Life, Time to Take a Cue From Art

OK, I, like millions of others, recently saw the movie “What Women Want,” and I loved it. If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a synopsis: “Man’s man” ad exec gets his comeuppance through a fluke accident, the result of which is that he hears what women think — all of them, all around him. Meanwhile, he is competing with a woman ad exec and using her own unspoken insights to develop a new Nike women’s business campaign.

The guy (played to perfection by Mel Gibson) had to literally bonk his head and survive electrocution in his bathtub to become open to women’s ways of thinking.

The art of this commercially successful movie imitates life almost to the point of crossing over. Nike does, in fact, have a relatively new women’s business division. (Who called who to get that placement?) The message that Nike does think of women seems almost editorialized and will be put into the data banks of the minds of all women who see the movie. But that is beside the point I’m trying to make today. My point is this: Much more matters than the brand image your corporation controls through its logo design and public relations positioning. To women, it all matters.

OK, OK, on to nonfictional business.

We Know Things…

For those who are stuck in what we now refer to as old economy business models, “take a message” (as actress Marisa Tomei’s character tells Gibson’s character in the movie): Start thinking now about what women may respond to, so you don’t need to be whacked over the head in 2020 with everyone asking, “Where’ve you been?”

Instead of putting women in bikinis and draping them over vehicles or using 15-year-olds with no pimples or wrinkles to market your cosmetics, consider the consumer x-ray vision of women. They see and know about everything that is behind and all around your product or service.

If your CEO has been questioned for tax evasion within the last 10 years, they know. If your brand has ever been affiliated with the National Rifle Association, they’ve taken note. If the tires you manufacture were even allegedly the cause of SUV accidents all over the world — sorry, we all know, and you are guilty until proven innocent.

Things That Matter in the Real World

Some good things have come to light via x-ray vision.

Take Texaco. Of course, it is and has been internationally recognized as fuel stations for eons, but in days of old it was also known for its sponsorship of the Texaco Star Theater television variety show with Milton Berle (in the late ’40s and early ’50s). Regular viewers of the program were likely to think kindly of Texaco when they passed a station, especially if they had enjoyed a belly laugh or two courtesy of Berle’s antics.

These days, Hallmark presents its Hall of Fame television movies known for their family friendliness, which have been on women’s radar for years. Combine that with its touching and humorous advertising campaigns that have run for years, and Hallmark has its direct hit.

Another example of mass customer touchpoint, and the equivalent of sponsoring a television variety show, would be the 10K runs that benefit a variety of causes, including breast cancer research. You better believe that financial institutions, law firms, health insurers, and many others are vying to be major sponsors of these events. Why? Because although the women participating in those races may not really pay attention to the list of names on their takeaway T-shirts, it’s practically guaranteed that the accumulation of goodwill over the years means those T-shirt mentions will have added up to marketing dollars well spent.

And in the Virtual World

So how does this translate into the online realm? Well, your company could sponsor the health and fitness newsletter of a women’s community site. It could use content from a women’s financial site on its intranet to empower its employees. Or it could develop a contest for young women writers and publicize the winners throughout the sites women frequent.

Your company might also want to establish some sort of nonprofit foundation to explore issues concerning the products it sells and offer women consumers more thorough research and studies through a newsletter or Web site content. The Web also provides a great way for companies to more effectively survey consumers and use the feedback for product development, customer service training, and the like.

So Think Different

Must I say it again? Women want different things than men do, and they pay attention to subtle messages, online and off.

And what did making the movie teach Gibson about what women want? His interview clip, accessible from the movie’s Web site, answers that question thus: “It has something to do with chocolate… and conversation.”

Art imitates life. This time, I hope life can take a cue from art.

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