Note to Readers: Be sure to catch the WonderCast of this blog post by clicking on the video at the bottom of the post!
I recently received a package from my father stuffed with family mementos that go as far back as the late 1800s. Amongst the memorabilia, tucked in between a sepia portrait of my great-grandfather posing with a pack animal in Colorado and a black-and-white candid of my father in 1950s Paris, were photographs of Madeline and Olive
Madeline was my grandmother and Olive was her older sister. Born around the turn of the 20th century, Madeline and Olive lived near each other for much of their lives, often times in the same zip code. As adults, their incomes were similar – sometimes, they had an adequate bank balance; other times, they were as poor as dirt. They each owned their own homes, raised families, and drove large American cars. But never were two sisters more different.
Madeline was quiet and introspective; a chronic illness since childhood had left her physically frail. She married young and worked on the family farm, taking waitress jobs when her health would allow. She adored her sons, never missed an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, and enjoyed long car rides in the country most Sunday afternoons after church.
“Moxie” should have been Olive’s middle name. A single mother at the age of 16, Olive was hell-bent on providing for herself at a time when job opportunities for women were scarce. She was a secretary, an organist in silent movie theaters, and a registered nurse. She was married several times (that we know of), including one marriage in the 1920s to a Chicago gangster. She swore like a sailor, sipped tea like a princess, and drove like a maniac. Till the day she died at the age of 89, she was, as she liked to put it, “her own woman, damn it.”
Madeline and Olive were as close as two sisters could be, but polar opposites in personality. The everyday choices they made, so different from each other’s, were based not on where they lived, how much money they made, or which car they drove. Yet advertisers expected Madeline and Olive to both respond exactly the same way to marketing messages based solely on their “demographics.”
When it comes to really understanding female customers, many businesses try to sail an ocean that’s vast and deep by relying on a rickety raft constructed from generalizations. They believe that what I call the Rule of Resemblance – targeting women by age, income, lifestyle category, or zip code –is their mainsail, when more often than not, it’s the anchor that prevents them from getting where they need to go. The Rule of Resemblance strategy usually results in weak response and low (if any) return on investment.
Here’s why the Rule of Resemblance fails:
1. It says that given the same external factors, all women respond equally. Focusing solely on external circumstances like zip code, income, or age ignores a very important factor in the marketing equation – the internal value system of the individual. The Rule of Resemblance creates an inflated sense of overlap between external characteristics, giving you the false assertion that if a woman lives in a targeted zip code, then she also makes a designated income, enjoys a particular lifestyle, and (even more dangerous) lives by a specific code of internal values. Try placing twelve women from the same zip code (even the same city block) in a room and see if their personal values aren’t wildly different from each other’s. Values, or the chosen ideals a woman lives by everyday, are what brand decisions are based on - not address or income.
2. It assumes that every woman has the same time horizon. As a business owner, your goal is to make money today - but that doesn’t mean a woman is ready to buy at the precise moment you’re ready to sell. To her, time is more than a date on the calendar; it’s also the lens through which she views her outlook on life. That view may be short-term (“living in the moment”), long-term (“making a difference for the future”), or somewhere in between. Each decision a woman makes is held up to her personal time horizon to see if it fits, and if so, where. Time knows nothing about age, income, or lifestyle demographics, but its function is critical when it comes to determining your importance in her life.
If you’ve been relying on the Rule of Resemblance, don’t be too hard on yourself. You worked hard with the information you were given. The main reason the Rule of Resemblance doesn’t work is that it has never accounted for the most important part of a woman – what’s inside.
Attracting women, both as loyal customers and motivated employees, gets more difficult with each passing day. It’s up to you to shed the rules of the past and embrace the truth of the future: that the sisterhood of female customers is based not on a world of similarity, but rather a universe of individuality.
What will it take? For starters, exploration into the unknown regions of the female values system. Understanding of how her time horizon affects every purchase she makes. Development of in-depth customer profiles. And creation of various dialects in the language of marketing that will speak directly to the hearts of different female customers.
No one said this business of sisterhood was easy. But stick with me, and we’ll make it more profitable than you can imagine. Stay tuned to WonderBranding.com for future posts on female values, her time horizon, creation of customer profiles, and how to speak her language.
WonderCast: Sisterhood of Women from Michele Miller on Vimeo