Ask what women want to buy

HARVEY SCHACHTER
May 28, 2003

The 80% Minority
By Joanne Thomas Yaccato

Viking Canada, 240 pages, $37

Women control 80 per cent of consumer dollars spent. But they are often rendered invisible in marketing — witness the luxury Montreal hotel that put this headline on its ad, “Right away Sir, is pretty much our answer to everything,” ignoring the significant number of female business travellers. When not ignored, women are too often treated like bimbos or otherwise insulted.

“I’ve struggled for years with sports equipment and clothing that doesn’t fit. I’m uncomfortable in airline seats and seem to be invisible to most airline staff,” Toronto-based marketing consultant Joanne Thomas Yaccato writes in The 80% Minority.

“Many salespeople seem interested in talking only to my husband, even when I’m doing the buying. I’m surrounded by images of either middle-aged or buffed white guys and if women are present, they’re paper thin with big, pouty lips. In the rare case when I do see a woman who looks like me, she’s usually charmingly exasperated with her children, who have written all over the walls or watered her prize-winning plants with cranberry juice. Or she’s dancing with a mop. Yet I’m part of the most powerful and desired consumer demographic in the country.”

Is it a contradiction to call that powerful consumer group a minority? A survey by Ms. Yaccato’s firm found that women feel discriminated against by companies and believe that their role in making consumer decisions isn’t being recognized.

She has been working to correct that with many Canadian companies, teaching “gender-intelligent” marketing, in which companies and their staff come to understand the values, moods, life stages, and cultural and gender-based attributes of their markets. She stresses that doesn’t mean all women are the same — or that women and men are never similar.

“For some reason, people have the propensity to discuss male and female traits in terms of opposites rather than as two parallel universes that converge and diverge at different points,” she says.

Marketers must understand that women live multidimensional lives, taking on many roles over the day in their personal and professional lives. “Do anything and everything possible to make women’s lives simpler,” she tells companies. “This applies to product engineering and development, how and where you market, your delivery channels, the hours you are open, customer support, and whether you make house calls.”

She also notes that women are health conscious, ethically minded and holistic in their consumer approach. They would prefer, for example, to do business with companies that are environmentally exemplary and will steer away from companies whose ethics they question. Recognizing and honouring those instincts of female consumers will pay off in the long run for companies.

Ms. Yaccato’s is Canadian, harder edged, particularly insightful on product development, and filled with many success stories of companies in this country that are displaying gender intelligence.

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