Profit Minded

Target Your Brand to She Who Controls Spending

The Influence Bureau's Lalita Khosla and Lubna Abu-Osba

Lubna Abu-Osba and Lalita Khosla are the creative minds behind The Influence Bureau, an agency with offices in New York and suburban Philadelphia that helps brands better target their marketing campaigns to women.

Among the clients they’ve engaged are dozens of major names including Coach, Intel, Marriott, and Whirlpool. But their insights about reaching female consumers apply to small brands just as well.

Here, in part one of a two-part interview, the two experts tell Yahoo Small Business what businesses need to know about marketing to women consumers. In part two, they share ideas about how B2B companies could target women-owned businesses.

Yahoo Small Business: What makes women a unique or challenging group of consumers to market to?

Lubna Abu-Osba: People think of women as a niche market, but targeting men is the niche. Women influence the entire consumer market. Research shows that women control upwards of 80 percent of all spending in the U.S. Some put the number as high as 90 percent. Women are either directly doing the purchasing or influencing the purchasing in not just the traditional female categories, but in automotive, housing, and financial products such as insurance and banking.

Yet less than 5 percent of all chief marketing officers and less than 3 percent of chief creative officers at ad agencies in the U.S. are women.

YSB: What do consumer product companies get wrong with this group?

LAO: The number one thing companies get wrong is that they treat women as if they’re men.

They also treat women like a monolith; they market to women ages 18-40 as one entity. Women have a lot of similarities, but we talk about segmenting women not by age, but by stage, by life phase. Getting pregnant can happen when you’re 20 or 40. Getting married or getting divorced can happen when you’re 30 or 70. With more women choosing to stay single, a woman in her 50s might have a similar perspective to a woman in her 20s: they’re more likely to spend money on themselves without guilt because they’re not taking care of children or parents.

Lalita Khosla: Then there are the clichés, like making everything pink. The backlash over the pink Bic pen is a case study we love to point out. The company must have done research that told them they could be selling more pens to women. So they made a smaller pen and made it pink and called it Bic for Her. It got the most hilarious customer reviews like, “Now I can have thoughts for myself!”

YSB: What is different about speaking to women?

LAO: Science is uncovering so much that shows us we are indeed different. Women are physiologically different from men—women’s eyes and brains process information differently than men’s do. Louann Brizendine (author of The Female Brain) uncovered great neuroscience about how women process information versus how men do. When we look at a film and take in an evocative story, men don’t cry when women do; men don’t have that experience.

Women see more detail and have wider peripheral vision than men. When women walk into a space they process information: the windows in a restaurant are dirty. Men’s eyes are trained to focus at a long distance. It seems cliché but science is backing up these gender differences. If marketers can tap into those things, they’ll be able to bring women in and gain their trust.

YSB: What are some ways brands are getting it right with women?

LAO: It’s not always about the ad campaign. It’s about the experience. Take the women’s clothing store Anthropologie: When women go into their stores, often they’re with their kids. At kid-level height, the store tucks away stuffed animals and books, all under $20. They occupy the child while you shop, and it’s not junky stuff, it’s enriching stuff, so you can say, “Yes, I’ll buy you that book, and thank you, Anthropologie, for giving me some time to myself to shop.”

IKEA gets those kinds of details right too with their cheap meals. You walk into the store, your child is hungry, it’s easy to feed him. And there’s a playground and affordable things tucked around the store, which is also so big and ambient that when your kids are noisy it’s not a walk of shame. They make it a family-friendly experience. I’m surprised more stores haven’t picked up on that model, because you’re not going to hire a babysitter to run errands and go shopping.

LAO: In advertising, brands do best to use real, evocative stories. Gwyneth Paltrow has gotten so much backlash regarding her blog Goop because she presents herself as perfect. Women get really resentful of that because they know it’s not true that you’re always feeding your children organic biodynamic carrots that you grew in your backyard with compost that contains drippings from Mario Batali’s kitchen. She loses her credibility by presenting this varnished life.

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