Women's access to money and power over the past 50 years has transformed the way they approach brands, businesses, products and services, claims Fara Warner, author of "The Power of the Purse: How Smart Businesses are Adapting to the World's Most Important Consumers-- Women". A regular contributor to the New York Times and Fast Company magazine, Warner found that women now have a hand in the vast majority of purchase decisions. However, few companies truly know how to reach this market of unprecedented size and scope.
iMedia's Rebecca Weeks sat down with Warner to understand why marketers can't simply group all women into one category, and what improved approaches will truly engage this demographic.
Rebecca Weeks: How has women's access to money and power transformed the way they respond to advertising?
Fara Warner: The revolution in women's financial independence and power is transforming virtually everything we thought we knew about women. Women are now the primary purchasers of products that were once the sole purview of men-- financial products, high technology, cars. It's not so much that money and power change the way women respond to advertising. It's more that this shift changes women profoundly and therefore requires an overhaul in the way corporations view women both as consumers and producers in the society. Women are increasingly spending their self-earned income -- not someone else's money -- and that can have a big impact on what they buy. You now have women splurging on goods that were once only items that were given to women.
Take diamond rings as an example. Today, women will buy themselves a right-hand ring to celebrate a new job or a big sales win or any other great thing that happens in their lives. They don't need to wait for a man to buy them these things, although the message about the right-hand ring had to leave open the possibility of romance and love. Women didn't want to feel that they were substituting this diamond ring for the one that a man would put on their left hands. Marketers must understand this subtlety and complexity in the women's market today.
Weeks: What is the biggest, false stereotype about women's purchasing habits in today's marketplace?
Warner: The belief that the so-called "women's marketing" is homogenous. By that I mean, the belief by many marketers that they can run a women's marketing or advertising campaign and it will work for all women. That is an overly simplistic view of the world's biggest consumer market. In the United States, women represent the largest market, with more than 112 million women over the age of 16 at all levels of the economy across numerous races and religions. Why marketers believe that one ad campaign will appeal to all these women has never failed to astound me. Instead, marketers must see women as a series of different markets all with sometimes not so subtle differences in what they want from products.
Weeks: What is one complex aspect of women's personalities that many marketers just don't "get"?
Warner: The blend of emotion and reason that goes into our purchasing behavior. Too many marketers want to say that women are driven by emotion in the products that they buy -- that they feel they need an emotional connection to a brand -- to the point that some marketing consultants talk about women falling in love with a brand in the same way they do with their significant others. Again, this is a simplistic notion based on tired social norms that women are more emotional than men. Women are also guided by reason when they buy, sometimes possibly more than men. But I think what is more true is that women are a blend of emotion and rationality and depending on the products they buy will use one or both of those to make purchasing decisions.
Weeks: What brands are effectively tapping into women's behaviors on the internet? And how?
Warner: I see research that shows the top 10 sites for women are also often the top 10 sites for men. They tend to be the portals such as Yahoo! and MSN. One site that I have found intriguing, however, is how Bluefly, a fashion retailer, uses a good mixture of offline advertising to drive women to their site. The site also is laid out in a way that makes sense to the way women shop. You can search by color or by designer. The site is easy to navigate and the return policy is very open. What is very important is to watch how women shop elsewhere (or where they shop the most and where they feel the most comfortable) and work to replicate that experience as much as possible online.
Weeks: What opportunities and approaches exist for advertisers to target single females?
Warner: The single women's market is a huge untapped area for marketers. Too many companies continue to see women as part of a nuclear family-- as mostly moms, as McDonald's found out. First, corporations need to take off those blinders. Second, they need to figure out how their products fit into a single women's life.
The most notable example of this is the home-building industry. Builders traditionally have created homes for families, but with single women being the second-biggest market for homes, thoughtful builders are considering what a single woman would want in a home-- and it's not necessarily a family room. It could be two master suites so that she can share the home with a good friend. It could include a separate home office or it could be flexible enough that when and if she decides to marry she can transform the home into one that works for her family.
I think car companies also are missing the boat on the single women phenomenon. Again, this industry sees women through the connections she has to her children and family instead of simply as a woman buying a car for her own benefit. Traditionally, that has been the focus of how men buy cars. They buy cars for themselves (although that's a big generalization because of course men consider their purchases if they have families). But it hasn't been until very recently that car companies have realized that a young single woman may be the main target for a sports car instead of a reliable small car-- the traditional stereotype that car companies have of women.
Weeks: Marketers talk a lot about how busy women need time-saving devices. In your book, you explain how Procter & Gamble went a step further by acknowledging that many women still find meaning in traditional household roles. The company's hugely successful Swiffer bridged the divide between modern and traditional roles. How did the marketing campaign change the way women approached housework?
Warner: Procter & Gamble looked more deeply at the way women viewed housekeeping and a clean house. They focused on making housework fun instead of the traditional drudgery that we are so used to seeing in advertising for such products. It made a social statement that the Swiffer was so fun to use that it could make us actually want to clean... instead of having to clean.
The time-saving component was obvious in the product itself. What wasn't obvious was how well it worked or how much fun it could be. So in the advertising, the company smartly chose to focus on how well it worked and then threw in humor. In the end, it also focused on time saving in a different way than many other products. With a Swiffer women may actually find they are cleaning more often, but for less time. As the P&G brand manager said, the Swiffer lets her clean on her own timeline. She doesn't have to set aside a day to mop her entire house. She can clean a floor when she wants and when she has the time. That's huge in a busy woman's life. It has to be a time-saving tool that saves the "right" kind of time for her.
Rebecca Weeks is content director for iMedia Summits. .