A Personal Letter to Disney: Be Brave

There is a storm brewing with the Disney release of a toy line featuring its first truly ‘brave’ heroine, Princess Merida. Seems that in an effort to appeal traditionally to little girls’ doll tastes, the rough and tumble star of “Brave” has lost weight, filled out her too tight gown and adopted that doe-eyed sparkle princess look….the look and the life that the animated Merida despised.

I will let anthropologists and psychologists dissect why this is right or wrong. Or just cowardly.

I will turn instead to my own experience, watching the animated film alongside a 7 year old redhead named Soleil.  From the moment that Merida, the cartoon ginger wild child, picked up her bow and galloped through the woods, Soleil’s heart pounded in the saddle alongside her heroine. Proud, cheering, valiant.

For once, the story wasn’t about a cookie-cutter forgotten waif lifted by a prince to a palace. This was true grit, the kind of beauty any girl with guts can achieve. The knowing eyes, the powerful stance, the in-your-face joy of being a girl alive in her own skin spoke to Soleil. And the hair, the untamed, boundless curls that said, “Remember me!” Go ahead, Disney, give our real ‘brave’ Merida a sparkly crown. We need her in the Magic Kingdom. But don’t mess with her curls or her curves or her courage.

share the love:

Macy’s New Shoe Strategy: Stepping up Foot Traffic


Department stores have been outdoing each other with bigger and more extravagant shoe departments. Barney’s recently rehabbed their emporium and Saks floor bears its own zip code. This month Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square opened a new 63,000 square foot shoe floor with 300,000 pairs—stepping up to be the biggest shoe store in the world. A champagne and chocolate bar is located on the floor to celebrate when you find the perfect glass slipper. But what’s really behind the shoe madness?

Listen to the interview here!

share the love:

JCP: Meet your MVP. A lesson in knowing what women (don’t) want

This morning the Wall St. Journal headlined the plummeting fortunes of JCPenney  or “JCP” as the company calls itself now that it’s run by former Apple veteran Ron Johnson.  I was among the zillions of marketers applauding the idea that the guy who orchestrated Apple’s sleek and engaging retail stores had come to spruce up the brand that is more “cheap” than “chic.” But it seems that the Penney customers were more than Johnson bargained for.

$163 million of losses later, company execs are admitting that maybe their aspirations to repair company performance in one year was a little too ambitious. Seems they’ve discovered that their customers are addicted to coupons, as they dub them,‘drugs.’

Really? What a surprise. Why would you shop Penney without a coupon? Women know that the store has been a go-to stop on their repertoire of low-priced retailers, along with every competitor who offers coupons, rebates, free stuff to get her dollar. Why did JCP think that they could not only change their customer’s habits but actually convince her to abandon her smart shopping behaviors, just by adding an entertainment space to hang around in? No matter how many ad campaigns they’ve tried, JCPenney’s is the friendly, low priced department store with lots of deals.

I think that JCP didn’t value their MVP, the woman who has counted on them for good quality at a low prices, urged on with a deal. More than that, I wonder if Ron really likes his customers. My guess is that like lots of marketers, he probably wishes his customer was cuter, thinner, younger, richer and just dying to hang around in his store while paying full price on their cool kiosk. (Trust me, she’s too busy to ‘hang around’ and there are about three of these skinny, premium price paying, underaged wealthy women to lure to the store and she’s already on every one else’s dance card.) And I also imagine that JCP’s focus groups were used to prove Johnson’s theory rather than to really listen to who the heck is paying his paycheck.

Apple knew its customers and brand by heart. Time for Penney’s to meet their own, face to face and romance her all over again.

My reco? Love the one you’re with and she will bring more customers like her to your store. Women aren’t going backwards to full price, not in this economy, not at the value tier that this store serves. She was loyal to you. Why are you abandoning her?

share the love:

Like A Fruit Basket, But Better: Sephora Same-Day Delivery

If you’re a fan of makeup superstore Sephora, you probably already know that the store’s newest campaign is that of same-day delivery from their local store. For $15, makeup lovers can have products from around the corner delivered to their doors… or the doors of their friends.

The appeal is obvious: We don’t have to find the time to sneak from our desks to the Sephora store—a timeless, alternate universe of perfume clouds and color palettes. We also don’t have to dampen the fun of makeup shopping by going when we’re just refreshing the basics (sorry, can’t get excited about concealer), or sit at home waiting for our online order to arrive. And when our order does arrive a matter of hours later, it will be via “iconic Mini.” Let us know if you spot it around town!

But with a minimum order of $50 and a delivery fee of $15, same-day orders have to be substantial. Therefore, we leave you with the following question: What’s it worth to you to avoid the perfume lady?

share the love:

ScanIt!, Then SpendIt!

First there was the cashier. Then, the express lane. The self-scanner. And now, the ScanIt!.

Another testament to the idea that the better the tech, the smaller the package (and that exclamation points are silly in product names) the ScanIt! is a handheld device that scans grocery purchases as they’re made, keeps a running total, and even suggests relevant coupons and deals mid-shop.

Let’s do pros first: It’s really, really cool. Who doesn’t love scanning things? We see a prime distraction for bored shoppers, kids and moms alike. Then there’s the budget-policing aspect: No more fudging prices or mistyping on that smart phone calculator—the ScanIt! (feels silly, right?) will do the math for you.

Photo: coolestgadgets.com

Yet while the ScanIt! might be touted as a tool for the money-conscious shopper—and who isn’t one, these days?—it’s actually a pink plastic spending trap. Really though, it’s pink. The idea of suggestions for further purchases with coupons seems great, but it’s eerily reminiscent of the enjoyably black hole that is SuperTarget… you don’t think you need it until you see it on sale. The Wall Street Journal tells us that, unsurprisingly, shoppers who use the device spend about 10% more than shoppers who don’t.

Apparently, around half of Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets in the Northeast have implemented the ScanIt!. But knowing that it’s a device that allows us to avoid lines and interacting with others, we expect that it will spread through NYC like wildfire.

share the love:

Who’s Your Hidden Buyer? The True Power of Women

This past weekend, a newspaper columnist discredited the well known statistic that ‘women buy 80%’ of everything sold in the US. I could take issue with the article on several counts, including the fact that the writer discarded reams of data supplied by experts in the field and relied on only the more discouraging sources, oddly from overseas. But I understand why he struggled with the statistic in the first place. It’s virtually unproveable by its nature. What Just Ask a Woman and so many of our colleagues in the women’s marketing arena have espoused for years is that women ‘buy or influence the purchase of 80%’ and it’s that word ‘influence’ that provides too much wiggle room.

For indeed, if women buy or influence, then so do men. “Buy” is easy to define. Credit card handed over? That’s the buyer. Cash on the counter? That’s the buyer. Contract signed? That’s the buyer. But what does influence really mean? It’s the how, why, who and when that lead to that final decision. And in some of the biggest spending categories, women are the Hidden Buyers.

While leaders in the food, beauty and household products industries refer to all their customers as “she,” marketers of less traditionally gender-based  products and services, such as finance, electronics, major hardgoods, automotive, healthcare and insurance may need a wake- up call to be able to pick their hidden buyer out of a line up. (That’s why the 80% stat is a helpful eye-opener!)

Here’s an example.  Look at your kitchen, from the countertop to the appliances to the lighting. If you’re a couple, you both may have voted on whether you’ve got granite or a composite, a water dispenser or a wine cabinet,  Schoolhouse lights or modern overheads.  But whose idea was it? Who pulled pictures from Dwell, DVR’d HGTV and bookmarked Houzz? Who vetted ideas with friends? Who compared prices, walked the aisles, pushed for one more feature, one more deal? Even if the credit card receipt carried his signature, the likelihood, by far, is that the dealbreaking decisions were largely hers.

But retailers and marketers who give him all the credit are hugely missing her hidden buying power. The home improvement industry’s major players—who watch the in-store action firsthand– are convinced of women’s 80% clout. And the female hidden buyer is rocking the foundation of every car showroom, financial broker’s office and big box electronic retailer in this country and their power only increases each year.

The question isn’t whether your brand or business attributes 60, 80 or 90% of final sales to women. The real question is: are you seeing the hidden 100%…her sometimes invisible but always powerful influence?

share the love:

Forever21 Maternity: Pushing Pregnancy?

Forever 21, the retail store with clothes that typically fall apart after two washes, is finally embracing something that is forever—motherhood.  Love21 Maternity debuted in states with high teen pregnancy rates and caused a bit of a stir, but I’m having a hard time seeing the link between a maternity line in a clothing store and a company encouraging teen pregnancy.

I don’t think the girl picking out 8th grade dinner dance outfits in the dressing room line in front of me (yes, I shop there) would see the clothes and think, ‘wow, this store is so trendy, pregnancy must be in, I’ve got to get on that’, pretty sure she was just looking for a cute dress.

I am interested to see if the line does well. In research we recently did with pregnant women many admitted to not even purchasing maternity clothes, just stretching out the clothes they already owned or buying a bigger size to still feel pretty and stylish. With Forever21’s small sizing I could see a pregnant shopper just going to size L instead of buying maternity. Perhaps that will change with this new line. 

What do you think? Is Forever out of line?

share the love:

In The News

This has been a busy week in the press for us.

On Tuesday I appeared on Fox Business Morning to discuss the results of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  The interview (link to come – fingers crossed) with Connell McShane  and Ashley Webster focused on what the numbers really said about the holiday season.  For instance 31% of shoppers were at the stores by 5am on Black Friday but the sales were only up .5%.  We think that much of the phenomenon is about the bragging rights not about the doorbusters.  Women told us that they were cutting back this holiday season but the whole truth is that more than 60% of Black Friday shoppers bought something for themselves!  The urge to splurge after a frugal year won out!

Tracy was the featured guest on Purse Strings with Maria Reitan.  Her great Webmaster Radio show features different angles of marketing with women and she and Tracy had a great conversation about the book and about the pitfalls of market research.

A shout out to our friends at PME for their review of our book in their Members Only – M2W-HC (Marketing to Women Healthcare) newsletter.  As I may have told you (ahem… bragged) that Mary Lou was the winner of their best speaking award for a presentation in early November.

share the love:

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Stephanie Rosenbloom found a bright spot in a still slowly moving retail scene: the picked pace of shoe buying. It seems that women who’ve managed to skip buying dresses and handbags have detoured to the shoe department. Two reasons mentioned which we’d lay money on: Shoes fit no matter what size dress you wear, so they are the one treat that doesn’t make you feel guilty for eating that extra chocolate. And the changing fashions of this year have given a kick to boot sales, creating the need for a ‘boot wardrobe.’(I am guilty of bootie buying myself.)

The Ego Protection Half Truth of this shoe shopping is that it’s a cheap way to update last year’s outfit without the rub-off of the show-off problem of spending irresponsibly. “I just bought shoes this fall to work with my old stuff.” But the Whole Truth is that she knows that women notice shoes, often more than a new sweater and she needs to show that she’s defiantly still kicking. And since most of the purchases aren’t fancy Jimmy Choo’s but DSW and Payless, she can get extra emotional credit with friends by declaring, “But I got them at a buy one, get the second 50% sale.”  She can have her platforms and still keep her feet on the ground.

share the love:

June 14, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


View the full post
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.
Go There

press & praise