Inconstant Women

Women’s historic role may be as the handmaiden, but the reality is that women form one of the most diverse markets – and the most influential. It’s time they were treated as individuals.

The concept of marketing to women seems slightly ridiculous. Women make up at least half of the population and no one with any sense would think of lumping that many people into one target market.

And yet the idea persists that, more than any other group, women are a homogeneous bunch and the same basic principles can be applied to them all. It is unlikely that any advertising brief with the words “target market: men” would see the light of day.

But there are historic reasons why women tend to be herded together into one group, the main one being that that’s exactly what used to happen. It is only relatively recently that women’s lives have moved away from being centred around the home and how to keep it beautiful. Unlike women, men could never be targeted as one group performing one main task – because they didn’t. Women, on the surface, did – and the habit of treating them as an homogeneous group hasn’t quite been broken.

It is easy to understand, however, why the transition has not been an easy one. Women may have moved away from the traditional and predictable roles of housekeeper and mother – but instead of abandoning those roles, they have been incorporated into a new lifestyle which now sees women carrying out, on average, about nine different roles. No wonder that some marketers find it easier to see them as one group.

Dr Tamsin Addison, managing director of research and data mining company, Decision Science, says: “The reason why women still get lumped into one group is because it’s easy to do. It’s a hangover from the old-fashioned view that women are all supposed to fit into one category.

“Now, you get high-powered business women who go home and look after the children and are then completely different when they are out with their friends. Most, probably all, women have different characters that fulfil different roles.”

Addison believes these different roles are more specific to women. “Men might wear an organisational hat in the office and go home and still be the organiser,” she says.

The difficulty in all this is reaching women with a particular message when they in a particular role.

Claire Nuttall, senior consultant at brand consultancy Dragon, says because of this marketers need to look at what she calls women’s “life states” rather than “need states”.

“With women, the traditional need state models have been disrupted. That person having a quick breakfast on the bus could be thinking about how the childminder is coping with the children at home. If you only talk to her as the woman who has breakfast on the run, you miss all the other parts of her,” says Nuttall.

“In certain areas you can target women as a group – but it is important that they are targeted at the right life stage,” she adds. Nuttall points to the US where a number of products have been launched aimed specifically at women at various life stages: for example, the nutrition snacks Luna Bars and the energy drink Viactive, which has been developed for women by women.

Understanding wants

Understanding what women want, and particularly when they want it, is not easy, which is why it often goes wrong.

Michelle White is creative consultant at The Value Engineers, which recently conducted a series of focus groups of women across all socio-economic groups. What was interesting was how they responded to various ads that were specifically targeting them.

Mis-directed ads

White says: “The Renault Clio ads, where the woman is smashing up the apartment but keeps the car keys, and where the women talk about the importance of size, produced an interesting response. The ads communicated with the different groups of people – but not in the way the advertiser wanted them to. Younger people who identified with the woman in the ad, thought the car didn’t suit them. However, older women with children thought the car was relevant to their lives, but found the woman totally unrealistic.”

The well-remembered Cadbury’s Flake ad with the woman lying in the bath – from this woman’s point of view, nothing more than a 20-second male fantasy – was another example of creating an ad with women in mind, with no real concept of how women would respond to it, says White.

Male fantasy

“There you have a woman, fully made up with water running over the side of the bath. All that women think when they see that is how much cleaning up will have be done when she gets out the bath,” says White.

One trend that has emerged which suits women’s needs has been the launch of websites targeting women specifically. Nuttall says: “Women love to talk and they love to talk to each other. Websites fulfil a networking and connecting function that women really like.”

But there is a danger of believing that new technology and those products and services which have been created to make people’s lives easier, actually do. Women may share common characteristics – that is, they juggle many roles – but their lives are not the same and a service that is helpful to one person will be obstructive to another.

New media

BDS Beechwood managing partner John Wood describes an interesting piece of research carried out by the company to support its work on the Internet.

“We discovered, across all groups, that shopping on interactive television is not the great help that everyone thinks it is – especially among certain groups of women. This shows you have to be very careful about treating women too much as one demographic group.

“We found that among C2 women – which make up the classic households where both men and women are working but the woman organises the house – Interactive TV was anything but helpful.

“For them, it created yet another layer of complexity in the household in terms of who would control it and how much access the children would have to it. In many of these households, the men dominate access to the TV and want it mainly for Sky Sports. The women in this group saw interactive TV as yet another complication in their lives which caused family arguments.

“I know it is not popular to stereotype groups but a big chunk of the population – about ten per cent – which are the C1 and C2 households are not living the lives of professional women juggling their single lives. Money is quite a political issue among these households and women didn’t relish yet another way in which their hard-earned money could be spent by others in the home.”

Wood says this highlights a common problem in the advertising industry, in which “you get a load of professional, educated AB people making decisions about demographic sub groups from which they are completely detached.”

BDH TBWA planning director Nicole ten Thij adds: “In the UK, there has been an increased need for convenience, driven by the fact that there are more households with two people working and that more women are continuing to work after having children. However, this need is expressed by different people in different ways, based on their general belief system, lifestyle, income, life stage, and the like.”

Worth the effort

So, no one is saying that getting the right message to the right women at the right time is easy – but if it’s done, the dividends will pay off. According to social commentator Faith Popcorn, 80 per cent of all purchasing decisions are made by women. More specifically, 50 per cent of all cars are purchased by women and women influence 80 per cent of all car purchasing decisions. Clearly this is a group of people that marketers mistreat at their peril.

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