The [Woman] Is Your Customer

September 30, 2010

It’s long been a truism that marketers (and business in general) have overlooked the importance of women, both as individual customers, and as key influencers of family purchase decisions. That importance is continuing to grow, due to a number of social and economic trends.

This was the subject of discussion at NBC Universal’s “Power of the Purse” event I had the chance to attend yesterday, thanks to an invite from Maryam Banikarim, a member of our Brand Leaders Forum. The lineup included a panel of speakers from brands, marketing, academia, and media, as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

NBCU’s Lauren Zalaznick pointed out that the US gender gap in wages is the smallest ever during this recession (or “mancession,” due to its greater impact on male employment), and women will soon outnumber men in the workforce. Ten million more women than men voted in the 2008 elections (70 million vs 60 million). And, according to Zalaznick, 96% of women customers surveyed say that: if I like your product, I will “tell everyone.”

Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills (and lone male panelist) represented a consumer-goods company that has long focused on women as its prime customers. Recognizing the growing voice of customers in digital networks, and the fragmentation of their media experiences, Addicks proclaimed, “We no longer do ‘marketing’… our job now is engagement.”

Kim Brink, from Cadillac, represented an industry that has long underestimated the importance of women in its purchase decisions. She said the auto industry is just now beginning to realize it needs to not only “market to” women, but to incorporate their perspectives from the beginning of the marketing process, in customer insight gathering and new product innovation.

Echoing the shift in consumer values discussed by John Gerzema at BRITE this year, Brink also raised an important challenge for marketing a luxury brand like Cadillac to women. During the current recession, she said, 60% of women feel guilty buying a luxury product in this economy (vs 40% of men). Allaying that guilt needs to be a major focus of some marketers.

The other major focus discussed was connecting with women (and all customers) in a digital age where media are ubiquitous and there is no longer a predictable sequence of brand message + brand message + brand message = customer purchase. MediaVest’s Donna Speciale, said that marketers increasingly need to be “hyperlocal,” finding the right message at the right place and moment. Tina Brown, founder of the Daily Beast, argued that curation and editors have never been more important in media than current environment (as my friend Steve Rosenbaum argues in his forthcoming book).

On the subject of female leaders, the panelists decried the continuing paltry representation of women at the highest level of corporations (comparing it to the “boys club” that the U.S. Congress was when Pelosi first arrived). But Barnard College President Debora Spar offered a note of encouragement in looking at the education of today’s young women. The impact of Title IX (on college sports) is still being observed, but recent research shows that sports participation in younger girls has a strong impact on their future leadership skills, and that adult women in leadership positions today are much more likely than others to have participated in sports in high school. Great tip for parents.


Photo: Nancy Pelosi and Jeff Zucker, by me.

This post originally posted by David on the blog at:

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