Author Archives: amanda

Hello, Network of Executive Women!

Network of Executive Women

Network of Executive WomenNetwork of Executive Women invited me to join The Female Consumer series, and I’m very excited to share marketing to women insights with this community.

Here’s my first article: Marketing to Boomer Women: A Radical Opportunity 

About Network of Executive Women

The Network of Executive Women was founded in 2001 by a small group of industry executives who believed there were not enough female leaders in the retail and consumer goods and services industry — and that everyone would benefit if there were. Today the Network is the industry’s largest learning and leadership community, representing more than 9,000 members, 750 companies, 100 national sponsors and 20 regions in the U.S. and Canada. Our learning, events, best practices, research and leadership development programs advance women, build business and help create a better workplace for all.

Gender Marketing Doesn’t Work

… When You “Pink It and Shrink It”

Gender Marketing Doesn't WorkBack in the 1950s, when cars had tail fins and Saturday nights were spent at the drive-in, a car company stumbled upon the big idea of ‘gender marketing.’ Knowing that women were buying cars in greater numbers than ever before, the company offered a new model for female customers: it had pink floral upholstery and a matching parasol. The model was a dismal failure. Women weren’t buying it. Gender marketing didn’t work.

We may roll our eyes at this quaint tale today, but I can’t count the number of pink scissors, hammers, tape dispensers and other assorted products I’ve encountered. Women will buy the products you sell– don’t “Pink It and Shrink It.”

Marketing to Boomer Women Made Sense Back Then (and it Still Does)

But She Grew Up – And So Should Your Marketing Approach

Marketing to Boomer Women Made Sense Back Then

We in the Western world have a bad case of youth myopia. Because marketing as a discipline came of age about the same time the Baby Boomers did, a lot of our marketing thinking is rooted in how to market to young people. As an extension, we market to people as though they wish to be young. Any woman above 50 is invisible to most marketers (Or worse. Some marketers insist on addressing these women as “mature”).

Evidence shows that Americans are getting over their youth obsession, though. The Boomers have grown up. According to the results of an Adweek Media/Harris poll, “Given the choice, most Americans would rather be richer and thinner than smarter and younger.”

But as marketers, we’ve let ourselves fall behind this trend. Stuck in the stereotypes of a bygone day, we’re letting our outdated language and imagery get in the way of our biggest opportunity – the Boomer Woman.

Boomers, the product of a substantial surge in birth rates following World War II, were also the first beneficiaries of a new consumerist society. At the time, marketers were choosing between the “old folks” and the kids. Boomers’ parents had suffered the ravages of the Great Depression and the deprivations of a world war, so what money they had, they saved. Naturally, the admen who invented mass marketing turned their focus on the large, young population with a big, fat wallet, which made sense – at the time.

And focusing on this generation still makes sense. Just make sure when marketing to Boomer women your approach is keeping pace with the times.


Count ’em Up: Using Quantitative Research in Marketing to Women

To truly understand women, it’s best to get them together in a qualitative setting. Letting women talk will provide marketing insights that you never even dreamed of. But sometimes marketers need results that are measurable, and that’s where quantitative research comes in. Trouble is, most quantitative research isn’t designed to accurately capture women’s thoughts and beliefs.

Questioning the Questions

Using Quantitative Research in Marketing to WomenBecause research designers don’t know, and haven’t factored in, that women shop and buy differently than men, their questionnaires contain errors and oversights that may look unimportant but can drastically affect the validity of the response.

In an effort to understand the needs and attitudes of their consumers, companies routinely commit hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to large research studies. Based on some of the questionnaires I’ve seen, they’d get a much higher return donating the money to charity. They could at least leverage that investment via publicity to generate some goodwill for the company.

Here are two tips for designing questionnaires that will resonate with women.

1. Make your questions specific, not generic

I recently participated in a phone survey for an apparel chain, and the list of questions was laughable:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how important is quality to your choice of retailer?
  • How important is fit?
  • Service?
  • Selection?
  • Price?

I honestly didn’t know how to answer. What does “quality” mean? Sure, I’d rather have an Armani suit—but it doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay for it. Does that mean I do care about quality (because I want the suit), or that I don’t (because I’m not willing to buy it)? And how about fit? Is it possible for fit to be unimportant? Do some people really not care if their clothes are too small or large?

As a marketer, all I could think about was the thousands of dollars that the retailer spent to get answers that were utterly meaningless. Instead, the questions should have been designed to get at women’s perceptions and decision trade-offs:

  • How do you assess quality? Please rank: Fabric, Sewing, Details, Designer Name.
  • Do you usually prefer to buy clothes that last a lifetime or a season or two?

Yes, these questions are more complex, making the research more costly to tabulate and challenging to interpret. But unless your research gives you useful information, what’s the point of doing it at all?

2. Capture all the criteria on women’s longer lists, not just the “most important” benefits

Using Quantitative Research in Marketing to WomenFor women, details can be the deciding factor in their purchase decisions. Women have a longer list of considerations. If you use the “forced choice” methodology so popular with surveys (asking the consumer to rank the three most important criteria on the list, for instance), you are short-circuiting her decision process. This means that the answers you’re getting don’t really reflect the way she buys.

Your answer choices should show that the sponsoring company understands how women buy apparel in this case and provide some options that really would actually enter into real women’s decisions considerations. Avoid gradations like “very, somewhat or not at all important,” because nothing will emerge as a differentiation factor or focus opportunity.

Instead, structure your questions to give insight into what she means when she talks about criteria like quality. And ask her how she weights her purchase among decision factors when push comes to shove. Here’s an example:

If a jacket costs about 20% more than you want to pay, rank-order the reasons you might buy it anyway:

  • Gorgeous – Fell in love with it, had to have it.
  • Bargain– 60% markdown, too good to resist.
  • Worth it – Higher quality than usual for this price range.
  • Sold on it—Friend or salesperson I trust said it looks great on me.
  • Need it—Out of time to shop further for upcoming event or trip.
  • Other?

With online or written questionnaires, always provide a few lines for write-in answers. You’ll get criteria you never thought to ask about, and sometimes they’re the ones that will cinch the sale.

If you think about it, the best research study is the one that surprises you—where the consumer tells you something you didn’t already know.

Boomer Women Smash the Stereotypes

Stereotypes abound about the desperate, depressive life-stages that women must “get through” in midlife. The big three for Boomer women are the empty nest syndrome, caregiving and grand-parenting. Let’s say you were a Boomer woman and got to pick which stereotype you get labeled with. Which one would you pick?

Boomer Women Smash the Stereotypes

Boomer Women Smash the StereotypesDoor #1: The Empty Nester

Abandoned mother, sneaking back into the rooms of her children who have left the nest and throwing herself on the bedcovers in a fit of tears and grief.

Boomer Women Smash the StereotypesDoor #2: Caregiver

Dutiful daughter crushed by the unending drudgery of caring for a parent who doesn’t even know who she is anymore.

Boomer Women Smash the StereotypesDoor #3: Grandparent

Plump, doddering old grandma making homemade streusel and wearing stockings rolled down to her knees.

You win! Because as a Boomer woman, you get stereotyped as all three! All someone has to do is mention “women over 50” in a marketing conference room or planning meeting, and the ghost of Whistler’s Mother rises in the room. Or maybe that farm woman with the pitchfork from American Gothic.

Here’s the truth…

  • The “empty nest” actually turns into the “next quest” (as brilliantly portrayed in those fabulous Toyota Venza ads).
  • Caregiving, not as prevalent or devastating as the press would make it, creates resources and resilience.
  • Today’s grandmothers are engaged, empowered and energetic.

Marketing professionals need to embrace these aspects of Boomer women in their marketing—and then Boomer women will be more inclined to embrace their brands.



Hanging out with the Joneses

Some marketing to women ad executions are platformed on the assumption that everyone wants to get ahead of everyone else- code word: aspirational. However, female gender culture is grounded in the idea of empathy, not envy. Women would rather be hanging out with the Joneses than scrambling to get ahead of them.


In recent years, this fad seems to be fading, which is good for women and the companies trying to sell to them. Watch out for it in your own advertising, though. Women want to be better, not better than.

Similarly, I’ve seen a couple of women-targeted ads lately with a gloating attitude to them. I wonder if those advertisers know that to women, gloating means smug, mean and self-satisfied.

hanging-out-with-the-jonses-2The popular (and admittedly hilarious) Toyota Swagger Wagon campaign is a good example of ads meant to target women but falling short by appealing to feelings of superiority (no matter how outlandish).


Women: Sell More by Talking Less

BNET’s July 19th, 2010 article, “Women: Sell More by Talking Less,” highlights Marti Barletta and Sasha Galbraith’s advice to women on selling to men. Marti advises:

“Both genders are right,” Barletta says. “You have to stay focused on the priorities. Most of your competitiors will all offer the most important things. It’s not until you get to the ‘less important’ factors that you can differentiate yourselves.”