (generally speaking) in our core strategy, we have found an approach that works well with both men and women. In my opinion and experience, that’s what women really expect from firms that want to serve them.

Visuals, voice, experience and authenticity are all important components of building a brand that serves women and men equally well. You need to focus on the client experience in every aspect by integrating these four elements. Ensure that your visuals are appealing, and make every effort to have gender diversity in your company. Your voice must be welcoming, and approach your clients holistically, using more emotional intelligence and clearer language. Pay attention to the details of the client’s experience, including office design standards with softer tones, great lighting and cozy furniture. Most of all, be authentic. Now that’s smart marketing and good business.