How to get the girl when it comes to marketing Featured

8:01pm EDT March 31, 2011
How to get the girl when it comes to marketing

When comparing weekend activities recently, a friend of mine proudly reported that the highlight of her Sunday was the two hours she spent at a Sephora store trying out different cosmetics and creams.

Spending that much time at any store may seem like an excess, until you realize there is some science behind it, and my friend was simply reacting exactly as shopping researchers had planned.

Ever since women were called the emerging market, marketers have been busy boning up on biology, anthropology and psychology to better understand this target. They realized that women are gatherers versus hunters — they like to explore, take their time and discover new things for themselves or their loved ones. Businesses that have done their homework are redesigning their stores, products, packaging, brand promises and business operations to appeal more to women.

Although some retailers have figured out, others still don’t “get” women. By not appealing to this consumer base, these businesses miss out on capturing a larger share of their consumer base. Women account for 83 percent of all consumer purchases, according to an A.T. Kearney report, and Goldman Sachs analysts estimate that wealth in the hands of women around the globe will increase by $5 trillion between 2008 and 2013. The increasing economic influence of women is expected to continue as they outpace men in college graduation rates, which can lead to higher income levels. This all adds up to major opportunities to rethink and revamp current businesses. So, why isn’t it happening?

Without a doubt, one key factor is simply the organizational inertia that comes with any kind of major change. Another factor may be stereotypes about selling to women and that you just have to “shrink and pink” it — make it smaller and a cute color. But there’s something more fundamental going on.

First, marketers’ views are shortsighted. They measure market size based on assumptions of today rather than incorporating possibilities that the market could be larger than we expected. Think of 3M’s Post-it Notes. When they were introduced, who anticipated that women would use them so much and want them in different colors and shapes, with funny sayings and designs, with a little bit of personality?

Second, the way companies think about innovation needs to shift. We need fewer “incremental” projects and more new projects that incorporate ethnographic and observational techniques and that borrow insights from parallel industries from around the globe. I recently visited a company in Shanghai that is designing a kitchen based on what it learned from hundreds of hours of observing Chinese women cook. It has a new organizational setup, new safety features, cabinets that swivel and a built-in stepstool to reach high places. I have no doubt some of the features will become common around the world in the course of a few years.

Finally, companies need to bring in more perspectives from a variety of disciplines. Too many people in business were trained only in business. We need to bring in more breadth of experience from people trained not only in traditional marketing, finance and R&D but also in psychology, anthropology, biology, history and sociology. They can bring in the insights that the businesspeople might miss. While marketing personal care products to women, I was involved in a team that studied biology, anthropology and hundreds of years of women’s history in various societies. We also conducted interviews with bikini waxers, pole dancers, personal trainers, plastic surgeons, models, fashion designers, lingerie store owners and medical doctors. These perspectives were incorporated into innovation and communication platforms, and the result was a changed business that yielded double-digit growth in a previously stagnant category.

As a professional, I am aware of the pockets of advances in marketing to women, but, as a consumer, I haven’t seen enough. Until businesses understand both the potential of the growing purchasing power of women as well how women are wired, they will not make the changes they need to make to capture it, and somebody else will get the girl.

Robin Moriarty, Ph.D., is the managing director of Kimberly-Clark — Hong Kong, an expert in marketing to women and a former Atlanta resident. She is a frequent lecturer, and previously worked at Bell South and taught at Emory University and Georgia Tech.