Stress Is Not A Contest: Marketers And Martyrs

Half Truth: Women are stressed.

Whole Truth: Women are stressed, but they aren’t above playing the pity card.

Marketers recoil when women bemoan how busy they are. To many, women’s Martyrdom conjures the annoying and unappealing image of a whiner. (And that’s not the picture of the customer they want to have.) So often, when we show videos of women mired in Martyrdom, marketers get pulled into their quicksand of complaints. Additionally, this Half Truth of Martyrdom puts marketers, especially male ones on the defensive. We can tell this is happening when male clients start citing all the examples of how in their well-balanced families, men do all the heavy lifting.

As a marketer, beware of competing with women’s stress, especially if she’s your customer. As we love to say, ‘Stress is not a contest.’ Even if it were, you’ve got to let your customer win. Women can be incredibly empathetic, but they love to play the pity card, so successful marketers need to base ideas on solving stress rather than compete with it or amplify it. The first step is getting the facts, not just the feelings.

A business that’s plagued with consumers’ stress management is the airline industry, and some brands have navigated this better than others. While both men and women business travelers will trumpet the very true Martyrdom refrain, ‘I’m so exhausted by business travel,’ women, especially those with kids waiting at home, take the indignities of travel personally. Continental Airlines was the first to roll out the red carpet at check-in (in their case, it was blue) so that all Elite members, even the straggling latecomers, could bypass the long line of nonmembers. The blue carpet practically shouted, ‘We know you travel constantly, so here’s one annoyance you can take off your plate.’ They also seem to be the most aggressive about filling any empty business class seat with worthy upgrade candidates, again a life raft for a woman on the edge.

Listen to the Whole Truth behind her Half Truth of Martyrdom to learn how you can redefine your product in her terms and you may find you can reposition your current offering into a Whole Truth winner.

Want to learn more about half and whole truths? This post is straight from our book, What She’s Not Telling You: Why Women Hide the Whole Truth and What Marketers Can Do About It. Read the first chapter online HERE, and grab a copy for yourself from Amazon.

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What Eat, Pray, Love and Steven Slater Have in Common

This week, two great escape stories are on everyone’s lips. Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant allegedly got fed up with a rude customer and threw his career out the window (though he probably is already signed for a reality show) as he threw himself, beer in hand, profanity on lips, down the evacuation chute and into a lot of irate hearts. And today, in theatres nationwide, Julia Roberts AKA Liz Gilbert runs away from a series of identity-threatening relationships to find herself by eating pizza in Italy, chanting mantras in India and falling passionately in love in Bali. Two stories, a world apart, but emotionally linked for women.

While the jury is out on the details of the Jet Blue ejection, Slater has become something of a folk hero for those who feel imprisoned in dead end jobs and berated by the customers they serve. Women are so often the holders of these ‘pink collar’ jobs in retail and service. They are expected to hold their tongues to hold their jobs and the idea of taking the chute and giving customers the finger was just too tasty to resist. Postings on Slater’s fan page range from empathy to shared rage. How many women are thinking, “Let me out of here…but first let me give you a piece of my mind?” While at Just Ask a Woman, we tend to focus on the customer herself, who also feels abused, ignored and under-appreciated, it’s clear that the service workers who irritate her, are themselves often ticked-off women, too.

And as this weekend’s movie theatres feature “Eat, Pray, Love” and are filled with Liz wannabe’s or Liz-bians as I’ve heard them called, expect the swelling of press around women’s pent up hunger to run away and resolve their ‘what if’s?’ What if I had chosen another path? What if I ran away to a place where I could be blessedly alone and then met Mr. Wonderful, my soul-mate without baggage of his own? While critics will bash the idea of the privilege that affords a worldwide, yearlong time out, I believe that most women, fueled by Oprah’s endorsement and the friendly tone of the Gilbert book, will be ready to pack their bags and yoga mats for the chance, that maybe, just maybe, they can escape the boundaries of their lives and find nirvana.

Has the economy made us feel like prisoners? Are women on the verge of snapping out or swapping out their lives? While theatre tickets and cable ratings and even retail checkouts (have you seen the avalanche of EPL merch?) will tick up this weekend, it will be interesting to see if these two great escapes are signals of a bigger shift in women’s appetite for independence….or just an end of summer runaway from home. Stay tuned.

For more listen to this interview on NPR that aired on August 13.

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Memo to Airports & Airport Businesses

So in the last week I endured 12 hours in delays at different domestic airports. I can deal with the downtime and try not to be one of those people who whine about everything. But with all of this time to think, I’ve come up with business recommendations for the airports, airlines and the retail so that they can have happier travelers (read: who will spend more money). This memo is a work in progress and I’d appreciate any builds.


1. Invest in an electrical upgrade so that you can have accessible outlets for travelers like me who are desperate to give our iPhones some extra juice or to charge up our laptops. When I got seated recently at the Callifornia Pizza Kitchen in Las Vegas and there was an outlet next to my table I was elated. I happily ate my soup (yes, soup at CPK) and powered up. Happy customers order more drinks which means to higher tabs and more tips for your wait staff. Want to really show how much you “get” it? Put an outlet at each of the bar stools (and a purse hook)

2. Work with the airlines/airports to put departure boards INSIDE your establishments. When I travel alone, I don’t feel like I can leave my things unattended to walk out of the restaurant to check on my flight delays. So I prematurely close my tab (robbing you of revenue) so that I don’t foolishly miss my flight. It might be nice if your restaurants that are located before security if you also had arrivals boards. Better yet though would be an app where the whole board could appear on my phone but I digress.


1. I’m going to guess that the Brooks Brothers store in the Milwaukee airport is not a high volume establishment. Instead why don’t retailers with more practical items/services take over the airport. My favorite thing about the Pittsburgh airport is that it has a store assortment like a mall (Gap, Victoria’s Secret, a drugstore…) and I never complain about being delayed there. I’d love to see more service oriented spots like pharmacies and express salon/spas, One year I did all of my holiday shopping in the Pittsburgh airport while I waited for my flight.


1. Offer a code for free airport wifi when you have a delay of more than 90 minutes.

2. When you delay a plane that is already boarded, comp everyone free Direct TV (for those airlines that charge and I mean you Continental!). I’d imagine that an entertained travel bitches and moans a whole lot less than a traveler who is bored. If you are really delayed could you comp adults for a premium beverage for when the flight finally gets off the ground?

Let’s build this manifesto. What would you like to see added?

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Captain Personal

In a world where we return phone calls with emails and meet old friends through Facebook, I had an eye-opening moment this morning. I was sitting aboard a Continental flight waiting to take off for Denver, and a uniformed man stood in the aisle at the front of the plane. An attendant? No. A food service person? No. “Hello, everyone,” he said, “I’m your captain.” A real, live person who, without the disembodied microphoned voice of the cockpit, stood right next to us and looked us in the eye and told us about the flight in the friendliest, professional way. Stunned silence.

As he went back to take us up, the woman in the seat behind me sighed, “That is the nicest pilot I ever saw.” I’m sure she’s seen others as she walked off planes…but I have to agree, the simple human contact in a world gone remote…was a joy. Don’t know if it was an aberration or a new policy from Continental but I loved it! If they can bring their well-honed personal style to the United merger, I say “Let’s fly together!”

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Dear Airlines and Airports …

So as a seasoned human FedEx package I have a lot of time to think about what airlines and airports could be doing to make my life a little easier.  Here are a few:

  • For every half hour my flight is delayed, I should be awarded some frequent flier miles.  It would barely cost the airlines anything to give me this measly consolation prize since there are already 14 trillion unredeemed frequent flier miles in the airline industry.  I know that a few miles would go a long way in keeping me from being bitter.
  • The jig is up. We all know that you pad our itineraries so that it looks like you are on time more often but it is getting ridiculous. I was on a recent flight that came in over an hour “early” and the passengers nearly gave a standing ovation.  I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon but that is sort of like me saying I want to lose 20 pounds when I only want to lose 10.  Fake goals aren’t going to fool people for long.
  • Some overhead storage should be reserved for frequent fliers.  People are trying to avoid checked bag charges and are stuffing the overhead bins with ridiculously sized luggage.  This feels especially unfair to business travelers who need to make a fast getaway or to people who have to board last because they are in the front of the plane.
  • Every terminal in every airport should have McDonald’s.  I’m not a fast food fanatic but you can find good standby choices (even a few healthy ones) at reasonable prices instead of gambling on the local vendors’ versions of tuna.
  • Airlines should sit families with children together.  When you book your ticket they ask you if anyone in your party is under 18 so they have this information before they show you available seats.  Why not give the rest of the people on the plane half of a chance that there seat won’t get kicked or that they won’t have to hear Yo Gabba Gabba or Tickle Me Elmo? Even if the airlines only do this during school vacation times or on family popular flight routes it would make a world of difference.
  • Either staff up that joke you call a Family line at security or make it go away.  We all know that it is not there to help families but rather to keep them away from business travelers.  Put another person there (preferably one who knows how a stroller folds or can crack a smile occasionally) to help families get through the gauntlet. 
  • Stop nuts altogether.  I have a hard time believing that pretzels are more expensive than nuts so why not do away with all nut products during flights?  Recently I was on a kid packed flight where they served Honey Nut Cheerios.  While I was happy to be given anything, it nearly ruined our flight when I had to stop my 2 year old children from digging in.  (The APA recommends waiting until after 3 years old for tree nuts when there are nut allergies in the family.) Sure I had a huge stash of treats for the flight but trying to wrestle Cheerios from willful twins is no fun.

To be continued …

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June 14, 2024
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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