Companies Market to Women in Tough Times

The Economist describes how some recession-stricken companues are looking to female consumers as a new source of income:

In America, where female consumers make more than 80% of discretionary purchases, companies have started tailoring their products and messages to appeal to women, in an effort to boost their sales.

Frito-Lay, a snack-food company owned by PepsiCo, has launched a campaign called “Only In A Woman’s World” to convince women that crisps and popcorn are not just for male, beer-guzzling sport fans. OfficeMax, America’s second-largest office-supplies company, has redesigned its notebooks and file-holders to appeal to women and has run advertisements that encourage women to make their cubicles more colourful. For the first time, McDonald’s was a sponsor of New York Fashion Week in February, promoting a new line of hot drinks to trendsetting women.

Eric Almquist, head of global consumer insights for Bain & Company, a consultancy, says he is surprised it has taken a recession to get companies to focus on women. After all, it is hardly news that they control the vast majority of consumer spending. (They buy 90% of food, 55% of consumer electronics, and most of the new cars.) But the recession has prompted companies to rethink their approach.

Aside from their greater purchasing clout, women are valuable customers for three reasons. First, they are loyal, says Marti Barletta, author of “Marketing to Women”, and more likely to continue to buy a brand if they like it. Second, women are more likely than men to spread information about products they like through word of mouth and social-networking sites. Third, most of the lay-offs so far in America have been in male-dominated fields, like manufacturing and construction. This means women may bring home a greater share of household income in the months ahead and have even more buying power.

That’s a smart move by companies. In essence, feminizing products (will OfficeMax be creating leopard print file holders?) is expanding the concept of fashion or trendsetting to products that haven’t been subject to it in the past. Cute products that fit a woman’s sense of style and expression will always be in demand, even if it’s something as small as a stapler.

Feminizing mundane products also divides a unisex market (like computer monitors) into two distinct niches. If she buys a lavender computer monitor, he won’t want to use it, at least not in public. So he is more apt to buy his own computer monitor. If it worked for razors, it could work for anything. The trick is to price the product attractively enough that women will reach for it.

I look forward to seeing what feminine potato chips look like.

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