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?

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McDonald’s Oatmeal – Off The Health Track Or Tapping Into Women’s Whole Truths?

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial. McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal. Doesn’t that just sound like you should be eating it?

Every time I see it I think, mmm, I should stop at McDonald’s on the way to work, that “scrumptious” bowl of warm oats and fresh (ok, mostly dried) fruits hits an emotional feel good nerve.

McDonald’s has tried hard over the last few years to win the hearts of women by offering healthier options (remember the Weight Watchers partnership?) and salads served in clear plastic bags to connote healthy freshness. This was intended to make women feel better about walking into a MickeyD’s with the kids…we know that it is also a good cover for women to still get the bag of french fries to go with that salad.

Mark Bittman, in his New York Times piece, How to Make Oatmeal . . . Wrong, sheds light on just how “healthy” this oatmeal offering really is. He asks why McDonald’s would turn a venerable ingredient like oatmeal into an expensive junk food…the reason, women have good intentions and like the idea of being healthier but the WHOLE TRUTH is that they aren’t willing to sacrifice taste in the process. And as Mark points out, you may go in with oatmeal on the brain but often will walk out with the sausage biscuit…and knowing that the oatmeal has more sugar than a Snickers, may help women feel less guilty about the biscuit!

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Old Spice is a Whole Truth Brand: “The Man your Man Could Smell Like” is the perfect marketing with women execution

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Last night while catching up on last week’s DVR’d Lost, I saw for the first time a new pool-out of Old Spice’s “Smell like a Man, Man” campaign and I loved it!  I must have rewound it 3 times!  This new spot from Wieden + Kennedy, “The man your man could smell like”, hits the Whole Truth right on the head. 

Not only do they give a nod to the fact that men are grabbing their partner’s “lady scented” body wash while in the shower, they also recognize that the primary shopper for body wash is most likely the woman of the house. 

While the earlier spots specifically targeted him, this one takes a turn and focuses on her. The over-the-top flaunting of the beautiful man on the beautiful yacht, offering the perfect gift  “Two tickets to that thing you love.” is a sneaky way to sell men’s body wash.  Make her want her man to smell like a man…If you can’t sway him, sway her!  The execution is brilliant and my next trip to Duane Reade might just include a stop at the Old Spice shelf!

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Whole Truth at Your Service

I am always on the alert for good and bad customer service and this holiday season is prime for detecting the Half Truths of retail.

Half Truth: I know what I’m looking for and don’t want to be pushed into buying something.

Whole Truth: I really want advice but am wary that I’ll be forced to buy more than I want if I ask for it.

Last week, a terrific associate named Trevor Dallier in the J.Crew store on lower Fifth Avenue in New York effortlessly balanced these Half and Whole Truths. I was looking for outfits for my college-age nieces. There were lots of great things on sale, but it was late, the checkout line was 15 people deep and I was feeling more stressed than creative about choosing the right cool combos.

Trevor to the rescue! His opener? “I’m a personal shopper here, can I help you put something together?” How did he choose me to help? Was it the way I was holding sweaters next to tees and pursing my lips? Was it the way I kept walking from one side of the store to the other, changing my mind from pink to black? Whatever my vibe, he picked it up. And he won my heart. He knew the merchandise and sizing tricks, had great fashion sense, mixed sale items with new ones, even added styling tips which I can pass on with the gifts. Best of all, he followed up the next day with an email, inviting me to special events, promotions and a phone relationship where he’ll snag and hold things that I want from the catalog if there are limited quantities.

This is the Whole Truth. A chain store can become a prized boutique when service exceeds expectations. A sales associate can add value and increase average order (sure beats the over-used strategy of price cutting to gain volume). The holiday shopping season which often stresses store personnel as much as their customers, can be a time to create new relationships for the new year. Simple…if only there were more Trevor’s out there.

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Pharmaceutical Speech: Physicians…Hear Thyself

Last night I spoke to about 200 leading marketers of a global pharmaceutical company and the subject was (you guessed it!) Half Truths and Whole Truths of healthcare.

A particularly interesting question from the audience was whether we believed that, just as female consumers hide the truth, do female doctors do it too? I have to say that most of our research is with patients not docs, and we’ve heard many women say that female doctors tend to be more personal and open with female patients. And areas like gynecology have seen an increase in the number of female physicians in response to this belief.

But when female doctors are the ‘subject’ of an interview, alongside male doctors, do they hide Whole Truths from the marketers who are trying to learn from them?

Tracy was in the audience and noted that she’d seen female doctors become more vocal and assertive when interviewed alongside their male peers. And so I wondered aloud from the stage, whether that was a result of the nature of what happens between women and men in varied professional settings.

I don’t know a woman alive who hasn’t had the experience of proposing an idea in a meeting and getting no response and then becoming irritated when two minutes later, a man offers the same idea and receives a round of high-five’s.

Do women eventually resort to playing Half Truth GAMES just to be heard? Women are women, whether they are doctors or patients. If a female doc or a patient feels the need to protect her ego by raising the volume, it may communicate more conviction than is true, when it’s really a defense measure against competitive egos. And if that’s so, are we really hearing the Whole Truth (or the one that wins in the male/female dynamic?)

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Self Inflicted Stress Induced by Martyrdom

“We cling to our multitasking as much as we bemoan it.”

Amen sister. 

Thank you to Ruth Marcus and her article in today’s Washington Post for articulating one of the most powerful WHOLE Truths that a woman could ever reveal.  For 10 years we’ve asked women about their multi-tasking lives and usually what you hear is the  Half Truth: “I’m so busy and no one helps me.”  To get the WholeTruth all we have to do is ask “really?” and then the floodgates open. Women confess they they could have help from their husbands and children but that they don’t take it because they want it done the way they like it or they don’t want to surrender their role as do-er.

In our new book (have I mentioned there is a new book coming???) we explain that the reason women say that their families won’t help them is that they are motivated by, dare I say it, Martyrdom.  Women (I’ll include myself) like to talk about how busy we are, not in the hopes that someone will magically fix things but rather so we can get some hard earned empathy. 

Marketers (and television producers)  keep missing the mark on intepreting this Whole Truth and continue to play into the idea that women are overburdened (true) and  surrounded by haplesss men and useless children (probably not true) or they misfire and exagerate empathy in a patronizing way.

BTW, Ruth, when you get bored of your recipe I have a brisket recipe to die for!

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A Refund That Puts A Recall On Parents’ Downtime

The Walt Disney Company is now offering a full refund on all the Baby Einstein videos that didn’t increase infant intellect, as reported by Tamar Lewin in the New York Times (10/23/09).

We know that too much TV for little ones is not healthy; the American Academy of Pediatrics has told us so. Yet for years, Baby Einstein, with their highly successful and profitable DVDs, has been giving parents permission to use the television as a “developmental tool” rather than as an electronic babysitter.

Did parents believe these videos were going to help their child get into the right preschool? I doubt it. But the company did hit upon a real Whole Truth, that parents wanted to feel less guilty about using the television as a way to steal a few moments away where they didn’t have to be solely responsible for their child’s development.

Even when the Disney Company eliminated the words “educational” from their marketing materials in 2006, the implications were still apparent and embraced by parents. (Note that these videos are still listed as Top Picks at Babies R Us.)

So, does this admission via a full refund by Disney leave parents feeling gypped beyond the $15.99?

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Guilty of Being a Woman

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I don’t know if marketers consider themselves to be judges. They listen to their consumers’ “case”, they analyze data, then they try to keep that holier-than-thou arm’s length and objectivity, but in the end, isn’t there a moment that investigation meets intuition and experience and they pass judgment on what they believe is true?

I thought of this today as I read that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Already the fur is flying because of a comment she made about the influence of her gender and her Latin heritage on her decisions.

According to Charlie Savage’s piece in the New York Times, “Judge (Sonia) Sotomayor questioned the famous notion — often invoked by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her retired Supreme Court colleague, Sandra Day O’Connor — that a wise old man and a wise old woman would reach the same conclusion when deciding cases.”

She said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” The article continued, “Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences,” she said, for jurists who are women and nonwhite, “our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”

She added, “And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.”

As women, we often worry whether there are too few female CEOS in corporations or whether too many creative directors at agencies are male, but do we look at where most of the decisions are made…the brand managers, the  moderators, the retailers and ask, do we ‘judge’ what’s true differently based on our personal experience? The politically correct answer is No, we are all just making smart decisions, equal, the same, humans, blah, blah, blah. True. But isn’t your insight different if you are working on a luxury brand and you grew up in a Gucci co-op versus a K-Mart mobile home? Or, if you’re writing ads for an acne product for girls and you were the one in the corner waiting for any young guy to ‘see’ you? Or if you are a mom of twins and you’re interviewing new moms who are overwhelmed?

Does your gender and ethnic background weigh in on the truth, as you see it? Is your insight clearer based on your experience? Are you a quicker take? Do you see nuances that someone who’s only ‘studied’ their way to your knowledge, can’t? We all want to think we don’t judge. We simply decipher or analyze or predict. But the Whole Truth is, the best marketers (and judges) are honest enough to listen to their hearts and instincts too. Our differences can make all the difference.

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Practicing What We Preach

For some time now we’ve been saying that one of the Half Truths about women is that they want to be healthy. Yet the Whole Truth is that they work out sometimes, eat well when they can, and avoid bad behaviors (as long as they don’t need a vacation tan, are stressed and need a cigarette or are just having too much fun socializing with friends).

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So knowing this, I shouldn’t be too surprised that I found myself living this Whole Truth. Over the weekend I popped in a new exercise DVD and sat on the floor while I proceeded to “watch” the 45 minute routine. Now in my defense, I did want to see if it was a routine that I could handle (as it is my first workout since becoming pregnant)…but that really is an excuse I told myself. I knew I could do it.  So many women have the best of intentions but the worry and the excuses often get in the way – add the pressures of spending extra money on ourselves and more excuses will follow for putting off getting in shape, losing weight, getting to the doctor.  As January quickly comes to a close and new year’s resolutions are potentially waning, I know I could use a gentle wake-up call….a little truth goes a long way.

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Say Goodbye to Dish Pan Nails

When it comes to doing the dishes, my solution for not ruining a good manicure is letting my husband attack the pots and pans. Now I have to admit, leaving the sink full of dishes has less to do with my nail polish than my aversion to kitchen clean-up.

Don’t get me wrong, my kitchen is decked out with the best cleaning supplies on the market. My last two obsessions were the Tide-To-Go Pen (it works great on placemats and husbands!) and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (have you tried this on your walls yet?)   

And now I might have a third one which actually makes me want to attack my All-Clads.  Last night I saw a commercial for a really great (or should I say Brite) idea from the folks at Scotch-Brite.  The Ultra Nail Saver Sponge.    

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Beyond just the function of this product, I love the fact that they were able to tap into a whole truth about women which is that while she may act as superwoman around the house – taking care of chores, meals, family, pets, job, etc., she also needs reminders that she doesn’t have to come last in line. Scotch-Brite recognizes that she doesn’t need to give up on herself and her nails to get the job done.

As the website promises, Scotch-Brite is reshaping the way you clean…and perhaps think. This one will have a permanent spot in my kitchen. 

 Just Ask a Woman

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October 20, 2021
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.
Go There

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