Women have been associated with shopping since the concept began but, until fairly recently, not so much with buying. When it comes to big purchases like cars, homes, finances or technology, the conversations (and the marketing dollars) have primarily been directed to men. The theory seemed to be that the hunters decided what to get and the gatherers went out and got it. Today it’s clear that women are making a majority of both home and business purchases. Startups and small businesses can apply some of the same lessons that big brands have been learning about effective marketing strategies for women. To tap into the power of this $7 trillion market in America, (which, by the way, exceeds the size of the entire Japanese economy) keep these seven insights in mind:
There is no “women’s market”; there’s your women’s market
A few years ago Salomon, the performance ski and outdoor brand, took a look at the growing spending power of women in the sports market and decided that their male-oriented image was missing the mark. As part of a seven-year women’s initiative, they spent two years identifying who their female customers were and learning what was important to them about sport, shopping and life. Further analysis led them to three well-defined market segments, based on lifestyles vs. demographics. Salomon determined that reaching out to these passionate advocates with a finely tuned message was a much better plan than a watered-down women’s campaign. Salomon Women Will kicked off in fall of 2005 and has exceeded the company’s expectations, fostering an avid female following around the world.
“Brand Lite” isn’t the answer
Many companies make the mistake of thinking they need to create a separate brand to reach women, one that is softer and more accessible. And let’s be honest, they’re also afraid that feminizing the core brand will alienate the guys. The reality is that marketing to women is just smarter marketing strategy, grounded in meeting and exceeding high standards and consistently delivering on your brand promise. We think one of the best examples of a great company that gets it right with women is Apple. Terrific design, easy-to-use technology, and a passionate lifestyle brand message hold strong appeal for women and for consumers overall. No need to invest money in making and marketing herPod when iPod is pretty damn great the way it is.
Communicate product value instead of listing features
Sounds simple, but many organizations develop and market products without ever asking their female customers what features they think are most important and why. Volvo has made gaining women’s input a key part of its development process since the late 1980s, leading to such improvements as color coding of fluid lids under the hood, easier-to-fold-away rear seats and easier-to-load trunks. But rather than make its marketing message an endless list of “look at all our cool stuff,” the “Volvo for Life” slogan conveys the two umbrella messages that are especially important to women: safety and dependability. Online research and a visit to the dealership reveal all the terrific features Volvo has developed to back their message up.
Understand that she’s always watching
Women are great at detecting inconsistencies. If your marketing message doesn’t match up with your product performance and your retail experience, you’ve lost her trust and she’ll go somewhere else. Prudential’s “What Is The Price of Love?” campaign is designed to educate women about the value of life insurance in the event of her untimely demise. But the call to action has a serious flaw. Upon dialing the toll free number and direct extension listed on the ad, we were shuttled through voice mail hell, at one point asked to enter our social security number to continue, and then finally reached a live person by pressing “0” repeatedly. While the rep was courteous and friendly, he had no idea what we were talking about and gave us another (not toll free) number for the sales office, which was closed for the day. Their services might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we were too spent from the phone gymnastics to find out.
In Fara Warner’s new book, The Power of the Purse, she chronicles the substantial shift McDonald’s began making following a 2002 sales slump, when the company was forced to realize that it was still talking to women as if it was 1955. Up until that point, the company had viewed women mainly as a conduit to kids. This “mom marketing” no longer fit with modern women and they were taking their kids and their dollars elsewhere. McDonald’s quest to “find the woman inside the mom” led them to the highly successful launch of Premium Salads, healthier Happy Meal options and a revamping of PlayPlaces to include comfortable seating and wireless internet access. A willingness to solicit and listen to women’s input and understand that women didn’t see themselves only through the “mom” lens allowed McDonald’s to redefine its relationship with its most important consumer, ultimately winning her business back.
Embrace high standards
Women are suckers for quality and, more importantly, when they find it they’re willing to pay for it. Consider Whole Foods, which has enjoyed a 1,552 percent increase in its stock price over the last decade. Affectionately nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” by some, Whole Foods is able to charge higher prices in a notoriously low margin industry because they have created a lifestyle brand that delivers on its promise. With high quality, hard-to-find products, a pleasant atmosphere, knowledgeable, courteous sales people, and even chair massage in some locations, Whole Foods has transformed something uninspiring and mundane into a premium experience.
Be willing to commit
There it is, the dreaded “c” word. The reason? It goes both ways. This isn’t a market you can just dip your toes into. Wyndham Hotels recently celebrated the ten-year anniversary of its award-winning Women On Their Way initiative, launched in 1995 to better serve the needs of women business travelers with improved services and amenities, such as healthier menu options and a courtesy call announcing room service. When the program began women accounted for 19 percent of Wyndham’s business travelers. Today that number has increased to over 35 percent. When you consider that, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, 86 percent of women entrepreneurs say they use the same products and services at home as they do in their business it’s clearly no accident that women also now make up 50 percent of Wyndham’s customer base overall.
By Tami Anderson & Elizabeth Howland, andHow Marketing
About Tami Anderson and Elizabeth Howland
Tami Anderson and Elizabeth Howland co-founded andHow Marketing, and have 35 years combined experience marketing to women across a variety of consumer goods and services.