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Think "Pink" As A Color, Not A Strategy

by Alf Nucifora

For decades American marketers viewed the female consumer through the stereotypical lens of a June Clever background. She was primarily a mom and homemaker, fixated with providing her breadwinner husband and their tousle-haired children with the American dream. Nor was she to be intellectually challenged. That was solely a male preserve. And, it's why the marketplace was populated with obnoxious, retrogressive spokespersons like Madge the Manicurist pushing Palmolive liquid detergent and Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin. Advertising of the period was typified by pastel colors, overly-sentimental copy and unrelatable characters and storylines.

Addressing the Reality

While the obviousness of the stereotype has somewhat lessened in recent times, there is still a failure to genuinely understand the psyche of the female customer. Many marketers believe that the pendulum has swung completely to the other extreme; that the prototypical female customer is now a stressed-out, over-worked, soccer-mom type delicately trying to balance career with family obligation. Truth is, that stereotype also fails to hold water. In reality, a growing proportion of the female sector (which comprises 51% of the U.S. population) enjoys life as it is, appreciates the challenge and the diversity of lifestyle, and views the future with optimism and opportunity. In that environment, it's up to the marketer to help women identify their reality, and to guide them in locating the "that's me" within the brand or product.

Andrea Learned and Lisa Johnson, co-founders of ReachWomen, a firm specializing in the behavior of women as consumers, approach the issue in an insightful fashion in their new book, Don't Think Pink, which outlines an intelligent roadmap to what really makes women buy.

Learned and Johnson make the point that women are not a singular "niche" and must be viewed as an aggregation of segments, each with its own particular needs, preferences and priorities. To that point, the single female varies dramatically from today's non-traditional mom or the business woman. When generational segmentation (e.g. Gen-X, Gen-Y, Boomers, Matures) and ethnicity are added, the mosaic becomes even more crowded. Not to mention lifestyle change, e.g. going to college, getting married, having a baby, losing a spouse and retiring.

How Has She Changed?

Today's woman is both a moving target and a movable feast. Women head forty-percent of the households in America, make eighty-five percent of the consumer buying decisions, and run forty percent of all companies in the U.S. They earn $1 trillion per year and control fifty-one percent of the private wealth in the U.S. More importantly, their spending power is estimated at $2 trillion per year. In truth, women make the majority of decisions in household purchasing. And the power of their pocketbooks is matched by the authority of their mindset. As a cohort that has become more sophisticated in its decision-making, women have "grown into themselves" and have become comfortable in that role. They've gained the decision-making power and they like it.

The Biggest Mistakes

Don't Think Pink lists them all, but author/consultant Learned profiles three which are common to the marketing universe. Thinking pink, notes Learned, is a feminine cliché and demands little commitment to the customer on the part of the marketer. It's too facile a solution to what is a complex marketing need. In addition, she blames much of the failed marketing "to making decisions in a vacuum… being driven by the numbers and the data," but not by a true understanding of what the data means and how it should be interpreted. For example she accuses management of a failure to pick-up the vibe, to hear the reality of the female mindset from those who "touch" the customer at the retail point-of-sale, or on the customer service hotline.

From a marketing communications perspective, Don't Think Pink warns against "Gender Neutral Campaigns" …those politically correct attempts that often fail to cut through the clutter and capture the attention of any specific group. That's the unfortunate bi-product of a vanilla approach. "Visible Campaigns" are advisable in those cases where the product or brand demands language and imagery that is unquestionably directed toward women. How else could the Gillette Company market its Venus razor? "Transparent Campaigns" can work just as effectively, but deliver a subtle, yet more sophisticated approach involving the tailoring of a brand message to meet the needs of a woman, without labeling the product or service exclusively for women. Home Depot and Lowe's are learning that trick.

To be successful with the female buyer, today's marketer has to do the homework and learn to be relevant to a female buyer who is smart and demanding enough to search for brand empathy. The marketers that don't deliver are doomed. As Learned notes, "Marketing to women is not a whole other hurdle…it's getting in touch with your marketplace and recapturing that true understanding that is so important to the female buyer."

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