Tying down inconstant woman

After reviewing its advertising and appointing Starcom to handle its £3m UK media business (MW last week), Revlon is also reviewing its approach to advertising in the UK. Recently it has turned its back on celebrity endorsement, its traditiona

In this first of a two-part feature, Trends looks at the challenges facing marketers when targeting campaigns at women; for though they are different to men, as a group they have little in common

After reviewing its advertising and appointing Starcom to handle its &£3m UK media business (MW last week), Revlon is also reviewing its approach to advertising in the UK. Recently it has turned its back on celebrity endorsement, its traditional strategy, and instead is searching for a “real” woman to be the face of its Age Defying make-up range.

The beauty brand experienced its first strong financial performance in over six years last year. In the final quarter of 2005, it reported a 39% increase in earnings, up from $46m (&£26.4m) to $64m (&£36.7m). This was boosted by strong sales in new products, including Vital Radiance, a brand aimed at older women, and analysts say the focus on the older market has helped to revive Revlon. Now it must be hoping that a “real women” strategy will boost sales further.

Women’s lives have changed and women are more empowered than ever before. There are now more women millionaires than men in the 25 to 44 age bracket, and it is forecast that by 2025 women will own 60% of the nation’s personal wealth. A third of all British women are financially independent, and almost one-quarter earn at least as much as their partner. Consequently, women are increasingly taking responsibility for decisions about household expenditure, often seizing the initiative when it comes to paying the bills, buying a car, booking holidays, carrying out DIY projects or moving home.

As a result, advertisers face difficult challenges when communicating with this increasingly affluent and important group.

In this issue of Trends Insight and the next, we explore research that looks at how women’s perceptions of themselves have changed, and their attitudes towards finances, lifestyle and careers. Next week we look at their behaviour as online consumers, and what they want to see from the online environment. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, in the UK 48% of regular internet users are female, with 14.4 million women accessing the internet every month, and it is predicted that soon there will be more women online than men. This is a trend marketers cannot ignore.

In this week’s Insight, we draw on research by the Future Foundation and Futurelab, which along with Carat Insight and Ogilvy & Mather, made a presentation at a Channel 4 conference on the subject of marketing to women. The television channel itself says marketing to women is an increasingly important area in planning marketing strategy.

It is certainly a vexed subject. The idea that women form a homogeneous market segment with the same needs and outlooks is clearly misguided, although essentialism – the idea that women are different from men in some fundamental ways – remains a theme in discussions on the subject.

Living in a box

For many years, marketers have sought to locate new types of female consumers, such as “high spending single females” or “women with attitude”. While there are valuable insights on offer, there is a sense of unease with this approach. Can female consumers be pigeon-holed in such a way? Are we just copying the principles of marketing to men? And how does the significance of gender vary from sector to sector?

There are valid reasons for marketers to consider women as a specific group, yet segmenting women into different groups is also vital. But segmentation alone is not enough to provide social and economic context. For instance, segmentation must be accompanied by an understanding of women in terms such as broader trends, demographics, affluence and consumer culture.

As mentioned earlier, women have never been so empowered in terms of financial freedoms, better career prospects and lifestyles. There are now 5 million “Heidis” – highly educated independent, degree-carrying individuals. They have achieved in education and have progressed well in their careers, often commanding sizeable disposable incomes as a result.

As expected, the number of women going into higher and further education and management roles has risen over the decades. In 1970, the number of women in further education was 750,000; this figure has risen considerably to about 3 million today. This compares to about 1 million men enrolling in further education courses in 1970 and about 2 million enrolling today. â¢

Likewise, the number of women in management positions has risen. In 1991, 8% of all female employees in the UK held managerial positions, today that figure is 31%. The proportion of women holding director positions has also crept up – rising from 2% in 1991 to 13% today.

Research shows that many “Heidis” have incomes falling in the &£30,000-&£40,000 bracket. This figure is expected to rise substantially through their late 30s and 40s. However, the research also shows that despite many young women’s graduate status, a significant proportion of 20-somethings are keen to choose “no-hassle” jobs, working as secretaries, personal assistants, consultants and freelancers in media, marketing or creative agencies.

The number of women in employment has risen too, but not significantly. In 1982, 40% of the workforce was women, rising to 46% in 2002 and is forecast to be 50% by 2012. The percentage of part-time workers has risen by 10% since 1982 and is expected to rise to 40% of the workforce by 2012.

While women’s incomes are rising, they still fall behind the wages of their male counterparts. The most marked difference in income is found among 40- to 49-year-olds, where women are paid 21.7% less than men. The gap is much smaller among younger groups, with women aged 18 to 21 earning 96.3% of what men earn. The average wage for men overall is &£14 an hour, with women earning 82.9% of that figure at &£11.60.

Credit trap

Yet despite growing incomes, many Heidis have few savings and are in debt. The average Heidi owes about &£2,000 on credit cards. The proportion of women who disagree strongly with the statement “I am always on the look-out for a better deal for my personal finances” is roughly the same as men, at about 16%. Attitude towards finances may be roughly equal between the sexes, but opinion varies significantly among women from different social groups. The proportion of AB women who disagree with the statement is about 3%; rising to 24% among the C2DE group.

The amount of time spent shopping has doubled since the 1960s, but grocery shopping is perceived as a chore among women, with 44% saying they do not enjoy it. However, 56% say they do enjoy grocery shopping, and 70% say they “enjoy going to the shops to buy new things”.

Most Heidis compare prices of homeware products before deciding where to buy, yet only 29% say they wait until seasonal sales to get a bargain. Surprisingly, 50% of Heidis shop because they are “looking for a specific item”, while 25% say they are generally “just browsing” and 15% say they are “comparing products/prices”.

The most frequently cited “favourite retailers for homewares” are John Lewis (28%), Ikea (13%) and Marks & Spencer (12%). Women like to buy certain brands because they trust them and because they are good value for money – these include Innocent and Green & Blacks. Family structures are very different from two to three decades ago. Women are marrying later – at the age of 29 now compared with 23 in the 1960s – while their male counterparts wait until they are 31 before they marry. Modern young women say they are too busy having fun and spending money to marry.

The proportion of women in the 20 to 29 age bracket that are living with their husband is 39%, and 27% co-habit with their partner; 13% share accommodation; another 13% live alone; and 9% are lone parents.

A high proportion of young adults advocate independent finances, with 42% of all adults (aged 18 and over) agreeing strongly that “everyone has the right to spend their own money on whatever they want without asking their partner”. Among women the figure is slightly higher at 44%, while among men it is slightly lower at 40%. Agreement with this principle is strongest among 18- to 24-year-olds (49%) and weakest among 25- to 34-year-olds (40%).

Household spending is increasingly influenced by women: 49% of women who are married or cohabiting saying they decide which groceries to buy, with 12% of men saying it is their decision. Among this group, 39% of men and 29% of women say they have equal say.

Heads for finance

Women are also playing a greater role in both major and more mundane financial decisions. About 49% of 25- to 34-year-old women say they have major responsibility for day-to-day financial decisions such as bill payment, and 17% say they have main responsibility for major decisions, such as a mortgage. This latter figure rises to 32% for 18- to 24-year-olds. Older women play a major role in financial decisions too: 15% of 45- to 54-year-old women are responsible for major finances such as the mortgage, rising to 19% for those over 65.

Women say they think modern life is better for both sexes. Roughly 60% of women aged 25 to 44 say life used to be harder for both sexes, with 5% saying that life used to be easier for women than men. Almost 20% of 25- to 34-year-old women think life used to be harder for women than men, but this figure rises significantly, to 32%, among 55- to 64-year-olds.

Clearly, women today have more disposable income, but more importantly their influence on family spending, from groceries through to high-ticket items such as cars and mortgages is growing. Increasingly it is women to whom marketers must turn their attentions, especially in areas previously thought to be dominated by men, such as finance.

For marketers it is necessary to recognise that while women are a distinct group from men, increasing diversity among women is emerging, and they have less in common with each other. Lifestage changes, such as marriage and children, naturally have a huge influence. Not surprisingly, having children has a far greater impact on women than on men, as women tend to become the main carers or have chief responsibility for arranging childcare provision.

Gender reminder

Yet it is important to remember that while gender is relevant, it must not be overplayed. Women consider their background to have a greater influence on their attitudes and perceptions than their gender. When asked to name the three most important factors that define them as an individual, gender was cited by 21% of women. By contrast, 85% cited upbringing or social background, 74% cited their beliefs and opinions, and 59% the skills they have learned.

Women’s lives are evolving fast and marketers must look at the complexities and diversities that such rapid change is generating if they are to succeed in tailoring messages to target female women successfully.

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