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Female consumers: the cure for recession blues?

The past few months have been busy, to say the least. We're working on an exciting new project for a major international DIY brand, and we're in the midst of a PR campaign for Milner, not to mention other projects with which we're in full preparation. And between all the work, there are the presentations I'll be giving at VEPEC tomorrow night and JUMP on Thursday. I can confirm what this article in The Economist highlights: it seems to be a true marketing-to-women explosion out there.

It's funny that it took a recession to get business to start taking its female consumers more seriously. And its interesting to see who's seeing this as a 'quick fix' opportunity and who's really committed to their female consumers for the long run. Of course I have to mention Nike, who have done great work marketing to women for years, and again do so with the "Here I am" campaign, which features great ads with slogans such as "My butt is Big" and the "I have Thunder Thighs".

But then there's also McDonalds who's suddenly sponsoring New York Fashion Week. There's a major disconnect between brand perception and the PR tool (sponsoring a fashion week that showcases skeletal models...) in my opinion. Unfortunately for McDonalds, this effort goes against one of the fundamentals of smart marketing to women: be real. Or as one of Belgium's top female bloggers, Clo says: "being who you really are instead of trying to be something or someone you are not."

And then there's Porsche, which launched a 4x4 (as did Jeep with its Compass) designed 'for women'.
As the Economist article states, this constitutes "gender bending", which is not always to the benefit of the brand. Au contraire, mostly it will work against the brand. And I'd like to stress here that "gender bending" is NOT the same as smart marketing to women. Designing a product specifically for women is often not a good idea. Women never asked for a 4x4 "for women" (it comes across a little condescending to if women can't drive 'normal' SUVs). What's the answer then, you may wonder? Porsche and Jeep should have involved women during the design & development process of their original SUVs. If manufacturers (of all kinds of products) involve women throughout the entire NPI process - from R&D through design to marketing, they will get a balanced mix of input, which will ultimate lead to a product that ALSO satisfies the needs of female consumers, and that's what smart marketing to women is all about.

Which leads us to the question: what's the future of smart marketing (to everyone)? This article presents an answer which at first may seem a little scary, but which also presents an enormous opportunity..

"I predict female consumers will take on an increasing role with brands and businesses-the next women's liberation movement when women will co-manage brands with the official brand manager, business owner or marketing director. This partnership will exist with brands that dare to let go and share the steering wheel with consumers."

A multitude of consumers who willingly and on their own initiative provide feedback, contribute ideas, give suggestions? That's like employing an entire new marketing department! One that has extensive experience with your product to boot! Wow! Now if that isn't food for thought for all marketers...!