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Women represent a huge growth market: So why are they ignored?

Posted by: Jennifer Bassett on October 19, 2009

The female economy

In his article, “The Seven Rules for Communicating with Men,” Fred Richards asks: “Why does the advertising industry insist on talking to the male consumer like he is a caveman? The situation is so laughable – yet commonplace – that a major insurance company parodies the practice.” He goes on: “Companies that hope to connect with today’s male consumer need to set aside the decades old stereotypes and practices that have driven traditional, male-oriented advertising and package design…”

While marketers have much to improve when marketing towards men, it is clear that they have even more strides to make in terms of marketing towards women. As the Harvard Business Review article “The Female Economy” points out, brands either ignore women altogether, or fall into the “make it pink” trap, as with the May 2009 launch of Dell’s Della website. The line, which was a failure and created uproar among women, emphasized colors, accessories, and tips for counting calories and finding recipes. Many called it “condescending” and within weeks of the launch, Dell changed the site’s name and focus. All this is particularly shocking given that women, in aggregate, represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined—more than twice as big, in fact. Still, even while companies strategize on how to expand into China and India, in the last few years, females have continued to be ignored or marketed to poorly.

Changing tides

There are some small signs that this is beginning to change, however. The recession seems to have sparked a recent interest in women says our own Andrea Sullivan, one of the female board members of G23, the two-year-old Omnicom consultancy that aims to help marketers reach women. Although it is unclear why marketers are interested (are they grasping at anything that might help them through the tough time, or are they noting reports that women’s earnings during the recession rose faster than that of the typical man?), there’s been more interest in the women market than previous years.

A missed opportunity

And yet, according to a G23 study that surveyed the economic behavior of 16 different countries, even in non-recessionary times, women remain the key household decision-maker, regardless of background. The authors of “The Female Economy” conducted a similar study that surveyed over 12,000 women, from more than 40 geographies and a variety of income levels. Overall, they found that women – regardless of income or ethnicity— feel undervalued. They have to juggle too many demands (work, home, family) and don’t feel that many companies have responded to their need for time saving solutions or for products and services designed specifically for them. (For example, cars continue to be designed for speed, not utility, which is what matters to women.)

According to the study, businesses that can offer tailored products and services to women – particularly in the industries (food, fitness, beauty, and apparel) where women are most likely to trade up – going beyond “make it pink,” will be positioned to well when the economy recovers. Meanwhile, even the industries that aren’t traditionally the biggest priorities for women can benefit. For example, financial services, which wins the prize as least sympathetic to women stands to gain the most if they can change their approach. Healthcare too, which was the next biggest source of frustration.

Stay tuned for the next post…I’ll be talking more about G23 and some of its projects.

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