October 6, 2005

News & Opinion: The Power of the Purse--Ten Questions

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 6:47 PM – Filed under: Marketing & Sales

McDonald's and The Home Depot. Procter & Gamble and Kodak. Avon and AXA Financial. The companies featured in my book are a diverse lot. They also have taken very different paths to reach their women consumers. Despite those differences they do have certain core ideas in common. As I researched these companies and interviewed dozens of executives during the past three years, many of the same questions kept cropping up in our conversations. Over time, ten questions surfaced as the foundation for how these companies had challenged conventional wisdom in their companies--and as important, challenged their own thinking about how to adapt to today's women consumers. Here are three to jumpstart your thinking about women consumers.
1. Do you have stereotypical views of women consumers that haven't changed in more than a year?
Often we think that the bad stereotypes we have of women all come from the 1950s. We know that we aren't supposed to pitch pink cars to women or talk to them as if their only role in life is as a housewife. But stereotypes that we think are valid--women only want paint and decor items when they shop at home improvement stores, for example--may become invalid very quickly as women evolve. The Home Depot is a perfect example of how quickly valid impressions of women can shift into stereotypes. The Home Depot realized that simply cleaning up its stores and offering more paint colors and decor items wouldn't cut it with women who had moved beyond painting their walls--they were tearing them down and doing major home repairs. Understanding how quickly women had shifted in their needs in home improvement helped The Home Depot reach women consumers in a compelling way that was different from its competitors.
2. Do you still think of women as a minority?
Many companies still consider women "minority" or niche consumers. Some of the world's biggest companies still place "women's marketing" under executives who also oversee Hispanic and African-American marketing. Such "minority think" can cripple any significant change toward women consumers because it doesn't place women in their rightful place as majority consumers whose wants and needs are critical to corporate strategy. Neither Kodak or McDonald's would have succeeded, I believe, if they had pitched Premium Salads or EasyShare cameras, respectively, as "women's products." Instead they used women as the driving force behind the creation of those products to produce products that appealled to all consumers. Making this critical shift from minority to majority is a critical step in adapting to women consumers.
3. Do you still think one ad campaign or marketing message will work for all women?
Many companies have made the mistake of creating ad campaigns that try to sell products to women that weren't made for women. Moreover, many companies believed a single campaign would work to reach all women. As Nike found, marketing messages weren't enough to draw women to clothes and shoes that were simply "cut-downs" men's clothes. It wasn't until Nike began creating clothes designed specifically for women--coupled with smart advertising messages--that it began to make a difference with women consumers.
You can find the other seven questions in Chapter 9 of The Power of the Purse.