Eye Contact

My Eyes are up Here!  (Courtesy of Arrested Development)

My Eyes are up Here!                                      (Courtesy of Arrested Development)

It is an old joke that men cannot look a woman in the eyes, especially if she is wearing a low cut top.  And let’s be honest girls, how many of you have played to the balcony and used your assets to good effect to gain the upper hand in situations?

Men do drop their eyes when they meet women.  But the reason why may come as a surprise.

Humans have the ability to make very rapid assessments of certain situations.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink” gives a good review of the ability of people to make snap “gut instinct” decisions that are very accurate.  One of the areas where we are able to make a snap decision is in mate selection.  Love at first sight may not be such a bad idea!

We don’t know all the elements that contribute to finding the “perfect” mate, but we do know of some of them.  I suspect that there is a huge body of work that remains to be done on how the human olfactory system can decode the scent of a potential partner to yield triggers to compatibility.  But that is for another day.

Today I am looking at the difference between the way men and women carry out their first visual inspection of each other.  A woman looks at a man in the eyes and scans horizontally across his face.  A man drops his eyes and looks downwards, scanning vertically.  So why the difference?

Both men and women are scanning for markers of fitness (ability to provide), health (ability to procreate healthy children).  Men are also scanning for preparedness, the signs that a woman is in the fertile point in her menstrual cycle.  The shortcuts for these markers are very different between men and women.

In men facial symmetry is a very strong indicator of fitness and health.  In both sexes facial symmetry is equated with “beauty”, but in men it carries even more powerful cues for women.  A symmetrical face is a map of good genetics, nutrition and development.  This is a kid who was born with good genes, was well fed as a child and has matured in a healthy manner to adulthood.  In practical terms this means he can run fast and catch food.  He is also likely to have a healthy sperm count.  Olympic sprinters, for instance, have very symmetrical faces.

The key elements you need to scan to assess facial symmetry are the eyes, the ears, nose and mouth.  When a woman meets a man for the first time she looks at his eyes, then scans left and right to measure the position of his nose, ears and mouth in relation to the line of his eyes.  What the man sees is a girl looking him in the eyes.

The key markers that men seek in women are different.  The first is waist to hip ratio.  Almost everywhere across the world a ratio of 0.7 waist to hip is seen as ideal.  Why?  Believe it or not women with this ratio have ideal oestrogen balance, better fertility, higher pregnancy rates and are less susceptible to diseases such as diabetes.  A woman with an ideal waist to hip ratio is more likely to give a man children.

The next important marker is spine curvature.  When the spine is curved at the ideal angle it accentuates a woman’s behind and makes it attractive to men.  What is so attractive about a prominent butt?  Studies have shown that women with a certain curvature of the spine remain mobile for longer in the later stages of pregnancy.  In primitive and nomadic societies (most of man-kinds history) they can forage for food later into their pregnancy.  They also have fewer problems in childbirth.  What is more, women with good levels of hip and buttock fat have been shown to raise children with higher IQ’s.  These qualities have become encoded in human brains over thousands of years to equate with “attractiveness”.

For a man to assess waist to hip ratio and spine curvature he simply must drop the eyes and “check her out”.  This is very obvious to women.   So if it is all about the hip area, why is he ogling her breasts?

This is where we move from “fitness” to “preparedness”.  When women are ovulating the hormonal changes in their bodies can have some interesting effects.  First off it makes your breasts more symmetrical.  Yes, every month they even up a bit better for a few days.  They also fill out a bit.  So do the lips, which become redder as a result.  Skin clears up and can develop a healthy glow and hair becomes fuller and shinier.  The cosmetics industry makes a fortune by replicating exactly these effects.

When these changes occur women feel more body confident.  They preen by exposing more flesh, wearing lower cut tops, higher cut skirts etc.  They are effectively advertising the fact that they are “in heat”.

So when a man drops his eyes, he is not ONLY ogling your breasts.  He is checking out the deeper and more telling signs that you are going to make a good mom.

When you wear that bright red lipstick and the low cut top with the push-up bra you are telling him that you are ready for a baby!

Class or Crass? : The science of semiotics


When people look at your product what does it say to them?  Semiotics is the science of signs and sign meaning.

When I teach Semiotics to marketing students I usually draw a tree on the blackboard and ask them what it is.  Someone always says “it is a tree”.  I then invite them to come to the board and break off a leaf or a twig.  Then someone says “it is a drawing of a tree”.  I point out that it is actually just chalk on a blackboard.  But I encoded the image “tree” and it is correctly interpreted.  So it is in effect a sign.  It is a cheap version of Magritte’s pipe.


Everything about your product is a sign, the product itself, the package, the place where it is sold, the price, the bag it is placed into, the aftersales service, the person selling it and the performance that is given by the seller and the buyer.

Are you a discrete luxury brand, a popular family brand, an old-fashioned granny brand or a crass and vulgar display?  Do you know?  Are you a designer brand in New York and a grunge brand in Tokyo?  Can you reconcile your image in the digital world where all information settles in the end to a single image?

Ignore semiotics at your peril – know the code.

Every product group has a “code” and it is vital you know what it is for your category.  Do plain biscuits sell in red or blue packs?  Does a red bag mean “natural chips” or “Cheese & Onion flavour”?  What colour is the strongest detergent?  If you are selling beer what does “Lite” mean, is it a light flavour, a light colour, low calorie, low alcohol?

Codes vary by market, country and region.  So you can’t just take your blue bag of cheese & onion flavour crisps from the UK and put them on a shelf in Ireland, because everyone thinks they are salt & vinegar flavour.  First know the code.  Break it if you choose, and are aware of the risk, but don’t break codes from ignorance.

Look at your product

The very first step for a new product manager should be to lay the product out beside the competition.  Take a really hard look at it.  What makes your product different to the others.  Are you higher or lower quality?  Really look at the detail.  What % cocoa is your chocolate?  Does it melt at lower temperatures?  Does your Pizza have more ingredients?  Is your beer fizzier?  Does your holiday insurance cover scuba lessons?

Go through all five senses.  How does it taste?  And yes, you too Mr Banker, lick your return envelope!

How does it look?  On the shelf, on the counter, in the bag, out of the box, in use.

What does it sound like?  Does your watch tick, does your car purr or hum?  Does your packaging rattle or crackle?  Shake the box and what do you hear?

How does it smell?  Before you open it, before you use it (eg tobacco), during use, after using it (eg perfume/aftershave), the next morning, on your breath etc.

How does it feel? – in the fingers, on the skin, in your mouth, wherever you are supposed to put it.

Look at your package.

Do you fill the box or leave large gaps?  What is your packaging code?  Do you show or hide the product?  Is the packaging clean, like an iPhone box or is it busy like a Cereal box?  Does it come with instructions, guarantees, certificates?  Is it disposable or something you would keep?  What is core to the product and what is an extension?

Think 4 P’s

You have looked at the product, now think about what your Price says, and the Place where it is sold and how you are Promoting your product.

Think 7 P’s

For services think about the delivery Process, the People who deliver and the Physical Evidence, the delivery van, the uniform, the tablecloths in your restaurant, the security measures in your bank, the weight of your wheelie bin!

Think Ritual

Nothing binds customers like a good ritual.  What is the ritual for the consumption of your product?  If there is none can you create one?  If there is one can you own it?

If you are interested in learning more about the fascinating world of Semiotics then here is a good starting point:  http://dominicpetrillo.com/ed/Semiotics_for_Beginners.pdf