What women want

Feature-1-1950s-sceneWomen are giving marketers a headache; one that will turn into a full-blown migraine unless brands learn how to communicate effectively to female shoppers during tough economic times.

It seems that when it comes to speaking to the female consumer, marketers are from Mars and women are from Venus. The recession is affecting the way females shop much more than men. According to research carried out by HPI, made available exclusively to Marketing Week, women are much more nervous about the recession.

As a result, they are ditching expensive branded goods and choosing cheaper alternatives. Marketers are failing to offer them convincing reasons to keep spending.

Terry Prue, senior partner at HPI, says the Crunchometer study reveals a double impact on marketers. Not only are women cutting their spending by more than men but, since they are also the biggest shoppers overall, the end impact on companies is greater. “I think it’s because women are on the front line. They do tend to have a lower income and they make the most regular purchases,” he adds.

Almost double the amount of women (28%), compared with men (15%), say they feel squeezed by the economic climate and more than half (51%) of females say they are buying more cheaper brands and shops’ own-label products than they used to. Marketers need to take immediate action if they are to maintain customer loyalty.

Consumer goods company Unilever claims it is already aware of the dangers in failing to reassure female shoppers. It claims to have created a “constant dialogue” with shoppers, using one-to-one conversations with women in their homes to see first hand how shopping behaviours are changing in light of economic hardships.

But Matt Close, Unilever’s vice-president of marketing for home and personal care for the UK and Ireland, says spending habits are not straightforward; marketers should be wary of developing over-simplistic “women-friendly” strategies. “We’re not finding a one-size fits all approach to the current environment,” he says. He suggests that while some women are moving away from familiar brands, others are “weighing up the risks of buying something that might not work.”

He points to what is called the “lipstick effect”, where women buy small luxuries for themselves as a treat. Not only does this occur in the cosmetics environment, says Close, but also in more unexpected areas such as home care.

The company has also noticed the “laundry effect”, where consumers are spending less money on leisure activities, for example, but trading up on ranges such as Comfort Naturals fabric conditioner, which it claims took a 7% share of the category last month immediately after an ad campaign, up from 3-4% at the end of 2008.

Close says that Unilever marketing will focus on communicating quality and pushing the idea that people get value for money from better (rather than cheaper) products. He explains: “If you’re a premium brand you can’t suddenly claim to be cheap but you can make sure that customers understand the value you offer in terms of the quality of the brand.”

This strategy will be backed by an emphasis on direct-response marketing, with coupon campaigns and both online and offline loyalty initiatives. The firm believes this will help it forge stronger connections with consumers than more ephemeral, aspirational glossy advertising methods.

Stephanie Holland, president of Holland Holland Advertising and author of the She-conomy blog, argues that while more direct methods of reaching women are fine, the tone of advertising has to be thoughtful and reassuring. “My advice would be to send out an optimistic message that’s also empathetic,” she says. “Brands need to communicate that they’re on women’s side.”

Holland adds that while marketing in sectors such as home or personal care needs to be better targeted at women, the situation is even more extreme in non-traditional sectors for women, such as cars or electronics. She warns that marketers in those areas have failed to attract women in a buoyant climate, so it’s going to be even trickier to protect their profits in a recession.

Part of the problem, Holland suggests, is that many senior marketers and creatives are male so they aren’t clear on how females think or shop. “Men simply don’t understand women, yet women are making the purchases. If this doesn’t change, then companies are really going to be in trouble,” she says.

Understanding how women shop does not mean making everything pink and fluffy, however. While electronics firm Samsung might have launched its Blush pink phone for women in 2006, the company is now taking a more long-term approach to attracting female shoppers.

Stoic, a Denmark-based advertising agency has been working with Samsung on a “women­omics” project to study the female shopping journey. It looked at how Samsung could improve the way it markets its television range to females. The study, made available exclusively to Marketing Week, reveals that the consumer electronics sector as a whole is lagging behind with its female marketing strategy.

Anand Vengurlekar, managing director of Stoic, says the pink option is tired and unoriginal. But Samsung also has to be aware that the traditionally male focus on minute product details may also turn off women shoppers. “Consumer electronics companies market against each other rather than to consumers. If one television brand promotes that it has a 150 hertz screen, another will say it has a 200 hertz screen,” he reveals.

Solvej Lee, Samsung Electronics head of Denmark and Iceland, agrees: “It is assumed that men and women shop in the same way when in actual fact they shop very differently.” Lee says simply adjusting in-store marketing to avoid being totally specification-led is a low-cost and immediate way for Samsung to get the female vote.

The electronics company is in talks with its divisions in other countries to see how the project can be used to give the brand a greater female appeal overall. Lee envisages the insights being used for more than in-store marketing; everything from product design through to packaging.

Vengurlekar warns­ marketers shouldn’t consider that his project is about finding a simple way to flog goods to women; it has to be about generating a more effective way of doing business with half the people on the planet.

“Buying brands for flippant reasons is over. It’s not about coming up with clever marketing ways to sell something to women,” he warns.

It appears that whether marketers are selling an essential everyday product or a pricey luxury, marketers need to find a way of getting off Mars and heading over to Venus. Chartering a pink spaceship simply won’t fly in this climate. 


Diet Coke

Coca-Cola GB marketing director Cathryn Sleight talks exclusively to Marketing Week about how to keep women spending in a recession…

…The modern women can apparently be represented by the Welsh singer Duffy, weaving in and out of supermarket aisles on a bike. She is shown taking some time out during a live concert, riding to the shops and having a slurp of Diet Coke, before returning to the stage for an encore.

The £35m pan-European ad campaign for Diet Coke broke at the end of the Brit music awards on ITV1. Duffy had scooped three awards, including Best British Female.

Sleight says the campaign is aimed at “have it all” women who want to use the brand as part of the break from the pressure of their job. “Our point of view around strong, smart women having the confidence to say no and just taking some time out for themselves is one that really resonated in the consumer research,” she says.

The famous Diet Coke hunk from former ads is being shelved for the time being because Sleight says the brand wanted to focus on women themselves. She comments: “It’s time for us to move on from women just thinking about guys and actually show us just thinking about ourselves for a while.”

Sleight claims that despite this change in strategy, Diet Coke’s hunk itself was ahead of its time. She says: “If you think back to some of the advertising it was quite a breakthrough. The original campaign broke in the early Eighties, when for the first time we pictured women in the workplace ogling at guys – that was quite a strong statement back then.”

The most recent ad campaign, created by agency Mother, includes outdoor activity with Duffy proclaiming: “I’m no superwoman”. The ad will break in the cinema in mid-March and be supported by an online campaign.

So will this keep females spending on Diet Coke in a recession? Sleight claims: “Having time for ourselves is a very upbeat positive message. We’re in quite difficult times right now in terms of the economy. Our brand has always had optimism at its core.”

The message doesn’t seem to be resonating with all female cola drinkers out there. Some online forums see women claiming to be “bewildered” by the new strategy and finding the relentless optimism “uncomfortable” in such a serious economic downturn.

Sleight is realistic about the reaction, pointing out that it’s impossible to create a magic potion in marketing that will automatically appeal to all women.

She predicts that for brands to make sure they have female appeal in 2009, the most important thing is to make sure they are actually talking to women on a regular basis. She claims: “We’re constantly talking to consumers through focus groups, online and blog. Our antennae are always up.”


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