Marketing groups ignore women at their own peril

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As women achieve greater income parity with men, earn more college degrees and are placed in more upper-level management positions, more marketing professionals are paying attention to the female voice when they plan advertising campaigns.
Women represent an economic powerhouse, making more than 85 percent of purchases and influencing the purchase of more than 95 percent of total goods and services. Female consumer spending totals $3.7 trillion and their business spending totals $1.5 trillion each year.
Businesses that view females as a “niche” market fail to realize the importance of the female purchasing power, marketing experts say.
“Women have taken a long time to work their way into the mainstream,” said Lex Higgins, professor of marketing at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “As they work in more and more management positions, they will wield more economic power. Marketers should not ignore this trend.”
Marketers who do not act quickly to capture women’s dollars will find themselves in trouble, he said. Research shows that by 2010, women will control 60 percent of the wealth in the United States.
“Women themselves are the main reason for this,” said Brent Green, a marketing researcher who focuses on the baby boomer generation. “You have a whole generation of women who are now reaching the pinnacle of their careers. And keep in mind, boomer women will not retire and fade away like previous generations. These women will stay in their careers, and are in a place now where they are earning more than women before them.”
Marketers have been slow to react to the female market, Higgins said. For retailers who normally focus on men – automobiles or electronic products – ignoring women consumers is a mistake.
“Women want to feel they are being treated as an equal,” he said. “They have an expectation they will be treated with respect. If a salesman ‘talks down’ to a woman, she won’t buy from them. It’s going to be interesting to watch how groups that traditionally market toward men make the switch.”
Green said the marketing and advertising agencies that don’t realize that today’s woman is confident, independent and capable will end up alienating a vital group.
“Marketers need to fully grasp the fact that women are more independent now than ever before,” he said. “If they fail to build that into their business strategy, it’s an enormous error.”
Businesses that can determine what women want stand to increase their bottom line. Many marketers view the escalating economic power of women as big business.
For example, Dell Computers is targeting women for the first time because research shows that women are the fastest-growing demographic for televisions, computers, iPods and other electronic gadgets.
Researchers say women are different consumers than men, choosing a product based on the benefits it brings, not just its features. Women shop less via the Web, because many want to touch the product before they buy.
“Women want to know how it works,” Higgins said. “While men are more interested in features and controls, women want to know the benefits.”
Green agrees.
“Women are savvy consumers,” he said. “They are much more likely to decide to buy a product based on how useful it is, rather than the features it has. Women are much, much different consumers than men.”
Samsung also is listening to women. According to a Business Week story, Samsung started including women in its focus groups in 2003, designing products, such as the DuoCam, based on input from female reviewers.
“Not all women are the same, that’s the key to remember. A woman in her 20s is going to shop differently than a woman in her 40s,” Green said. “But generally, women are much more concerned about the company’s environment or employment record. They also are much more concerned about customer service and personal attention.”
He said women will pay more to shop at places that treat them well, and give them personal attention. Stores that think women only shop for bargains or sales are missing a large portion of the market – affluent older women.
“These women were the first to break through the glass ceiling,” he said. “Businesses need to grasp and build their business strategy around the fact there are 42 million women between (age) 40 and 60. These women wield a lot of unprecedented buying power.”
So, how do companies woo the female shopper? By offering fewer choices of high-quality items, market researchers say.
“Companies who are successful with women are more flexible, more agile with purchasing on average; they’re more in touch with their customers,” Higgins said. “Since most small businesses are owned by women, they are in a unique position to influence women customers, by offering fewer, high quality choices, for example.”