Will ‘Soft’ Sell to Gen-X Goddesses?

I’ve been learning much about Gen-X and Gen-Y girls/women lately.

I recently led a workshop sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), for girls ages 1016, on Internet marketing. While preparing for that fascinating experience, I received an email from a male reader asking for ideas about hip sites for college-age women (he seemed to be inquiring from the marketing perspective, but I guess I’ll never really know). In that same period, three reporters contacted my firm and asked for comments on things like reaching young women as employees and as prospective financial-services customers.

Phew. I guess the marketing world is waking up from the Rip Van Winkle nap it took during the overly long Baby Boom era. We (yes, egad, I’m on the tail end of it) have been completely figured out, niched, and marketed to. Ad infinitum. It is now time to move on to the absolutely impossible-to-predict interests and habits of young women (another huge market).

All righty then. So how do you sell the 20- to 25-year-old woman on your brand?

Nikegoddess is an interesting example of what a company with lots of money and time to spend on marketing research has recently done to further its existing relationships with young women, potentially big consumers of athletic apparel.

Inspired by Nike founder Bill Bowerman’s comment, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” the Nike women’s business team developed nikegoddess, along with a new ad campaign and magazine/catalog, to encourage young women to equate their fitness with athletic strength (preferably using Nike’s products).

The Nike public relations folks with whom I spoke told me that they focused on listening better to their women consumers in the development process for nikegoddess and for the rest of the integrated campaign. During their initial research, one of the more remarkable discoveries they made was that women rarely think of themselves as athletes, while even men who may randomly play softball in the summer (which is mainly beer drinking anyway, according to personal observation) consider themselves athletic.

By celebrating activities that move women, in addition to running and soccer and all the other usual suspects, the nikegoddess development team members are hoping to inspire many more women to call themselves athletes. Those activities include horseback riding, ultimate Frisbee, and capoeira (I had to read about this on the site to see what it was, and so will you).

The female “athletes” profiled on the site the last time I checked included Michelle, who took up walking and in-line skating to help with weight loss; Thone, who rock climbs for its mental as well as physical challenge; and Marion, who is a pretty darn well-known Olympic runner and who also happens to be sponsored by Nike (and who still has an inspiring story to share). I bet lots of women will appreciate the mix.

And women may well appreciate a few other things about the site. Topics are categorized by feelings, as in “I feel ready for adventure,” or “I feel a bit frazzled,” or “I feel like shopping.” The palette is pretty hip, and there is enough Flash/motion to keep your attention, but not too much (like some of the sites I’ve seen that are targeted at the young male population). A techie aspect of note, to me at least, is that the site’s developers give the viewer the opportunity to experience the profiles of women athletes by reading, hearing, or seeing — depending on that particular person’s computer’s capabilities. I thoroughly appreciate being able to simply read an interview if I don’t want to take the extra time to download the audio or video version. (And I’m among the lucky to have the options inherent in broadband, I realize.)

In addition to the site, the integrated campaign created by Nike women’s business team also includes “Everyday Athlete” television commercials, print ads with the same message running in lots of women’s magazines, and a magazine-style product catalog (“magalog”) called nikegoddess magazine.

All of the above are certainly solid elements of a comprehensive marketing strategy with much research and planning behind it. The anchor-content concept seems to be working well for healthcare and pharmaceutical Web sites in terms of building relationships with consumers. But will a similar strategy succeed in the retail world?

And what of that good old bottom line? nikegoddess merely links to the nike.com shopping site when you happen to feel like shopping, as noted above (“I feel like shopping.”). This softer method of selling product intrigues me, because I’ve written about how women are very time sensitive and prefer the direct approach. Yet nikegoddess is focusing on listening and building a longer-term relationship. Is “soft” the secret to reaching this segment of the women’s market?

Here are some things worth watching:

  • Will young women turn to nikegoddess for suggestions of new activities they can pursue?
  • Will they “tune in” to read the profiles or submit their own?
  • Will true interaction and relationship with Nike’s young female consumers blossom?

In the end, has Nike, with its existing brand recognition and its hefty market research budget, come up with the greatest relationship-building concept ever, or will the nikegoddess audience visit once or twice and call it good?

We marketers are always hungry for some creative, and successful, case studies from which to learn. Does “soft” truly sell?

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