Putting Women in the Driver’s Seat



At the NYIAS with panelists (l-r):

Ivana Robles, Wunderlich Inc.; Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company; Scotty Reiss, SheBuysCars.com; Rachel Rothman, Good Housekeeping Institute


This April’s New York International Auto Show attracted more than a million car lovers to the Javits Center. What was most clear to me when I visited last Sunday: looking at cars is certainly fun for the whole family.  Men, women and children of all ages were ogling under hoods and sitting behind steering wheels.  Even though car buying is wrongly thought to be a man’s domain, multiple recent studies show that women influence up to 85% of all car purchases.

At a panel discussion on the auto show floor, Good Housekeeping Institute’s Technical and Engineering Director Rachel Rothman asked a provocative question: Women are the primary purchase influencers of their own car and the family vehicle.  So why do 74% still feel “misunderstood” by car brands today? Why aren’t brands embracing women’s economic clout, meeting her ergonomic needs, or effectively engaging her in conversation?

There are a number of factors that are (pun intended) driving this disconnect.

Panelist Scotty Reiss, who founded the website shebuyscars.com to empower and educate women as owners and buyers of cars, said that because women don’t buy vehicles with the frequency they buy shoes, handbags or detergent, winning with her means investing in a longer-term conversation, across multiple smaller but relevant touch points.  Social media is a critical place to engage with her, since she’s more influenced by consumer reviews and her friends’ recommendations than a man is in this category.

Ford’s global trends futurist Sheryl Connelly pointed out that men and women actually want the same things in a car, but ask for them in profoundly different ways.  Men ask directly about features and benefits, while women focus on context, narratives and desired solutions  In other words, that car’s horsepower only resonates with her when she imagines herself and her kids in the vehicle, on the on-ramp merging into a busy highway with a hulking tractor-trailer coming up fast behind her.

Further, while women know what they want (and increasingly are closing the deal – among millennials today, 53% of car purchasers are women) – they don’t always feel confident that they’ll be heard and respected.  When Good Housekeeping asked 1,500 women what their pet peeve was about today’s car designs, guess what was voted #1 by a landslide? No place to store their purse!

The takeaways?

  • Listen and engage – for the long term.
  • Speak her language.
  • Close the gap between her competence and her confidence. It’s encouraging to see more car marketers like Ford (with smart targeted efforts like 2014’s “Live.Drive.Love”) waking up to the power of that purse.