Missed opportunities abound in women marketing

Think the future of business is in China or India? According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, published in September's Harvard Business Review, there's an untapped market closer to home that offers more opportunities than those markets combined: The female consumer.

Think the future of business is in China or India? According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, published in September's Harvard Business Review, there's an untapped market closer to home that offers more opportunities than those markets combined. What market is that?

The female consumer.

"Globally they control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending," the study states. "And that figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years...Given those numbers, it would be foolish to ignore or underestimate the female consumer. And yet many companies do just that."

Dell's pink laptop snafu is cited as one example of the kinds of blunt instruments that are not uncommonly applied to the female marketing challenge. Given the fact that, according to the piece, the number of working women in the US will soon exceed the number of working men, companies like Dell should not only be considering the consumer piece, but also the b-to-b implications of underwhelming this critical audience.

The study, which surveyed more than 12,000 women from 40 geographies and a range of income levels in 2008, breaks down the female consumer community into six categories - "fast-tracker,” "pressure cooker,” "relationship focused,” "managing on her own", "fulfilled empty nester,” and "making ends meet.” Most women will be a blend of these groups, and there are many subcategories as well.

When I read this list of segments, I naturally tried to identify myself, my colleagues, and friends. And I found that broadly speaking these delineations make sense. But while it's interesting (and the study has plenty of great takeaways, including the data that shows women's views of power and success), there is not much here that I can't see the great minds of the PR industry accessing already on an intuitive or anecdotal level.

So why doesn't PR do a better job of "owning" this community? Marketing to women remains a largely self-contained, niche proposition in most firms, other than the specialists. And only the core female- oriented CPG brands elevate this group to its highest status. The sheer number of women in PR makes it is even more puzzling that marketing to women retains a certain lightweight veneer. That is not to say that there isn't huge interest in tapping this market, but rather that the rhetoric around these efforts often remain sophomoric and condescending. Even announcements of women-focused marketing initiatives will come wrapped in pink, perfume scented, and generally limpid.

More time needs to be spent not focusing on the idealized stay at homes or frazzled multitasking working moms that all conjure up perfectly in our minds eye, thanks to paper towel and dog food commercials.

The most obvious paradigms in PR are in you office right now. They are the Lisa Sepulvedas and Jennifer Cohans, Margery Krauses, Elise Mitchells, Karen Kaplans, Aedhmar Hynes, and Michelle Flowers. They are your former colleagues who are now spending time at home with the kids, but still check in with you on Facebook, or left to write a book and disappear around the world. The truth is, very few campaigns that I see seem to truly speak to the kind of women I know in PR. Isn't it time that PR made marketing to women get real?

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