Marketing to Women: More Than a Media Buy

As a marketer, you’ve got a pretty good handle on your client’s demographic. You know who to target, where they can be found, and the messaging they best respond to. So if I said you may be overlooking another important demographic group, you’d probably be surprised.

What if I said the demographic could be more important to your client’s business than even its current target? And that this demographic recently became the focus of some of the world’s largest brands?

In case this column’s post -Mother’s Day timing didn’t tip you off, the group I’m referring to is women. They’ve gone from being a minority market to majority players in virtually every industry you can imagine.

Right now, women account for over 50 percent of all stock ownership in the U.S. By 2010, they’ll boast half the country’s private wealth — roughly $14 trillion. They control $7 trillion in consumer and business spending. They’re the primary purchasers of consumer electronic equipment. Businesses owned by them employ more people than the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S.

And by as early as 2000, women were found to have surpassed men in Internet usage.

Have I got your attention yet?

The extent of women’s power as a consumer group is outlined in the recently released book “The Power of the Purse” by journalist Fara Warner. In it, Warner describes how companies are realizing the need to better connect with women consumers, both through the way they present their products and brands and through their marketing messaging.

For McDonald’s, targeting women through new products and messaging resulted in the sale of 300 million salads (and counting). Salad-buyers’ bills double that of customers who bought the standard cheeseburger and fries. The Home Depot, Nike, Kodak, Procter & Gamble, Avon, Bratz, and De Beers have similar stories to tell.

A recent invitation-only event my agency held in Chicago discussed both the book and this marketing trend. It drew other major consumer brands, including Motorola, Midas, Beazer Homes, and HSBC. Many of them are already targeting this demographic. Those who aren’t yet recognize the need to address it and are getting ready to do just that.

This raises the question: to what degree are you integrating women into your online marketing strategies?

“The online world has as much to learn about women as the offline world does. But there may be more myths and stereotypes to get over online because it’s seen as a ‘technology,’ which can still imply — despite all the research to the contrary — that women use it very differently from men,” Warner says of reaching women through interactive marketing. “I would hope that is changing dramatically as we see the rise of women as the majority users of the Internet. Yet, I still hear from well-known marketing experts that they wonder, for example, why a company like McDonald’s would want to put free Wi-Fi in its restaurants.”

Of course, once you understand how women use the Web, targeting them online takes more than ad buys on iVillage and Sisterwoman. It involves learning what women really want from your client’s brand and presenting it in a way that better appeals to them. For example, if your client is De Beers and known for introducing the concept of the “right-hand ring,” your campaign may revolve around this theme, with ads appearing on financial sites frequented by powerful, independent women.

As you begin to research women’s behavior online, it’s a good idea to narrow your target to better correspond with the known allure of your product. “It’s important to remember that women aren’t this big, homogenous market — each woman uses the Internet in her own specific way,” Warner notes. “Broad generalizations about women don’t work in either the online or offline world. But you can make truer statements about smaller groups of women.”

Finally, ask yourself the questions Warner poses at the end of her book. Do you have stereotypical views of women that haven’t changed in over a year? You may think you know what women want and where they can be found online, but with media consumption habits constantly shifting, your ad impressions could be going unnoticed.

Do you think your client’s product could never appeal to women? As Warner points out, even male impotence drugs have found success targeting girlfriends and wives, so there’s likely a place for women in your marketing campaign as well.

It seems that after years of seeing this trend develop, major marketers are finally taking notice. The next step is to further expand it online.

That’s where you come in.

Related reading

Vector graphic of a megaphone spewing out business themed items, such as a laptop, tablet, pen, @ symbol and smartphone