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Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

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Marketing to women: New ways of selling to her

Published 06 March 2013 10:43, Updated 10 April 2013 09:43

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Marketing to women: New ways of selling to her

‘This project was about the people who work on the land and wool, which is just a beautiful, natural product’, says baby photographer Anne Geddes. Photo: Anne Geddes

While the global financial crisis has wreaked havoc on thousands of businesses, it has had one unexpected benefit: female empowerment.

Over the past few years, financial pressures at home have forced many women back into the workforce. The flow-on affect has been a substantial increase in women’s discretionary spending, a boost to their confidence and a control over household budgets, according to research by data collection company Ipsos.

The shift in income and power has marketers scrambling to get their hands on the female dollar, according to Mind & Mood director and social commentator Rebecca Huntley.

Many companies, from fast food chains to car companies, have women-focused marketing strategies. Even Prime Minister Julia Gillard has lunched with some of the country’s most influential mummy bloggers in an attempt to secure the votes of the powerful demographic.

But Huntley questions whether the marketers are really getting it right. She says marketing to women is a broad concept that is difficult to capture in a single advertising campaign.

“Marketing to women – most women would say, ‘What does that even mean’? Instead, it’s about ‘marketing to me’, about targeting a specific audience and the person you’re trying to attract,” she says.

The challenge for today’s marketers is to resonate and connect with their target audience without “boxing people in” with stereotypes, Huntley says.

For women in their late 20s, the message usually centres around whether they have chosen to have children. For women in their 30s, campaigns are typically geared toward working mothers.

“Women who for one reason or another have not had children feel they have been overlooked and largely ignored by the media,” Huntley says.

“They often get labelled as being carefree, partying women having loads of wild sex, or just as power-hungry career women.

“They also dislike the assumption sometimes that they have chosen not to have children and that they’re therefore some Bridget Jones-Sex in the City type of character.”

Women over 55 are often slotted into the “aged” category, despite female life expectancy being in the mid-80s.

Baby boomers are not ready to be categorised and are more financially empowered and critical of the way they are being treated by society than ever before, Huntley says.

“I’m always reluctant to say women are more complex now than they once were ... but they do definitely have a lot more choices. They are very aware of those choices.”

While many marketers might be getting it wrong, one thing they are getting right is the huge potential marketing opportunity in women.

I’m always reluctant to say women are more complex now than they once were ... but they do definitely have a lot more choices.

Ipsos’s report: Girl by Girl, Understanding the Modern Woman, shows that by 2015 women will outnumber men across the Asia-Pacific.

They are also more educated, better paid and getting more managerial roles than ever before.

The discretionary spend controlled by women has increased significantly in the past decade. Australian women spent about $22 billion on discretionary items in 2004, according to the book Holding Up Half of the Sky: The New Women Consumers of Asia by Yuwa Hedrick-Wong. That figure is expected to rise to $27 billion in 2014.

Across the Asia-Pacific, discretionary spending increased an average of 1.7 per cent a year for the decade, from $283 billion in 2004 to a predicted $335 billion in 2014.

In 2004, Bec Brideson, the director of creative agency Hello I’m Venus, started her business that focuses entirely on marketing to women.

After 12 years in the industry, she discovered a gap between “the message that women want to hear” in ads and what was being distributed.

“Last year only 3 per cent of creative directors in Australia were women,” she says. “A lot of marketing decisions are outdated and hierarchical and traditional – they’re not necessarily driven by what the consumer wants. For some marketers it’s about conquering the audience ... winning their business and controlling them.

“But we found that women are community builders. They want to be conversed with and social media has left [traditional, outdated] marketers nowhere to hide.”

Since then the agency has worked with some big national brands such as Lean Cuisine, Colonial First State, Dotti and Moonee Valley racecourse. Her goal is to create campaigns that aim to engage women in meaningful conversations through the use of social media and their own personal networks, rather than through traditional advertising.

Brideson’s task when it came to frozen food company Lean Cuisine was to overturn common misconceptions about frozen meals and turn it into a meal option that women would not be embarrassed to choose. Lean Cuisine research showed that the penetration of frozen meals into homes was about 18 per cent but still there was the perception that it was a lazy option for women who “couldn’t have it all”, Brideson says.

An important part of the campaign was to create a Lean Cuisine Facebook page where women could discuss the product, food and other topics. The page now has about 50,000 followers.

“We wanted to get the message out that it’s a healthy, convenient, portion controlled meal – that women needed to set themselves free from the guilt and spend their precious time doing things they wanted to do,” Brideson says. “We highlighted the benefits by putting out messages like: ‘Thanks Lean Cuisine for my night off’ and ‘Thanks Lean Cuisine for my skinny jeans’.”

As a result of Lean Cuisine’s female-targeted campaign, Brideson says that since 2012, 170,000 new households have trialled the product and annual sales increased 3 per cent.

“Most of all, women are very aware of the messages that are out there and integrity of those companies,” she says. “in the end it all comes back to truth and integrity.”

Getting it wrong

Generally, jokes made at the expense of women, or men, do not rate well. While crude humour might appeal to some, it can potentially alienate others.

Dick Smith’s “Dick does” advertising campaign has raised the eyebrows of both men and women throughout the country. Its Australia Day ad, which copies Sam Kekovich’s famous lamb on Australia day ads, was banned by the advertising board for having a few too many “Dick jokes” while being sexist and racist.

Its recent Valentine’s Day campaign – displayed in train stations and tram stops – has a speech bubble with the highly suggestive question: “Who thinks you should give her one on Valentine’s Day? Dick does”. Its catalogues have also been called tacky and distasteful, with slogans such as: “Who dominates the hardware department? Dick does” and “Who takes you places you’ve never been before? Dick does.”

Likewise, campaigns that focus on stereotypes of femininity are not received well.

US talk show host Ellen Degeneres took a tongue-in-cheek swing at stationary company Bic, which released a new “ladies” pen, Bic For Her.

“I know what you’re thinking, ‘It’s about damn time’. Can you believe this? We’ve been using men’s pens for all this time,” Degeneres told her millions of viewers. “They’re just like regular pens, but they’re pink, so they cost twice as much. The worst thing is they don’t come with any instructions, so how do they expect us to learn to write with them?”

A varied approach

The Woolmark company has used famous infant photographer Anne Geddes in its latest marketing campaign aimed at promoting the use of marino wool to mothers with newborn babies. For Geddes, whose photographs have appeared in calendars and diaries in Australian households for decades, it is the first time she has partnered with a company in her 30-year career.

Australian Wool Innovation chief marketing officer Rob Langtry says the collaboration with Geddes is one part of the company’s marketing strategy to promote the versatility and natural health benefits of using wool. Three years ago AWI (owner of the Woolmark brand) undertook an analysis of the company, the wool market and segments it should target in its marketing efforts.

“Not a lot of wool was being used in the baby segment and there were wrong perceptions of what wool was,” Langtry says. “The wellness story around wool was emerging and Anne had done so much credible and really loving work with young babies and kids and women and health.”

Geddes was drawn to the natural origins of wool, and its health and sleep benefits for babies.

“I am always reluctant to put my name to anything that I don’t believe in. But this was about the people who work on the land and wool, which is just a beautiful, natural product and I said I would love to do it,” Geddes says. “We shot in a shearing shed in Goulburn [regional NSW] in the middle of winter last year. We took two pregnant women, in case one went into early labour, and it was freezing.”

Geddes, who will use 12 images taken last winter in her new 2014 calendar, says the expectations of women have changed substantially in the past 20 years.

“If you’re talking about a pregnant woman or a woman with a newborn baby, it’s such an important time. You need to have honesty and sincerity because there is so much available out there and they will see though a message that is not true.

“Women are on to companies trying to make money out of women who have good intentions,” Geddes says.

She says changing misconceptions about wool being “itchy” and hard to care for was central to the campaign. “Most babies fell straight to sleep in the installations because they were so comfortable in the wool.”

Working with the international fashion industry and holding the International Woolmark Prize is also part of AWI’s strategy to promote the benefits of wool to a female-dominated audience.

The award was this year presented at London Fashion Week to Belgian designer Christian Wijnants.

He was selected from a suite of the largest names in the fashion world including Diane Von Furstenberg, Donatella Versace and Victoria Beckham.

“We have had a better reaction from this than we could ever have imagined,” Langtry says.

5 golden rules of marketing to women

1) Think participation

Women expect brands to listen, to be responsive and engage in two-way conversations. This means being serious and active in the social arena. For instance, 63 per cent of women say they prefer to conduct customer service inquiries through social channels such as Facebook over the traditional 1800 call centre or email.

2) Be personal and rewarding

Women feel busier and more time-poor than ever. Make life easier and get her where she wants to go faster. Smart retailers are using data and intuitive technology to understand their customers’ preferences and tailor their shopping experience. Loyalty should also be rewarded.

3) Mobile first

Too many marketers look at mobile marketing as an afterthought. We live in a world defined by screens and for busy, connected and on-the-go women, their smartphone is becoming the indispensable “first screen”. Optimising everything for mobile is just the basics – the mobile experience then needs to be properly tailored.

4) Have a higher purpose

Research has long established that women tend to be more altruistic and focused on others than men. Brands that can identify a higher purpose and convey a genuine higher purpose beyond just “selling stuff” can build tribal loyalty around themselves based on a common purpose.

5) Be fastidious about aesthetics

Women are much more adroit than men when it comes to reading meaning into the appearance of things. This is a much more complex concept than slapping some pink or glitter on your product: it says who you are and what you stand for. It pays to investigate the symbolism and meaning that is being conveyed across your business.

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