American women are delaying marriage, getting better jobs, making more money and becoming more educated than men. While women have always been a major force as consumers, media focus on the “rise of women” has marketers salivating over the profit potential of targeting women. What products, services, market niches and marketing methods must small-business owners know about to reach this audience?
Trend forecaster Faith Popcorn’s She-conomy website reports American women spend some $5 trillion annually and account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases. So if you’re wondering what particular products and services women are looking for, a better question might be, “What aren’t they seeking?”
“Women have been the gatekeepers of their families for as far back as any of us can remember,” says Evelyn Olson Lamden, co-founder of strategic marketing consulting firm Red Kite Business Advisors. “There’s no product category they haven’t been buying already.” However, Lamden cites home improvement, financial services and electronics as areas where women are finally being acknowledged as the major influencers or purchasers.
Marina Maher, CEO of marketing-to-women PR agency Marina Maher Communications, agrees that marketing financial services to women has huge growth potential. So do convenience products, such as bagged lettuce, combination shampoos/conditioners or anything that saves time, says Maher, who has helped such brands as COVERGIRL, Clairol and WonderBra achieve iconic status. Since women love “indulgent treats,” Maher says any company that can position a once-ordinary product as upscale, premium or indulgent (as Five Guys Burgers and Fries has done with hamburgers) will be a hit.
According to She-conomy, young, single women are twice as likely as young, single men to buy houses and all the things that go with them, like housewares, furniture, housecleaning or lawn-care services or overall home improvement.
It’s Red Convertible Time
As important as understanding what women want to buy is knowing which women want to buy. Maher says working women of all ages are still under-served by marketers. With more young people involved in technology businesses, this market could even include female entrepreneurs.
Another hot niche: baby boomer women in their 50s and 60s. “I call them Primetime women,” says Marti Barletta, author of Marketing to Women and Primetime Women. The most prosperous segment of women, Primetime women spend 2.5 times more than younger women and have been less affected by the recession than any other demographic group. Still, Barletta says due to stereotypes, they’re also the demographic most overlooked by marketers.
Far from gray-haired retirees, Primetime women hold senior positions at work, making them key decision-makers for business-to-business as well as consumer purchases. “The kids are out of the house, so they have more money, more discretionary income and more time to focus on the interests, activities and pursuits they deferred while focusing on family,” Barletta explains.
Travel, technology (think tablet computers) and luxury cars are popular purchases for women in this life stage.
Make Your Marketing Message Work
If your previous marketing efforts have been tailored to men, you’ll need to make some shifts to reach women. “Women are not a homogenous group, and there are several sub-groups to target,” Lamden says. “Small-business owners should [know] who their target audience is, then find the subgroup where there's the highest likelihood of reaching their best customers.”
“You have to know your consumer,” Maher says. “Whether you’re selling financial services or prewashed lettuce, you have to understand what she cares about.”
For example, Barletti says effective marketing messages for Primetime women include romance (“She’s finally got some time with her husband”), legacy (“She’s focused on giving back and connecting with grandchildren”) and girlfriends (“This is huge, since it’s the main area that gets sacrificed for family”).
Use social media sites and chat rooms to engage with women and ask questions to gain greater understanding, Maher suggests. “Talk to everybody you can in the psychographic group you’re targeting,” she advises. “If you’re targeting moms, go to the playground and talk to moms!”
Humanize your brand. For example, Maher says when buying stock, women are interested in the company behind the stock. “They want to know, what do they stand for? Is there a female CEO? How many women are on the board?”
Make a connection. “Women are about relationships, and appealing to that emotional need goes a lot further than a hard sell,” Lamden says. “But once that connection is made, she's open to hearing what you have to offer, and then is more likely to purchase because you cared about her first as a human being.”
Think like a woman. “Messaging approached with the female perspective in mind can have a positive impact on bottom-line sales,” Lamden says. “View messages through a female lens–forget about what you want to say, and think about what she needs to hear.”
Have a plan. “Don't just throw messages against the wall and see what happens—time is too precious for small businesses [with limited] staff,” Lamden warns. “Develop a strategic marketing plan to meet your business objectives and use it.”
Tap the power of peers. “The shift to peer endorsement is the single biggest shift in marketing,” says Maher, citing a Nielsen report that online information or recommendations from friends are bigger purchase influencers than advertising. “Women buy differently than men. They buy by educating themselves and asking opinions of their friends and family.” Small-business owners who make it easy for women to recommend their products and services by giving them shareable content (whether it’s a link, Pinterest pin or e-mail) will gain the advantage here.
Ratings and reviews work with all women, according to Barletta, who suggests putting ratings, reviews and testimonials on your website or leveraging third-party sites.
As for the future, Lamden says mobile devices are a huge growth area. “Women's use of smartphones and tablets continues to grow. If companies can find a way to effectively translate their business objectives into a mobile device as a messaging tool, and help a woman save precious time, that company will not only have her as a brand ambassador, but [also have] her influence on 20 of her BFFs.”
How does your small business target female customers?