It’s extraordinary how so much has been made of the emergence of China and India and of the impact of new technology on the world’s economic wellbeing – and yet a factor bigger than either of these dynamics has been largely ignored.
The rise in the participation of women in the economy through full-time work – an economic force I refer to as “femonomics” – has contributed more to economic growth than either Asia or online globally, and yet the attention this has received pales in comparison to the space devoted to Silicon Valley and the rise of the subcontinent and the Red Dragon.
In the US, the input of women in the paid workforce has risen from just 20 percent in the early 20th century to close to 50 percent today, and it is still rising. According to Gerry Myers, American women now earn, control, and spend trillions of dollars annually. In fact, they are responsible for a whopping 80 – 85 percent of all purchasing decisions.
So it’s amazing that so many marketers still regard marketing to women as akin to catering to a niche market. As Fara Warner, author of The Power of the Purse, points out, when you recognise that women are not just the majority but actually the vast majority of consumers, and that their power is only going to increase, it completely changes the commercial urgency of getting to grips with women buyers.
Here are just some of the changes we’ve seen so far:
A shift in relationships. Femonomics demands not just products that address women’s priorities but also a complete rewrite of the sales process. Forget the old direct marketer’s catchcry of lifetime value. Valuable relationships are going to be increasingly derived from their women-time value. In other words, a level of relationship around the sale that women feel comfortable giving their in-demand time to (before, during and after they part with their cash).
A remix of the sales pitch. According to Michael Silverstein of Boston Consulting Group, women shop very differently from men. They research more extensively and are less likely to be influenced by ads. All of which makes for a very different marketing style. And a very different sense of what’s valuable.
Heavy media campaigns alone won’t cut it, because women increasingly look for endorsement of the products they prefer through the magazines they read and the sites they visit rather than just awareness. They want detail before committing. And they are more interested in the indirect selling style of product placement, sponsorships, and editorial.
To sell successfully to women, companies need to look at more careful building of their brand equity, a greater degree of emotional intelligence in the way they position their products, greater reliance on diverse media to lift awareness and much more thought through, holistic and engaging shopping experiences generally.
More emphasis on older consumers and ethical issues. While many marketers still seem obsessed with talking to Gen X and Y consumers, the most powerful women financially are baby boomers.
This is a group who, trendspotters say, will continue to travel more and more, which is highly motived to continue working and therefore earning after retirement, that is amongst the highest proportion of internet users, and who are likely to be in charge of unprecedented wealth. All of this makes them a substantial force to be reckoned with, and an audience that marketers need to be talking to with enthusiasm and intelligence.
This is also a group with strong community motivations and a much more ethical take on what they will purchase. Corporate social responsibility is a rising influence in the femonomics age, as consumers become increasingly aware and politicised around their spending dollar and look to spend money with brands that express points of view that they concur with.
Marketers need to rethink their definitions of age, and look to include a wider range of consideration factors, including aspects like fair trade and environmental impact, if they are to capitalise on this young-at-heart, wealthy-in-pocket market.
Time for a rethink
The influence of women on almost all aspects of branding is there for those that care to look. There’s nothing to suggest it won’t continue at a pace. That’s why organisations in my view need to address the economic power of women astutely and smartly, and respond to femonomics with even more enthusiasm and resource commitment than they have thrown at globalisation.
Susan Gunelius’ comment about how to appeal better to women online seems to me to have a wider application that all marketers should be listening to. “Building brand trust is critical to brand success, and social media gives companies the ability to do exactly that. It’s an opportunity that can also drive sales that still has room to grow. Brand managers should focus on creating diverse content that’s useful, trustworthy, transparent, and visual …”
That’s about a whole lot more than adding a new range of pretty colours to the product lines.
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