Why Women Are the Market for Changing the World, and How to Reach Them
Publication date: 06/16/2008
Bestseller over 20,000+ copies sold
A Women-Centered (Marketing) Revolution
The Home Depot of today is a lot different than it was ten years ago. The stores feel less cluttered and more airy. Everything, from light fixtures to carpet samples, is more stylish and varied. Home décor departments have been expanded. The company’s ad campaigns and catalogues, which used to simply showcase products, now feature more people. In its first six months, a new store feature, “Do-It-Herself” workshops, drew 40,000 women.
Stonyfield Farm grew from being a seven-cow organic farming school in the early 80s into a company with $250 million in annual sales. Every cup of Stonyfield yogurt bears a personal message from the CEO and founder Gary Hirshberg. Turn the lid over and you’ll find tips on how to make the world a better place. Stonyfield was ahead of the curve when it came to products that had special appeal to moms, like Yo-Baby yogurt and calcium-fortified yogurt. All of this has been critical to the company’s surge as the fastest-growing yogurt company in the world.
The success of these companies are representative of a sea change in the business world in the past 10 years as business leaders have come to recognize women as much more than an “emerging” or niche market. Today, women represent the largest and most important consumer market there is.
How did this happen? It began with demographic changes among women themselves in their roles at work and at home. Today, women make 83 percent of all consumer purchases—everything from breakfast cereal to big-ticket items like cars and personal computers—for themselves and for their families. They are also responsible for 80 percent of all health care-related decisions for their households.
Wising up to the power of the purse and its ripple effects in the marketplace, smart companies began putting female customers first by thinking creatively and critically about what they want. They shaped the consumer experience to appeal to women from the minute they walk into the store or click on the company Web site, all the way through the point of purchase.
As marketing gurus Tom Peters and Marti Barletta put it, there is “a widespread recognition among business leaders of the blazingly obvious… that women are where the money is.”
Yet the nonprofit and political sectors have been slower to pick up on this demographic revolution. Not only do women have the power to profoundly influence the world of consumer goods, they also have the power to rouse and accelerate our ability to do good—provided we know how to unleash that power.
Why Women Are the Key to
Moving the Needle on Social Issues
But wait, the skeptic in you is asking, What does selling kitchen tiles and yogurt have to do with securing universal health care or curbing global warming?
The answer is a lot. Because women as a group affect much more than the consumer marketplace. Research shows they are also the pistons that keep the engine of most nonprofits running successfully and are key in determining the outcome of political elections and campaigns. Consider the following:
- Women give. Conventional wisdom suggests that because men as a group earn more money, it follows that they give more to charity. Wrong. Women actually give just as much, but they give differently. Women control over half of the total wealth in America, and all evidence points to their inheriting and managing more wealth in the near future. Women also account for roughly 60 percent of socially conscious investors. The 2008 election has also proven to be a milestone year in women’s political giving, with women making donations to candidates in unprecedented numbers.
- Women volunteer. Women, particularly mothers and women who work, volunteer at significantly higher rates than men, according to a 2006 federal study. Across the nation, about 32 percent of women volunteer compared with 25 percent of men. These findings have financial consequences as well: studies show that volunteers often make gifts on average two and a half times more than non-volunteers.
- Women vote. Since the 1960s, women have turned out in higher numbers at the voting booth. Women made the difference in the 2006 mid-term elections, accounting for the decisive margin in a number of close races that ultimately shifted the balance of power in Congress.
- Women pay it forward. Women are inherently communityminded and love to seek advice and share good information when they have it. This makes them ideal “connectors” and foot-soldiers for advocacy or fundraising campaigns. What’s more, and as described in more detail later, what “works” for women often clicks with men as well.
- Women are behind major social movements. Throughout American history, women have been a major force behind important social movements, from the abolition of slavery and the temperance movement, to the suffragist and civil rights movements. Their roles may not have been written in the history books, but these social reforms could not have occurred without their leadership and support.
Doing a better job of marketing to women does not mean that we neglect or forget men in the process. As we’ll discuss in greater detail later, the experience of corporate marketing campaigns has shown that when you market to women’s concerns and meet their higher expectations on return, you will sweep up men’s support as well. In other words, hit the She Spot and you’ll hit the He Spot, too.
Why Gender-Neutral Marketing is Not Enough
Many of us are comfortable with and, indeed, support the idea that campaigns targeting youth or people of color be tuned into nuances, into differences between these populations and the perceptions held by them if they are to succeed. Yet when we talked to people about the concept behind this book—why it’s important to market differently to women than to men—we encountered enthusiasm from some (“It’s about time!”) and resistance from others who expressed concern that calling out gender differences threatens to undermine the hard-won notion that women and men are equal and should be treated equally.
It’s worth noting that these different reactions were more or less split along generational lines, with Generation X and Y women in the positive camp, and some baby boomer women taking a skeptical, even wary position. It’s not difficult to see why: women who came of age in the 1960s have had to fight precedent-setting battles for equality with men; women of younger generations hold social and political perceptions shaped as inheritors of their legacy, including the cultural shifts that grew out of the second-wave feminist movement.
When it comes to improving the lives of women and girls and creating the society we want to live in, we couldn’t agree more that women should be treated on equal footing as men. But we are selling ourselves short if we deny the fact that gender differences exist. These differences are supported by a body of scientific evidence that shows that differences in male and female brain structure, chemistry, and hormones shape our different priorities, preferences, and approach to the choices we make in life. We see these differences in action by watching how little boys and girls behave on the playground. And they affect us as adults as we make decisions about everything from what we buy, to who we vote for, to which causes we choose to champion.
Culture, of course, has an enormous influence as well. At work, at home and at play, and in their relationships with others, men and women take on different roles that shape their priorities, attitudes, and preferences. If we ignore the real differences between how men and women think and perceive the world, we significantly cripple our own efforts to appeal and activate the audiences we need on our side.
In short, women are from Venus and men are from Mars. But for too long, traditional marketing and outreach approaches have placed men’s worldviews and preferences front and center, marooning women on Mars and crippling their ability to recognize women as a critical audience requiring sophisticated communications strategies if we are to reach them.
It’s About Her
Those of us in the public sector got into this line of work because we care passionately about righting wrongs, protecting the environment, and helping people. But it’s a mistake to think that simply getting the word out about “the issues” will convert people into taking up worthy causes.
In the early days of marketing and advertising, it was enough for a business to sing the praises of a product’s attributes, whether shampoo or headache medicine. But in today’s competitive marketplace, where store shelves carry five or more brands of essentially the same product, a straight description of attributes is no longer a persuasive selling strategy. That’s why modern-day marketing campaigns focus much less on the product, and much more on the prospect—the needs of the customer.
Marketing in the nonprofit sector must make a similar conversion. Today there are 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S. competing for a limited pool of dollars. Public sector organizations must combat “compassion fatigue” and a thickening fog of information overload. Meanwhile, political candidates and statewide ballot initiative campaigns are challenged to drum up support and voters, many of whom are cynical and disengaged from the political process.
In light of these challenges, it’s more important than ever that public sector professionals rigorously re-examine how they’re communicating to their target audiences—and who that target audience is. It’s our argument, of course, that the audience is women, and that the first step in marketing to them effectively is to rid ourselves of the notion that women are a niche audience. In other words, ditch the niche. The steps after that make up the meat of this book, where we describe the elements involved in creating marketing efforts that appeal to the things women care about and respond to.
We’re sympathetic to nonprofit staff for whom the idea of reformulating their organization’s marketing and outreach efforts to be femalefriendly can sound overwhelming. But don’t panic. Keep these things in mind:
- Marketing to women is not about adding another layer to your communications as you would add an extension on your house. Remember, women are not a niche. They are the audience. Once you take this to heart, you’ll see that what you’re doing is pouring cement in your communications foundation, building in this approach rather than adding on. As we’ll get into later in the book, women have built-in attributes of their own that make them a sure return on your marketing investment.
- You won’t have to start from scratch. Chances are you’re already applying a few (or more than a few) of the marketing tactics that women respond to. Our hope is that, in the future, you’ll do so more intentionally, and become even more sophisticated and effective in your application.
- The bottom line is this: Just as the rules of the game have changed in the consumer marketplace, they’ve changed in the social change marketplace as well. Busy lives, shortening attention spans, data overload, competing demands—these are factors that define modern life and have conspired to make it tougher to break through. To do more than survive and actually thrive in this environment, the public sector must do a better job of marketing by looking through a prospect-focused rather than a product- or issue-focused lens. Because when we successfully connect with our target audiences in deep and personal ways, we build loyal and longer-lasting relationships with donors and members that strengthen our organizations and bolster our ability to make change on the scale necessary to truly make a difference in people’s lives.
The Four Cs: Care, Connect, Cultivate, and Control
Based on our own field experience as communications consultants for nonprofit clients and our research into corporate marketing practices, we’ve identified four key principles to effectively marketing to women. They are:
- Care. Most people choose to do good not because they’ve reasoned it’s the logical thing to do, but because their sense of caring and empathy has been triggered and it becomes the right thing to do. When we strike directly at the “heart” of our issues, we unleash an emotional response, the necessary first step to engagement.
- Connect. Women place a premium value on creating community in their lives. They understand that the ties between people are the force that make the world go round—and forward. When we tap into this powerful force, we honor people’s deep-felt desire to connect with others, and help build a movement for progressive change.
- Cultivate. Women are tough customers who take decisionmaking seriously. If they’ve signed up to support your organization, it’s because you’ve successfully addressed their check-list of concerns. Once they’re on board, however, they more than pay it back by being true believers and loyal supporters who turn around and cultivate new donors and members on your behalf.
- Control. Remember our prospect versus product argument? This marketing principle is about working within, not against, women’s busy, multi-tasking lifestyles and leveraging their hopeful, take-control approach to life to creating a better future for all of us.
These marketing principles are especially effective at reaching women, but, as we’ll show, they work for men as well—and this is no accident. Our goal is to help sharpen your marketing senses and help you cast aside misguided assumptions regarding gendered marketing that may be inadvertently tuning out or turning off women and preventing you from identifying opportunities that can help you actively appeal to them.
The smarter and more effective we are at reaching women, the better our chances of deepening their commitment, of moving them from the transactional (cutting one check or signing up for a one-time volunteer gig) to a deeper sense of responsibility that inspires more meaningful and, ultimately, more seismic change at the social and cultural level.
Marketing—for Social Change
Some of us may be unaccustomed to the idea of “marketing” as an approach for reaching target audiences to achieve social change goals. Still others may be skeptical about using lessons borrowed from the business sector, considering that corporations have been responsible for many social ills that nonprofit groups are working to fix, from environmental pollution to economic disenfranchisement. Beyond these concerns, there may be others still who are wary that marketing directly to women adds another troubling dimension—that of manipulating this critical demographic to serve specific interests.
But remember, marketing strategies and tactics don’t hurt people; people hurt people. If you’re reading this book, chances are you aren’t in the business of selling tobacco or expanding your oil drilling ventures. You’re in the social change business, and your goals make all the difference. So does the level of respect, sensitivity, and insight you bring to your marketing efforts as you seek to reach women and bring them on board.
Indeed, as Katya Andersen points out in her book, Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes, “There is no nobility in preaching to an audience of one.” As change agents, we have an ethical responsibility to ourselves, to our work, and to the people who support us—financially and as activists—to fully harness tools that time and experience have shown make us more effective as communicators and bring us closer to transforming the world for the better.
We must also remind ourselves that social change sector audiences are often the same people who corporations target to buy cars or switch to their brand of fabric softener. They are the same people who are receiving direct mail appeals from groups working in opposition to your goals. And these same people must filter an unprecedented tsunami of information—from billboards and magazines to the Internet and TV advertisements—from the minute they wake up to when their heads hit the pillow.
The organizations and companies that break through the data smog are the ones that use smart, sophisticated strategies that appeal—and connect—directly with their target audiences. This is the power of effective marketing.
We must also remember that if we do not take a more sophisticated approach to marketing, with an eye for how particular messages or tactics may or may not appeal to women, we may, at best, be unintentionally sidelining this important audience, and, at worst, unintentionally applying a male-centric approach to our outreach. This would not only do women a disservice, it undermines our best efforts to create a groundswell of support for the causes we believe in.
In the next chapter, we take a closer look at why women are the key market for the public and political sectors by examining the power they wield in pulling the levers of change: service, giving, voting, and taking action.
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