DID you know that women are responsible for buying or influencing 80% of all consumer purchases, 80% of all vehicle purchases, 80% of all healthcare purchases and 51% of all consumer electronic purchases?

You do now. But have you considered the impact of that on your business, on the way you deliver customer service, on the way you market your products and services? Probably not, if you’re really honest about it.

Faith Popcorn, the American futurist dubbed the “Nostradamus of marketing” by Fortune magazine, is one of the world’s foremost trend experts – and she has. She has published a book called EVEolution, The Eight Truths of Marketing to Women and she goes on at great length about the most important marketing opportunity of the decade, the female consumer. Popcorn tells us what most women already know: that women and men are as different shopologically as they are biologically.

It’s a great read but as is so often the case in the rapidly changing world of business and technology, the predictions in her book published just two months ago have already been overtaken.

I was at the Entrepreneurial Exchange conference at Gleneagles and witnessed a series of remarkable speakers, all of whom knew their market and their customers inside out, but two of them in particular stuck in my head for reasons that will soon become apparent.

One was Steve Spinelli Jnr, Director of the Arthur M Blank Centre for Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also Chairperson of the Entrepreneurship Department, Assistant Professor in Entrepreneurial Studies, and holds a host of degrees. Most importantly, Steve is a been it, seen it, done it entrepreneur, who co-founded Jiffy Lube International Inc in the States and made a fortune in the process.

The other speaker that stood out, in my opinion, was Charan Gill, the brains behind the Glasgow-based Harlequin Restaurant Group and self-styled Scottish Curry King. His speech was hilarious, any blips in the curry business and Charan could get himself a successful job as a stand-up comedian (his joke about Indian restaurant customers not asking for a doggy bag in case it contained a real doggy was truly memorable).

But both spoke wisely and meaningfully about the marketplace – and knowing your customer.

Whereas Faith Popcorn and global business guru Tom Peters both see the female of the species as a vastly under tapped market, both Steve and Charan appreciate the truth that knowing your customer needs to go much deeper than that. Knowing a group is no longer enough; you have to know your market individually.

Steve talked about entrepreneurship trends, and shared his analysis of the change in the market, and in particular, the changing marketing trends relating to the consumer.

As Steve put it, a human is not just a person; a human is a market segment with particular needs and wants, desires and expectations. In Scottish terms, we have five million market segments that want to buy our products and services. Scary, isn’t it.

Where Steve spoke theory, Charan spoke everyday practice. His call centre, set up to centralise the home delivery ordering process, has paid for itself over and over again. The data he gathers from his customers enables Harlequin to market the right benefit to the right customer. As he so rightly said, there’s no point in mass delivering a 2 for 1 curry offer when he knows that a good number of his customers live alone and only ever order one curry. So he sends the 2 for 1 offer to customers who regularly buy more than one curry, and a special free starter offer to his single customers.

It sounds simple – and thanks to technology it can be – but the truth is that it is only simple if you recognise the need to know your customer inside out and specifically target your marketing at their individual needs.

Mass marketing is clearly out. Direct mail shots that destroy entire rainforests just to announce a special offer are a waste of money – and the environment.

Think of it like this: you are buying a birthday present for each one of your customers, they all like different things, have different lifestyles, already own different things and are usually of differing age and gender, so you wouldn’t send them all a silk tie, would you. Now apply that theory to your business and watch it grow.

10 years ago today – this column was published in Business AM. Since then, female buying power has continued to be dominant and now, more than ever before, knowing your customers – rather than knowing of your customers – is key.