As more and more women take control of the purse-strings, Hannah Waldram looks at why business ignores the laws of Womenomics at their peril.
It has taken a while for businesses to realise marketing towards women is not all about handbags, lipstick, tampons and (worst of all) pink.
For today’s economists, understanding how women’s minds work means boosting GDP and driving more women into the workforce. For businesses, the concept of Womenomics means focusing on addressing gender differences and adjusting the tone of advertising to target the female population and reach out to this ever-rising economic force.
Before images of bra-burning businesswomen in heels start flooding in, this new strain of thinking does not appear to be just a bunch of feminists waxing lyrical about gender equality.
In fact, Womenomics is about embracing the lack of sameness between men and women – and using this science to build brands and products which tap into the female psyche.
The idea of Womenomics (a word originally coined by The Economist) has been afloat for a number of years. It was based on research showing that women were controlling the economy through their buying and physical power (80 per cent of all purchase decisions in the United States are made by women). But the phrase has resurfaced recently due to the growth of women users on the internet and changes in web activity. Now, more than ever, studying Womenomics makes perfect business sense.
Miriam Rayman in Viewpoint Magazine said: “In today’s economy, which relies heavily on knowledge services and creativity, the currency is one of collaboration, communication, teamwork and democratisation. These are all traits that are viewed as female (as opposed to those that we associate with men, such as logic and systems).”
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of gender consultancy 20-First, has founded the website WOMEN-omics.com. In her new book, Why Women Mean Business, co-written with Alison Maitland, she states that organisations which become savvy to Womenomics will win the most customers and show the best leadership.
But few businesses have heard of the term Womenomics, and many are still blinded by stereotypes of women when considering the female market.
Charlotte Carey, a lecturer in applied research at Birmingham City University, said: “I think that often a lot of traditional businesses take a specific view of how they can respond to women. As a city Birmingham is very diverse and women have a whole bunch of spending power. If a company has not recognised that, its competitors will do.”
Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts, authors of Inside Her Pretty Little Head, were forerunners in female motivation and what it means for marketing.
One of the fundamental components of their theory is that businesses should look to the web to engage with an ever-broadening female audience.
The language of Womenomics is focused on relationships and as the internet becomes more networked and sociable, the number of women on the web is increasing – 35 per cent from 2006 to 2007 according to comScore.
Female sites and blogs as well as sites with a female slant seem to be revolutionising the web – attracting 84 million people in 2008, 27 per cent more than in 2007. So for companies wanting to connect with women, it is clear that online is the best platform.
Kenny Howell, aged 28, managing director of Birmingham-based company Return Marketing, admitted the company used gimmicks and discounts to attract female customers. But he also felt women responded well online to trusted brands – which corresponds with Jane Cunningham’s view that women have a basic instinct to create secure surroundings which can be applied online.
He said: “The websites that we build are secure as possible – so we use trusted brands such as Google and recognised names. Generally, compared to lads when buying stuff online, women do things because of the way it’s marketed – like my mother is more inclined to buy from M & S’s website.”
James Walters, head of business and marketing for Tomorrow People, a design consultancy company based at the Custard Factory, said he had helped a client design a website for nail polish and, yes, it used a hot-pink colour palette. “It depends who the client is targeting the product towards,” he said. “As a whole it is still considered a more feminine colour.”
Mr Walters did say the client was considering embedding a social network within the site.
“People will be able to comment on a product,” he said. “I think the female demographic in general is probably more open to having an online conversation.”
What about Womenomics?
“It’s common sense for people to consider everybody in everything they do, especially when it comes to marketing. You should consider every demographic and person who come into contact with the piece you are producing,” said Mr Walters.
While bigger brands such as Apple, Samsung and Tesco are thinking about how to employ the principles of Womenomics, it is time smaller companies kept up.
But Miriam Rayman says: “While Womenomics is driven by women as the principal consumers and leading business players of the future, this trend is not all about women. Rather, it’s about creating marketing, branding and design opportunities that are collaborative, creative, playful and intuitive – opportunities that are more in keeping with the mood and movements of the time, and that even men can appreciate.”