Every woman’s life is a unique story. Yet her demands overlap, with her soul-sister’s.
This final article in a 5-part series on the Power of the Female Economy, explains how women’s shortlist of product wants and needs, isn’t that complicated.
It’s an obvious truth that as a woman’s life progresses, her expectations of products, services and spaces evolve… which is why you can’t rely on anyone’s lifetime, unfailing loyalty.
For women, there are only three things that hold their loyalty: their responsibilities, their families and as much as their life can fit in, themselves.
So up front, let’s be clear. No matter what you do, there is no brand who can expect to (nor will) take precedence over those base loyalties. Instead, you need to help her support those loyalties, to reach her.
If your brand can enable women to better meet her obligations, enhance her relationships and give her back some time to herself, you’ll get her attention. Then, she’ll buy. And she’ll continue to do so, if you deliver on your promise and may even pass on a good word about you, to her family and friends.
If all that happens, so much the better for you and your brand.
Part Five: Make products and services, she wants
Ironically, much of women’s dissatisfaction – with their lives and brands alike – has come from their achievements. Although they’ve changed their social and economic status, much of the consumer world hasn’t adjusted to this new reality.
Many women participate in the workforce, yet they still carry the majority share burden, of household work. As a result, most feel there are too many demands on their time, and married women with children, particularly feel the pressure.
Despite the obvious needs of every woman, companies continue to create poorly conceived products, offer services that absorb too much of her precious time and utilise outdated marketing narratives that portray her as a certain stereotype. It’s no wonder she’s frustrated with brands.
Ten years ago, the Boston Consulting Group’s “Women Want More” global survey polled women about their work, their lives, and how they were being served by businesses. What did they find? Women expect products and services to:
- Provide multiple solutions – giving them back precious time (no matter how little, even if it’s seconds) and save them effort
- Be practical and end-use focused – not driven by innovation for the sake of it, and
- Offer value.
Above all, women wanted their purchases to be agents of leverage, giving them:
“…ways to find time, save time, free up time.
They want to do business with companies that care, listen, and respond to their needs and desires. They want to associate with brands that respect and honour a privileged relationship with the female consumer; they want to align with companies that act as enablers, enhancers, protectors.”
So, what does that mean? A few simple things.
What products and services do they love?
Work, ambition and education have undoubtedly produced wealth, power and influence for women. But they’ve also caused stress, disequilibrium, frustration, unhappiness and a host of difficult decisions, trade-offs and compromises.
The same “Women Want More” survey, found that:
“…for the most part, women don’t really care about goods and services as such.
Yes, they pay very careful attention to what they buy. They know in detail the good points and bad points of all the products they purchase. There are certain brands they love and respect. But products, services, companies and brands take a very distant backseat to the things that truly demand women’s attention, care and love: family, health, security, lovers, friends; learning and education; work and career; helping others and giving back.”
Given her life as it is, the ability of a product or service to claim the top position in a woman’s mind or life, is limited. Everything is subject to scrutiny, discussion and frequent distain when she feels she’s being mis-stereotyped. Every brand relationship is a never-ending trial – should they fail to deliver on their promise, or another product arrive that can better help her… she’s gone.
The she-economy is a tough place to trade.
Find gold in the mundane
Women won’t tell you what they want or need. Remember? If you have to ask, it’ already too late.
Instead, one of the most effective methods for understanding what women want from products, is by observation. Ethnographic research, as it’s called, is the art of watching people in their natural habitat.
By observing women in their home, going shopping with them and living their daily lives, great products are conceived. Truly great products don’t just solve a problem, they offer an element of delight – thoughtful details. Look for those small, pesky details that will offer happiness to every woman who uses it and lucrative potential for great product and service design.
What’s that mean?
It could be a multi-purpose or use product, an easier delivery mechanism or a service that saves her time (even if its seconds) in her routine. Women’s lives are being pulled in many directions. By helping her to mend her fragmented life, you’ll be answering her unarticulated needs.
Use the ladder of benefits
In their 2003 book, “Trading Up”, authors Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske defined the three rungs on the ‘ladder of benefits’, that’s used by all successful brands: technical, functional and emotional.
Women look for products and services that connect with her on all three rungs of the ladder.
“First, it must have technical differences in design, technology or both.
Second those technical differences must contribute to superior functional performance. It’s not enough to incorporate ‘improvements’ … Finally, the technical and functional benefits must combine – along with other factors – to engage the consumer emotionally.”
Everyone relies on a personal value calculus to assess a product or service, but women are particularly harsh when judging any offering.
Along their spiralling path of decision making, they gather information and opinions, consider how it will affect them, their situation and relationships, then determine its value to them. When the value exceeds the price, the product will fly of the shelves.
In the opposite case, no matter of marketing will move it.
The next product needs to do it
Silverstein, who’s also the author of the BCG survey and several bestselling books on the female-economy, singled out beauty companies as having great potential for growth. Most of you would say that’s an obvious conclusion, given women’s inherent interest in looking good and either spending more, or ‘trading up’. But for him, the opportunity lay elsewhere. In their dissatisfaction.
Across women and product companies alike, there’s always the hope that the next ‘new thing’ will deliver the answer to their needs. The industry has seen spectacular growth with dramatic technological innovations, new distribution models and expansion into body care, spa services and aesthetic procedures. Each small step has created new products and variations that have advanced the market, but also made it harder to navigate. For women, the pace of innovation has created a dark side.
What’s that? It’s created an environment where women frequently change products, even though they’re not dissatisfied with their current product. The promise of newness, that the industry has created and fed, keeps them trying new things. And that’s particularly true, if the ’newness’ comes from a brand they already trust.
This high churn rate of products, comes at a cost. To both women and brands.
The next breakthrough
Despite the amount of switching, trialling and seeking that’s done, it still seems that what the BCG 2008 survey uncovered, still holds true of our market.
“…no single company had been able to create a range of products, a retail outlet concept, or a portfolio of services to bring together solutions for all of women’s beauty wants and needs in one offering.”
Down at the product level, women still haven’t found adequate, time saving solutions for a host of troubling issues:
“…dark circles, unwanted facial hair, clogged pores, hair loss, heat and chemical damage to hair, oily skin, visible pores or dry skin.”
Women live in hope that the next product they try will deliver but so far, we’ve failed them in their search.
Perhaps it’s because the beauty industry is still operating with a ‘hit’ model and are chasing extraordinary margins that can often result from creating that one big winner. However women, are still hoping for a category transformer that combines the products, service and holistic wellness they deeply desire.
Will you be the one to deliver that?
NOTE: This post originally appeared as an article ghostwritten for a client and was published in Professional Beauty (Aust) magazine.
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