Co.Design

Women Dominate The Global Market Place; Here Are 5 Keys To Reaching Them

Here's what works (and what doesn't) when selling to this large, but surprisingly often ignored group of consumers.

Women are the next global emerging market.

Their economic power is truly revolutionary, representing the largest market opportunity in the world. Just look at the numbers: Women control 65 percent of global spending and more than 80 percent of U.S. spending. By 2014, the World Bank predicts that the global income of women will grow by more than $5 trillion. In both emerging markets and developed nations, women's power of influence extends well beyond the traditional roles of family and education to government, business, and the environment.

Women control more than 80 percent of U.S. spending.

And this is just the start of a sweeping change. Women around the globe have more control over their life choices and path than ever before. In emerging markets, women are entering the workforce at lightning speed. With access to more choices, they are delaying marriage to increase their educational and career opportunities.

A handful of forward-thinking companies with product lines that were historically considered male-dominated, such as electronics and automotive, are starting to redirect their design and messaging at women. For the most part, though, the average female consumer still feels under-represented and misunderstood, and her power and influence is woefully under acknowledged--or just plain ignored--by most service and product companies. She may be buying, but for the most part, she's not getting the experiences she wants.

Talk about missed opportunities! Companies across the globe are leaving millions of dollars and the many possibilities for developing brand loyalty on the table. The businesses that spend the time and resources to engage and understand this female consumer will claim those dollars and create a win-win situation with a long-term and loyal consumer.

Who is She?

Today, it is the woman in a household who makes the decisions in the majority of purchases--not only in the home with food and cars, but with services such as banking and health care. This is extremely challenging for many companies to understand, as it requires a huge shift in thinking and how business has historically been done. Add to this the fact that we often have a strong emotional connection to the women in our lives, so we hate to admit that we might not understand them--causing more ignorance than necessary, even if we are women ourselves.

But ignore her at your own peril: Globally, women consumers control $20 trillion in consumer spending. They make the final decision for buying 91 percent of home purchases, 65 percent of the new cars, 80 percent of health care choices, and 66 percent of computers.

So how do you create meaningful experiences--in small and large ways--that make this consumer feel understood? First, appreciate that the consumer journey is much larger than just the purchase of a product. And when a consumer is deciding on a product or service, she considers many more factors than just the bottom line. Being aware of these seemingly subtle differences can make the difference between a consumer making a one-time purchase and developing on-going loyal relationship with a brand.

1. Acknowledge Her Influence

Women are looking for experiences that help them build satisfying relationships with the products they choose.

When women shop, they need to feel comfortable and wanted at every point in the decision-making process in order to make that purchase and to become a brand ambassador--and even more so in traditionally male realms, such as technology. This insight may sound easy or entirely obvious, but it's new to many industries and requires a complete shift in retail strategy and design to execute.

To reach women, Sprint has refocused away from tech industry jargon.

The work Continuum, an innovation consulting firm, has done with Sprint over the past few years shows how much of a change is required to meet the needs of this new generation of woman consumers. Women make up more than half of Sprint's store traffic and make or influence 80 percent of purchases. In the past, Sprint corporate retail stores were narrowly focused on product and technology. Customer-facing communications were dominated by device imagery and complicated industry-specific jargon--representing the days when technology was considered male- and gadget-focused.

Over the last couple of years, however, Sprint has refocused everything from the company's retail design to their customer interactions to speak more clearly to women consumers.

"Our stores used to be organized around phones for business or for entertainment," says Mark Rexroat, Director of Retail Communications at Sprint. "We recognized the importance of women in the market, either in professional roles or in a new emerging super-mom role, where they often serve as the family's communication hub and as CEO of the household. She is juggling so many roles in her life that we have an opportunity to help her be as productive as possible."

Now, in-store communications tell a more lifestyle-focused story with imagery and customer-centric language that helps customers understand the benefits and relevance of the technology, rather than focusing on the pure tech specs of the devices themselves.

"We've also increased the personal service levels in our stores, with programs like ?Ready Now," which insures that all customers receive help configuring their service and getting started on the right path with their new phone before they ever leave the store,? says Rexroat.

The 2011 visual direction continues to support Sprint's focus on family as a key customer in their stores. Sprint recognizes that moms are central in making the decision to buy. As such, she's represented in the photography as a professional woman, as well as a mom. They understand that making the store a place where she sees herself portrayed in an aspirational way and with honor and respect, is important for their female customer--and their business.

2. Join Her Circle

Throughout the entire consumer journey, women use each other as experts, and themselves as the ultimate experience filter.

Women are heavily influenced by other women's opinions throughout the purchasing journey and they look to each other as sources of advice and for real-time reviews of products. As a result of this powerful communication, businesses can quickly decline or improve based on how they adopt to these new realities.

In the U.S., women rule the blogosphere--managing, creating, and sharing consumer opinions on products with every keystroke. In fact, a recent ComScore report on women and the web found that their influence online is gaining massive momentum globally. They reported that, "Once women connect, they engage; once they engage, they embrace; once they embrace, they drive. And that's the future. The internet: It's women's work."

In the U.S., women rule the blogosphere.

The same power of influence is at work in emerging markets as well. In Indonesia, ?traditional trade?--the complex network of open markets, corner stores, kiosks, and street vendors where the majority of people buy their food, drink, and household goods--is largely done by women and has remained the main method by which purchases are made, even with the invasion of the hypermarkets. It was predicted that it would disappear, but it hasn't. A multinational consumer packaged goods client of Continuum's wanted to understand why this was the case, and how their products could secure a bigger presence in it.

Traditional trade stores are still present because they offer the community more than the huge markets: The shop owner offers advice to make sure their customers get the right product the first time, helping the consumer to save money. There's a level of trust between shop owner and customer because the owner is personally vetting each product in the store, creating a win-win for each side.

This essential part of the community is not disappearing. A global brand can enter this system successfully only when they build relationships with the customers, creating trust, and helping the community--whether online or on the ground--in meaningful ways.

3. Understand Her Similarities

By understanding how women balance time, money, and well-being, you understand the unconscious dialogue she goes through at every point in the decision-making process.

Continuum spends a lot of time shopping with women in all sorts of venues, in all corners of the globe. And from this experience, patterns emerge. When making decisions, especially for the purchases that affect more than just her, women weigh a few common factors in their minds: time, money, and well-being. The companies that address these needs have an opportunity to create a customized offering and a far better shopping experience.

Offering unique ways to make the shopping experience easier and more fulfilling is key. From Continuum's work with Procter & Gamble helping them to find new opportunities to working with Target to redesign their shopping cart, Continuum knows that designing experiences that give a woman consumer a sense of comfort that stretches past the product or service to create loyalty. For example, creating products with improved maneuverability and ergonomics, whether it's something small but touched daily, like the grip on a bottle or something larger like a shopping cart, saves a consumer frustration and valuable time. In return, she has a better experience and is more likely to stay longer and come back again sooner.

Nordstrom is a great example of a brand that has built their business on service. Although it may not be the least expensive department store out there, the services the store offers have earned the loyalty of women, especially mothers. They have large lounges where new mothers feel comfortable breast-feeding and they've implemented an unconditional return policy that makes it easy to shop for family members who are not available to try on clothing in the store. And Nordstrom has unique services, such as a free shoe-tying class for children, that helps build a local community feeling and gives moms the freedom to shop, browse, and relax knowing that their child is having fun and learning a valuable new skill.

It's this holistic approach, either through physical touch points or the smart design of services, that addresses needs and build positive experiences women want.

4. Respect Her Differences

Moving from traditional "life milestones" to chosen "life stages," women no longer have a single path that defines them.

Life stages and traditional roles have gotten completely mixed up. Not long ago, women finished school, got married, became a mother, raised kids, maybe returned to work, and retired, all in that order. Now, there are no rules. For the first time in history, no combination of statistics creates a majority in the U.S. when it comes to motherhood. A woman can be 25, 35, or 45 and have a one-year old. Her main career could be in her 30s or 60s. She can choose to have kids in her 20s or 40s or choose to forgo motherhood altogether.

Gen Y women think about motherhood in a completely new light.

All of these women, at various life stages, will have very different life experiences and approaches to family, even when raising exactly the same aged child. The 25-year old will have the support of her parent, whereas the boomer parent may have the added responsibility of taking care of her aging parent. A woman today might start a career, decide to take a break, and volunteer in another country for a few years before starting a completely new career. The possibilities are endless and assumptions can lead to false conclusions.

As a society, the majority of new parents are now Gen Y, not Gen X. And Gen Y women view motherhood in a completely new light. While working for a major global manufacturer of mom and infant products, Continuum discovered the need to change the thinking from focusing on working moms versus stay-at-home moms to a new generation of blended part-time working/part-time stay-at-home moms who identify strongly as equal decision makers with their partners. It's a key insight that has lead to major changes in their business, from product design to communications.

5. Grow With Her

The majority of products and services offered today serve up empty features and gratuitous gestures to reach women, making them pink and soft, feminine and frilly, relying on dated gender stereotypes, rather than in-depth research. The businesses that will grow with women's advancing economic power are ones that:

* Will respect that she is not a niche group with a single answer
* Will join her circle, listening to what she is saying and asking her opinion
* Acknowledge her influence and include her above and beyond the point of purchase
* Understand that she is a holistic thinker when making every purchase decision

Companies who devote time, resources and energy to understanding this key consumer will create a winning situation and speak to "the whole her."

"The Whole Her" comes out of Continuum's Women and Children research group--a community of designers, researchers, engineers, and strategists dedicated to connecting to women beyond the purse. We believe that right now women represent an underappreciated opportunity in the marketplace and that considering gender is as important to design as aesthetics and function. Working in this arena everyday, we'll be sharing our insights and observations as we envision future product and service offerings.

Written by Susan Fabry, a Senior Design Strategist at Continuum and the leader of Continuum's Women & Children Group.

[Top image by Ibrahim Iujaz]

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5 Comments

  • CharlotteMay

    I'd love to know (same as Matt) which study you have used to get this information about the demographic of female consumers - please!

  • Fleur1

    Looks as if the 65% stat comes from the Boston Consulting Group's survey in 2009 (I had to track it back from a quote another website a few month's ago). Hope that helps - it was still available on their website when I looked.

  • smartial_arts

    Fastcodesign guys, your typeface selection for headers such as 1 to 5 is seriously broken - they text size is actually smaller than the main copy.

  • Matt

    Where does this quote come from:  "Just look at the numbers: Women control 65 percent of global spending and more than 80 percent of U.S. spending." What study do you reference to support this? 

  • Vincent

    Hi Susan, Came here and found almost everything I needed to justify my campaigns direction with a client. One thing I would like is specifics on the type of imagery to use. The client wants to see male businessmen in the ads. I want women. Can you point out some research or case studies to help me defend my position better.

    To me, it is just common sense that, if you are going to use people pics in your ads, you should use people that best approximate your target demographic.

    Thank you.