Strategies for Marketing to Women

Direct the Marketing Focus at Women

February 21, 2012 | by Karen Leland
Loyalty, Strategy, Targeting

Collage of four women's faces of different races

For years, life insurance was promoted solely based on the options — whole life, term, etc.

One particular agency created a breakthrough when it did a campaign that featured a photo of a young boy with the message that life insurance isn’t for the people who die, it’s for the people who live.

“That campaign made mothers see life insurance in a different light, “ says Marti Barletta, founder of The TrendSight Group — one of the premier providers of marketing to women’s insights and ideas. “Suddenly it was worth taking action, not for herself but for the benefit of her children.”

That is but one example of the plethora of organizations that have realized that understanding the buying motivations and purchasing power of women makes direct marketing to them a smart and necessary move for growth.

Barletta says that women are considered the Chief Purchasing Officer for their joint households, and responsible for 80-85% of consumer spending.

Despite the good dollars and sense it makes to create a direct marketing campaign aimed at women, getting it right can be a challenge — considering marketers do not want to stereotype or offend.

Avoid One Big Basket

“In general, I think businesses get too sloppy and greedy by trying to be all things to all people,” says Paul Kurnit, clinical professor of marketing at Pace University. “Brands that do this run the risk of being nothing to anyone.”

Kurnit points out that even the biggest brands clearly understand the need to customize their communications, messaging and media for different market segments.

For example, a prominent women’s organization and one of the global leaders in the breast cancer movement doesn’t send the same information out to all women, but creates personalized direct mail based on demographics.

“This organization really understands that you can’t throw all women into one breast cancer basket,” says Dr. Jacqueline Lambiase, author of Sex in Consumer Culture and an expert on gender images in the media. “They use direct marketing pieces that speak to specific groups, such as lesbians, Asian American women, older and younger women — all with breast cancer or at risk, but with unique needs.”

Lambiase says that the foundation conducts focus groups based on an advisory council of women and then creates direct mail pieces with various illustrations and information appropriate for that demographic. “When you receive a piece of direct mail that speaks to the specific group you find yourself in, you are more inclined to open it,” she says.

Lambiase cites one 2007 study done by InfoTrends that found that people favor receiving direct mail pieces that use messages and designs that are personalized to reflect their interests and needs.

Psi Health Solutions — the creators of Psi Bands, stylish acupressure wristbands that help relieve the nausea associated with morning and motion sickness — also went after a woman’s personal needs.

“When a pregnant woman goes online, there are so many products out there it can be hard to stand out,” says Amy Herzog, public relations director for Psi Health Solutions. “So in addition to online marketing, we have created a highly targeted direct mailer to women in their first trimester of pregnancy, when nausea tends to be the greatest.”

The postcard features a picture of a pregnant belly with the words ‘Sick of Morning Sickness?’

Herzog said the campaign’s goal is to explain how the product works and where women can purchase it in their area.

“We’re convinced of our direct marketing’s impact because we have seen a consistency of sales in regions where we have done the campaign,” Herzog said.

Make it Relational, Not Transactional

Segmenting women into various groups is a critical step in direct marketing, but choosing what to send to those women is just as essential. “I think direct marketing to women has to be done in the right way by using images and messages that attract women’s attention and garner their interest,” says Marti Barletta of The TrendSight Group. “Most of what I see does not do a good job of motivating women to open it.”

Barletta explains that women in general are more interested in people and relationships, rather than incentives or transactions. As a result, women will postpone something that benefits only them and are quicker to take action when it benefits those they care for or are responsible for. This makes relational images and messages key in getting women to read direct mail.

Paul Kurnit of Pace University cites the luxury travel market as a perfect example. Today’s travel operators are targeting women with brochures that feature photos not just of glamorous destinations but of couples being together and having a good time in those places. “By focusing on the relationship, not just the destination, they are speaking to their female customers,” says Kurnit.

Think Beyond the Bedroom

While the experts all agree that targeting women with gender-specific images and messages makes for good direct marketing, it also comes with a risk. “Brands have to be very careful that they don’t stereotype women,” says Dr. Jacqueline Lambiase.

For example, women often bristle at gratuitously sexual images in advertisements if they are out of context. “While a woman may be used to seeing a certain amount of sexuality in an ad for clothing in a fashion magazine, if that same image comes on a postcard in the mail, she may think, ‘Why is that person dressed liked that?’ ”

Lambiase warns that when a woman stops in her tracks and asks herself that kind of question, a brand is in trouble.

As for the future of direct marketing, the real winners will be the companies that take an integrated approach and combine direct mail marketing with online activities, like the new Cards app. The application allows users to design the card online, but then it gets printed out by the third party, put in an envelope and sent by regular mail to the recipient.

“Today’s woman is online, but her lifestyle still demands a personal touch,” says Kurnit.

The smart brands will integrate female-friendly direct mail as a part of their overall marketing outreach and increase their connection with women, even in an Internet age.

Loyalty, Strategy, Targeting