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The Power of the Purse: How Smart Businesses Are Adapting to the World's Most Important Consumers-Womenby Fara Warner
It takes a pretty shocking ad to stop me in my tracks. After 15 years of writing about marketing and advertising for the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and the New York Times, I have become mostly immune to marketing's siren song. But as I flipped through the pages of Vanity Fair, I did a double take.
"The left hand rocks the cradle. The right hand rules the world."
In those two simple sentences I saw a view of women I had not seen before in advertising. Here was a company—DeBeers diamonds, surprisingly enough—that had the guts to openly talk about what women were still struggling to understand and embrace.
It attacked head-on the misconception held by many marketers—and indeed many women—that women were caught in a struggle to choose between traditional or "left-hand" roles of wife and mother and the more modern or "right-hand" roles that had given women power and independence over the past five decades. The campaign instead brought to light what a growing number of women had been considering for years: those roles didn't have to be mutually exclusive. Indeed, instead of tossing away one role to have the other, more and more women were working on making them peacefully co-exist.
As striking as the copy was the product being pitched in the ads: glittering diamonds in big dramatic settings called "right-hand rings." Certainly, diamonds have always been marketed to women. DeBeers itself promoted the idea of men giving diamonds and women receiving them in its lush, romantic "a diamond is forever" ads. This new campaign, however, promoted the idea of women giving themselves diamonds—a striking acknowledgement that women had reached a level of economic power where they could afford expensive jewels and weren't afraid to show them off.
The ad campaign did more than stop me in my tracks. In just two years, sales of right-hand rings skyrocketed, creating a $4 billion segment that hadn't even existed five years before. The rings are now sold everywhere, from the finest jewelry stores to Wal-Mart. Culture trendsetters such as Madonna and Beyoncé Knowles flash diamond-encrusted rings on their right hands wherever they go. But the trend isn't limited to the "bling-bling" crowd. Katie Couric of The Today Show sports a right-hand ring, as do the less well-known ranks of independent economically self-sufficient women who have turned right-hand rings into a multibillion-dollar business.
The story behind how DeBeers uncovered the desire in women to balance the old with the new and struck gold with the approach is just one of the many successes that you'll read about in this book. These stories will make you think differently about the women who walk into your stores, buy your products, or use your services every day.
The stories certainly changed the way I think about women and what they want from companies. I'll be honest—some of the approaches rubbed me the wrong way at first, notably a campaign called Nike Goddess. And I know more than a few women who were at first dismissive of the DeBeers campaign. Some remain unimpressed; others have gone out and bought right-hand rings for themselves. I expect that you, too, will find yourself arguing against the way some of these companies approached women.
But keep an open mind. Many of the ideas in this book are counterintuitive. They go against the conventional wisdom set down by marketing experts and extolled in other books about "marketing to women." Some will run counter to what you think women want; others will ring very true to you as they did me.
Such dichotomies exist because we are entering a brave new world where there are no pat answers, no magic bullets or easy templates for how to reach women—if indeed there ever were. We are on the verge of a major transformation in the way corporations view women consumers and how they then adapt to women's needs and wants in the future.
This transformation is driven by profit. In the U.S. alone, women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending and control more than $13 trillion in personal wealth, an amount that will almost double to $20 trillion in the next 15 years. Women make more than 80 percent of all consumer purchases around the world. Reaching these increasingly wealthy women is now and will continue to be a key factor in the success of any company.
But just how do we reach these women? That's where this book comes in. The companies profiled here all have realized the power of the women's market and have been challenged to reach out to their women consumers in new and innovative ways.
Here then is a glimpse of the lessons that several smart, insightful, sometimes courageous companies have learned and then used to boost profits, increase revenues, and often rejuvenate brands that were struggling against tough competitors.
The Home Depot, for example, could have easily taken the traditional route with a "women's marketing" strategy by cleaning up its stores and adding more home décor items. Such strategies had worked very successfully for its competitors. But The Home Depot wasn't content with such an approach. Instead, the company dug beneath those surface changes to get inside the psyche of its consumers to find a new woman called the "do-it-herselfer," the woman who does far more than influence home renovations. She does them herself. The Home Depot also looked at the changing nature of relationships between men and women. Its senior-level executives—yes, they walk the floors of their stores—talked to the couples shopping in its stores and found "power partners," couples who create homes together, share home renovation tasks, and consider each other equal partners.
The Home Depot's big breakthrough wasn't adding more paint colors or even teaching women how to use a circular saw. The breakthrough was being "inclusive" of both genders instead of excluding one gender to reach another. Segregationist strategies had been common practice for companies in the past, strategies that offered women separate, "feminized" products like smaller tools with brightly colored plastic handles (and higher price tags). But such a practice no longer works for many women consumers who see through the charade. The Home Depot instead put women front and center as equals to the men who had always shopped its stores. The Home Depot's "power partner" strategy has helped boost the company's revenues by billions of dollars in the past three years after several years of sluggish growth that threatened to derail the company's 30 years of success.
The story of Procter & Gamble is one of the surprises in this book. Unlike The Home Depot or even DeBeers, the marketer of Tide and Pampers has long known that women were its most important consumers. The company spent years researching and watching women change diapers and do the laundry. But by the turn of the twenty-first century, many women considered P&G's marketing irrelevant at best, if not downright condescending. Taglines such as "Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman" especially struck a discordant chord with younger generations. P&G realized that it needed to take its blinders off when it came to today's women, ripping apart stereotypes and prejudices it had about its consumers. Like DeBeers, it unearthed an interesting duality going on inside women. Traditionally, marketers of household cleaners had pitched their products as time-saving devices for the harried housewife, a favorite stereotype of companies and marketing experts alike. But P&G went deeper, asking women about the emotional quotient of having a clean home. P&G discovered that although women had moved far beyond the home as the center of their lives, they still believed that a clean home was important to caring for their families. That insight led P&G to a breakthrough way of marketing the Swiffer. Instead of casting it as a time-saver, the Swiffer was marketed as an effective and fun way to get a home really clean. Gone were the images of drudgery or nagging housewives berating their husbands and children for messing up a clean floor. Instead, women danced to the tunes of Devo and looked on as their husbands cleaned up their own mess in the kitchen. The tactics have helped propel Swiffer to $500 million in sales in just five years and have made it one of P&G's most successful new brands ever.
Nike's story is my personal favorite. The transformations I first learned of four years ago formed the basis for this book, and this story resonates with all the themes that are so integral to this book. Nike shifted its thinking about women from a niche market to a majority consumer. It too tore off its blinders about what women wanted from the brand. It dashed long-held stereotypes about what women are capable of. It even redefined and broadened what a "sport" can be. Where Nike once focused primarily on male-dominated competitive games like football and basketball, it now defines female-dominated pursuits such as yoga and dance as sports worthy of its focus. By 2005, those changes had helped pull Nike out of several years of stagnating sales. From 2001 to 2004, its sales surged from $9 billion to $12 billion, a boom driven in part by its new attitude toward women that went far beyond its past attempts.
During its more than 30 years in marketing its brand primarily to men, Nike had taken the occasional detour to reach women. It created often-uplifting advertising about women and sports, including the now famous "if you let me play" campaign that movingly illustrated how sports could forever change women. But even as women applauded its ad campaigns, Nike remained an also-ran in the women's athletic apparel market. It was discouraging, especially for the women executives who often pushed for the marketing efforts. But the failures weren't that big of a concern to Nike because it was still raking in billions of dollars in sales from doing what it had always done so well—selling the Nike brand to boys. But by the turn of the twenty-first century, that strategy was beginning to fail as women—not teenage boys—started driving the big sports and fitness trends in the U.S. and around the world. By the early 2000s, yoga and Pilates had become national obsessions. Women were joining gyms in double the numbers of men. Running—the sport Nike was founded on—was a booming activity for women, myself included.
In the spring of 2001, I stopped off at the Niketown in San Francisco in search of a pair of running shoes. I was in the first few tough weeks of marathon training and in desperate need of a pair of shoes that would see me through the hundreds of miles ahead. I spent the first 15 minutes of my lunch break just trying to find the women's section at Niketown—"Go up several floors and then head to the back," one salesperson told me. I spent the rest of the time trying on running shoes without finding a pair that felt good enough to run a mile in—let alone 26.2 miles. By the time I left the store, I was discouraged and empty-handed. Standing on the street corner outside the store, I watched as a troop of teenage boys—laden with shopping bags—came bursting out of the store's big glass doors.
I was baffled at how I could be empty-handed when they weren't. How was it possible that one of the world's most successful brands could do such a stellar job reaching teenage boys and such a poor job reaching me— a woman who could and would spend a good amount of money on running equipment, a sport that I expected to keep doing for most of my life? Was it because Nike didn't understand me? Could its marketing and design experts not figure out what I wanted in running shoes and shorts? Was I that much more mysterious than a teenage boy? Did Nike simply not see me as a consumer it needed in its stores?
By the time I returned to my office, my frustration had turned into professional curiosity. The reason I had even stepped foot inside Niketown was the suggestion of a company executive who had told me of a new marketing and retail strategy called Nike Goddess that was meant to change women's perceptions of the brand. I saw no indication that Nike was in transformation, so I made a telephone call to Nike headquarters to get the scoop.
During the following six months, I met and interviewed a number of Nike executives who were in the midst of creating a strategy to turn around Nike's women's business. The research would become a Fast Company cover story: "Nike's Women's Movement."
The story chronicled the first changes that Nike made to reach women—from redesigning its clothes and shoes to fit women's bodies better to creating women's-only stores. I thought that the cover story would be the end of the Nike story. I expected that, like many companies I had written about in the past, Nike would have considered its work done with women and would move on. But in fact, I was wrong. Instead, those first few steps in the right direction were the beginning of an ever-evolving transformation that continues today at Nike—and one you'll read about in Chapter 6, "Finding the Goddess: Nike's Marathon to Reach Women." Nike's willingness to keep listening to and learning from its women consumers showed me again that real, lasting change was on the horizon when it came to companies understanding and adapting to women, now the world's most important consumers.
As I finished this book, I began reading a novel called Tending Roses as a way to unwind. I didn't expect that there would be any relevance to my book in a novel about a granddaughter's final days with her 90-year-old grandmother. But often we find lessons in the most unusual places.
In the middle of the story, the grandmother is attempting to explain to her granddaughter that if she continues to use the same tactics in approaching her husband, she will end up getting the same results. The grandmother has watched as her granddaughter continually gets caught in the same trap of trying to persuade her husband to take care of their child, turn off the computer, and stop thinking about work. None of her tactics work, and her husband keeps doing the same things over and over. Her grandmother tells her that if she keeps taking the same road, she will only get to the same place. If it's not the place she wants to be, she needs to change her course.
The same is true for reaching women consumers. If there is one lesson to be learned as you read these stories it is this: all the companies here have found a different road to reach women. Each is unique to the company, but there are universal lessons throughout. DeBeers combined the past with the present. P&G found a modern take on a traditional role. The Home Depot found insight in the new relationships between men and women. The lessons are as different for Kodak, McDonald's, and Bratz as the companies are. But they all found new ways to reach women when they realized that their old routes weren't getting them where they needed to be. Building new roads is rarely easy, but for the many companies profiled here, the rewards for looking at women differently have gone beyond even their own expectations. Now, it's your turn to experience that kind of success by building your own new road to women consumers using the insights that have helped put these companies on a new path with their most important consumers.
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