Making More Money on Maternity

While everyone is working on tightening their belts, at 28 weeks pregnant, mine just keeps expanding, forcing me to be in regular shopping mode. 

In today’s economy pregnant women are a sure thing. So, why are retailers making it so difficult to take my money? 

Sure there are more mainstream companies today taunting stylish maternity fashions – from Old Navy, Gap, Ann Taylor loft and of course there is Liz Lange’s line at Target. No longer are we destined for just the destination maternity shops but I can tell you from experience, it doesn’t seem like they really want us pregnant folk walking around their stores. 

On a recent trip to the maternity section at Old Navy (which was all the way on the top floor stuffed in a corner of the children’s section) I found two style dresses, mostly in small and extra larges, a rack of clearance pants and a display table of see-through t-shirts. Their website has great selections, fun styles, but as I’m never quite sure what size I’ll be this is the one time where I really want to shop in person. And just like the Gap who is only selling Maternity online, web purchases can’t be returned to the stores. While I like to keep Keith, our UPS guy, busy, this seems like a financial waste for the company (especially since they offer free returns and my Luxe card gets me free shipping). 

At least there is Target, I thought. But after trips to four different locations I am confused at why such a great line is hidden away next to the Merona line, as if they’re saying can’t find it in Liz, try a plus size!  Which may actually be their intent because every Liz Lange section I’ve seen seems like a picked over clearance section.  At least online orders can be returned at the store and you often get free shipping. I’ve probably made 5 returns so far, buying multiple sizes so I can create my own fitting room at home.  Advice for retailers: if you stock it we will come…and we’ll save you shipping costs along the way. Now that would be a good less labor, easier delivery story!

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Segments, Shmegments

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We are always being given consumer profiles by our clients that have been heavily researched (think multiple binders!) and they paint a picture of who the client considers to be their current customer and who they consider their growth customer.   Sometimes these consumer segments are given clever names or they are named after an anonymous woman (Jane is very popular) and sometimes there are even pictures or cartoons of her.  We dutifully read these and develop the corresponding screeners when we are recruiting for research but I can’t help but think customer segmentation is a messy, messy business. 

Women aren’t well behaved and they don’t obey when you tell them to stay in their little boxes.  If you say she is a Beauty Obsessive, is she allowed to be a shlump on Sundays? If she falls into the segment of being Financially Negligent and she pays her taxes on time will she get the boot?  What about Jane, the overstressed working mother? Does she mess up the numbers when she has a relaxing day?

 This is not to say that segmentation is misguided overall but I do wish that marketers would keep in mind that women can fall into multiple segments all at once and while that doesn’t make forecasting easier it is the truth.  Personally I’d like to see segmentation that allows for more fluidity and flexibility but I do have to point out my favorite segmentation on the web right now – www.oldjewstellingjokes.com.  This is a brilliant site that updates every Thursday with your Uncle Saul (okay, it might not be your uncle but it could be) telling what can sometimes be a bawdy joke. New jokes but the same sort of Catskill type humor.   This site has identified a true segment!  Men just like my dad who can tell a good joke (even if they only have one joke they can remember the punchline to).

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I was wrong in 2002

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When clients asked me in 2002 about communities online I was bold enough to say “communities are crap.”  I was very, very, very wrong. 

In February of 2006, I found out I was pregnant with twins.  I found myself at www.babycenter.com  looking for other women in my boat.  I found a message board for women expecting multiples in October and started to post about my morning sickness, potential names, cravings … These women (roughly 75 at one point) became my resources for everything. Along the way, one woman caught my attention with her candidness, wisdom and humor.  Her name is Jessica Kate (JK) and her twins were born on October 11 just three weeks after mine.  They were welcomed by their two older brothers and their great father Charley. 

Since 2006 the message board (now a private Yahoo group) has remained an everyday part of my life.  When I travel for work, I try to meet up with some of the women on it and I feel so lucky to call this motley crew my friends.  When I was in Denver this summer I got to meet JK and we had a fantastic girl’s night out including margaritas and lots of laughing. Even though we had met online she was someone that I would have picked out of a crowd to be my friend.

Just a few weeks after I visited, one of her twins, Tuesday, became ill and went to the hospital.  She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma and she went through more than 30 procedures (surgeries, chemo …).  It looked like she had kicked the cancer until suddenly a new and agressive tumor appeared.  This tumor took her life last night while she was at home with her loving family.  My heart is broken that she lost this battle against cancer.  It isn’t fair.  It isn’t fair that a family should have to bury their 2 year old.  She didn’t get enough time on this earth and she will be missed by so many people.

The one shining star of this experience has been how online communities, blogs and generous hearts have shown their strength.  Within minutes of the diagnosis, the women on my board mobilized to raise money and awareness.  T-shirts were made and sold, auctions for bracelets and artwork were held, artists from etsy.com made custom jewelry as a fundraiser.  We each volunteered to send a package to the family on a different Tuesday.  Her friends in Denver used an amazing site called www.lotsofhelpinghands.com  to organize meals and visitors.  My friend JK kept us all posted with her poignant blog http://half12.blogspot.com/ and wrote beautiful stories about her family and about what this experience was teaching them.  Strangers started to follow their journey and in less than 24 hours after Tuesday died there were more than 500 comments posted to the family’s blog.  Many of the posters strangers who found their way to her blog through other people’s blogs or Facebook status. 

So for anyone who sat in a meeting with me in the early 2000s and I said community is crap. I was wrong. Very wrong.

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Forever Young

Today’s Wall Street Journal did a long overdue piece on boomer’s reluctance to age themselves by rejecting the labels of grandma and grandpa, adopting names like “Lefty” and “Glamma” to stay cool AKA young. For all the bromides about boomers, “loving who they’ve grown to be”, it’s also a big time Half Truth. The Whole Truth is that we like the wisdom, we hate the wrinkles, the wizened and anything wreaking of ‘old.’ 

I’d also say this is nothing new. My own Dad has been Papa Ray rather than Grandpop for the past 20 years. (A man in the article who had chosen Papa Doc on the other hand, needs his head examined.) My young sister in law goes by GiGi to her grandkids and my brother in law, as Newsh, a nickname from his teens. And, though proud to be an aunt, I cringe when people remark about my second generation of newborn nieces and nephews,” Oh, you’re a Great Aunt or a Grand Aunt now, right?”  No, I’m a cool aunt. To them, I’m even just Mary Lou. (by the way, check out savvyauntie.com, a great new site that is all about cool aunt-ness!)

The bigger Whole Truth isn’t just that we don’t want to be pegged as old. It’s that we want to be seen as the BFF’s of our grandchildren and grand anything’s. We like to fulfill their dreams, give great gifts and be the people they love to visit. (And as my husband Joe always says of our love and generosity, “maybe one of them will come to visit in the nursing home.”). Whoops, I mean, the spa. 

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Just Listen…

As anyone who studies women (or who is a woman) knows, there’s a huge subculture of women (and some men) who like to pass along inspirational videos or emails, either as wholesale ‘feel good’s’ to their email address book or as cheeky ways to break up a busy day. Often they are rife with kittens and angels, sometimes they just issue warnings about when not to stop for a cop.  But occasionally they touch the heart of what friendship and being a woman is all about.

A week ago, my friend Mary Lynn sent me this Youtube poem written and delivered by author Kelly Corrigan, who wrote The Middle Place about the joy and heartache of being a daughter and a mother simultaneously. This poem is called “Transcendence; Words on Women and Strength.”  I watched it and had two reactions.

One was that it was something every company should watch if they are wondering what makes women tick. It’s a beautiful weaving of all the ways women talk and share, the secret bonds of sisters and girlfriends, mothers and daughters, the funny and the sad, but most of all, the very real fabric of women’s lives. If you only watch part of it, and figure, ‘yeah, yeah, I get it’….then maybe you ought to consider 2009 as the year you vow to really, really listen to women. Their stories take time, they sometimes wander and weave, they connect the past to what’s next and they get very, very personal. It takes a tough and tender marketer to do it right. But it’s worth it.

The other reaction I had when I watched this was to think of Jen and Tracy, Lily and Jean, all of us partners in Just Ask a Woman. We take our work personally, and our client relationships, as deep-felt trusts. We are so happy to be working together. And we send a special thank you out to the thousands of women we’ve listened to over this past year. They shared the best of themselves with us. What more could a woman ask? Happiest Holiday!

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No Life? You’re Hired!

Something happened yesterday that struck me, not as a marketing story, but as one about women and work, and I just had to write.

PA Governor Ed Rendell became the most recent politician to be stung by a hot mic, when he said that fellow Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona would be perfect to head the demanding Homeland Security department because she has “no family…no life.”

As a born Pennsylvanian who’s met Ed several times, I know he’s a straight-talker, hot mic or cold, and he can sometimes be too quotable. But he was surprised that this gaffe garnered reactions ranging from sexism (why don’t we flag men’s family status when they’re promoted?) to anti-singleton (do singles have no lives because they aren’t married or moms?) to mom-marginalizing (does that assume moms are excluded from higher-pressured jobs?).

Ed was wrong, but sadly, he was right, too.

Raising the ‘family card’ is sexist because it so rarely happens with a man. The last highly public male politician I remember with a lot of kids was Robert F. Kennedy, and his 11 kids only added to his power and allure.

But I don’t see this as a knock only against single women; unfortunately, prejudice against childless women, single and married, is a dirty secret in most of corporate America, not just the beltway.

As a married but kid-free executive throughout my career, I often felt that I was expected to be available for travel and late nights when moms had to take care of kids. There’s an unspoken hierarchy of ‘what counts’ as worthy family obligations and (justifiably) kids are on top, followed by husbands or significant others, though aging parents may trump them soon. Single or married, not having kids is code for having more time to give at the office and childless women usually suffer silently, out of sisterhood or out of fear of alienating moms. And when those mom colleagues age, and their kids are gone, they, too, probably get lumped back in the ‘after hours available’ club.

Here’s where Ed Rendell was right. There are millions of women in this country with careers that squeeze the life out of their lives. As one senior women answered, when I asked if her oft-touted ‘good for women’ company actually was: “Sure, it’s great if you don’t have a husband, a kid, a dog, a plant or a life.”

As this economy tightens, and more women (and men) are forced or lucky to stay in high pressure jobs they hate, there’s less room to protest, “But I have a life, too!”  I’m afraid we are far from the day when every woman’s life choice is equally respected at work…and it may be unrealistic to expect that top jobs won’t require that all-out, 24/7 sacrifice that is so humanly punishing. It’s tough at the top. And lonely. But you shouldn’t have to be alone to be there.

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Thanks, Mom

This morning’s New York Times headline, “To Buy Children’s Gifts, Mothers Do Without” gives new meaning to the word “Duh.” 

The article alerts us to this year’s surprising holiday retail phenomenon that today’s moms “weathering the first severe economic downturn of their adult lives,…are discovering that a practice they once indulged without thinking about it, shopping a bit for themselves at the holidays, has to give way to their children’s wishes.” 

I beg to differ. Not that moms are still bingeing or treating themselves, but that this is news at all. Women have been sacrificing for their kids forever and even with the ups and downs of recent years, most moms are the vigilante momma bears protecting the kids’ happiness and the family wallet before indulging themselves.  

Who doesn’t remember growing up wearing some cute matching outfit while mom made do with last year’s style? Sure, there are wealthy moms who may seem to deny themselves nothing while catering to their kid’s every wish, but over the past several years of interviewing and listening to thousands of moms, what we’ve seen is that the mom sacrifice doesn’t start at the holidays nor end at the toy phase. And even well-off mothers are turning more frugal. 

Moms scrap their relocation/promotion plans so that their kids can stay close to their school and friends. Moms delay retirement so they can afford to pay for college and even support their 20something children’s return to the nest. Look at the new or used cars that are bought–bet the few that move this season are for teens, not Mom. Look at who gets the new Blackberry Storm while Mom pecks away at her old cell.  

Moms, (and I might add personally after a quick shopping trip to Saks for my goddaughter’s 21st where I bypassed the gorgeous markdowns for me while sorting through the perfect bag for her) cool aunts and grandmothers, are trying to keep the wheels on this careening economy without the ability to print money to bail themselves out. 

Moms, as they have every year, will make the best of the season they’ve been dealt so that perhaps their kids will grow up with memories they’ll repeat for their own kids. That’s not news. It’s everyday life we can all be thankful for. 

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Minivans – Denial and Acceptance

When I surrendered 2 years ago and bought a minivan I felt like a complete sell-out.  I felt defeated and completely lame. There were tears shed at the dealership (don’t get me started on the fight I had with the sales guy who only called my husband by name) and I refused to learn how to put in the third row of seats or use the remote controlled doors.  The first time I drove it I insisted on wearing stilettos just to show that *#!%  Honda Odyssey who’s boss. 

To console ourselves, my husband and I decided we were going to rebrand the minivan and call it a MUV – a multi-use vehicle.  We threw the term around for a while but it didn’t stick.  Fast forward 2 years and I’m driving the minivan and I’ll admit I don’t entirely hate it.  What I still hate is how the minivan is marketed – as a compromise, as something for people with no style, as a generic mass market baby mover driven by mommies.

So VW’s campaign for the new Routan minivan caught my eye.  Its tagline is “Have a baby for love. Not for German Engineering.”  The premise is that the vehicle is so awesome that people are getting pregnant just to buy it.  With Brooke Shield’s as a cleverly cast spokeswoman they produced a great satirical video  http://www.vw.com/ where she confronts pregnant women with her accusation that they have gotten knocked up just as a front for buying the Routon.  Finally a sense of humor in the automotive category where women are usually the punchline of the joke or dolled up like centerfolds! 

The van has some cool features and I think I would have checked it out if it were around in 06.  But what I like most about this campaign is that it reveals a significant Whole Truth that coming to terms with driving a minivan takes some serious soul searching for women.  Let’s face it, most minivan marketers are happy to settle for the Half Truth when women say “I love my van!”.  C’mon who really, really  oves their minivan?

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A Lover of the Undercover

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I am a big fan of online communities.  My experiences have been almost entirely positive (barring the woman who faked being a twin mommy with pictures she stole off someone’s blog– yick).  There is a real kumbaya that happens when you connect with someone and then an even greater sense of satisfaction when you can engage in a “conversation” with them. But like IRL friendships these relationships have their own etiquette and subsequent baggage.  For instance, it is best to respond to your friends’ posts even when you are just piling on the compliments so your “friends” feel loved. 

But here is my confession … I also love to visit anonymous sites where people are brutally honest because they don’t have screen names to rat themselves out.  My favorite has to be www.youbemom.com . This site is the redheaded stepchild of www.urbanbaby.com who foolishly changed their message board interface and took away all of the fun.  On youbemom.com (or YBM) women (mostly from the tri-state area) are completely uninhibited because they are anonymous. You can just unleash your two cents and not suffer any repercussions. How liberating. It is like being able to tell your friend that she should stop dressing like she is 20 without her getting mad. 

Naturally some postings are very mom oriented (how to wean off ebf, nap drama, cold remedies) but many of the posts are social commentary in real time.  During last night’s Sarah Paulin speech I was lurking and this post appeared “Anyone else think that little Trig Palin should have been in nice, quiet, dark room getting some sleep as opposed to being passed around like that?  It was if someone had read my mind and said exactly what I wouldn’t have said out loud. The responses are mostly helpful and almost always witty. YBM gets some heat because there can be some pretty snarky responses to otherwise innocent posts but these occasional flames are just the price to play to have a safe venue to say what you really think. 

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Are you sure you want what you want?

  So while I was at the airport waiting for a delayed flight (argh) I found myself sitting at the bar eating a late lunch and celebrating a good meeting with a glass of wine.  But when I first sat down at the bar, the uber friendly bartender took my wine order and then stopped to ask if I was sure I didn’t want a mixed drink because he makes a mean Cosmopolitan.  First, a Cosmo? How early Sex and the City of him?  Second, he actually asked me if I was sure I wanted what I had ordered as if I was incapable of making a decision that could stick.  About a minute later a gentleman sat next to me at the bar and ordered a Corona.  He was immediately offered any hard liquor shot of his choice for a special price for $3 (down from $6).  Keep in mind it is 2pm.  When the bartender walked away my bar mate and I looked at each other and laughed that shots haven’t been party of our liquor repertoire in more than a decade.  He asked me “did he offer you the shot special?”  “As a matter of fact,” I responded, “I think I have just been pink-ed.”  This bartender had gender specific bar specials. Now, there are times when I want gender specific offers (like whenever there is a lifeboat in question) but at this random bar, in this generic airport I didn’t want or need special treatment.  It made me start thinking about places where special “girl” treatment would be the strategically right thing to do.  Thoughts?  I will get you started … I would love mandatory mom drive thrus at places where taking kids out of car seats is a huge waste of time like dry cleaners, the DMV and doctor’s office (to pick up prescriptions, referrals, etc)… Thoughts? 

Even though part of me wanted to order the shot just to prove that I could take it like a man, I refrained.  But don’t get me started on the fact that he called me “ma’am” and “miss” interchangeably as if the difference doesn’t matter.

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January 22, 2022
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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