As a man, I don't profess to know a whole lot about women. In fact, each passing decade convinces me how much less I know about women than the one before. Yet, with more than half the population being female, I am asked by clients to create strategic plans and marketing programs that attempt to address women's needs. Hmmm.
So, what to do? I recently talked with some colleagues, both men and women, about how they approach the issue of marketing across sexual lines. The conversation was very enlightening.
For one thing, with ever-changing social norms, all of us agreed that good marketing nowadays starts with a clean slate of assumptions, followed by meticulous research. We all grow up enculturated with the biases and realities of our community. Each passage in life usually widens that community. We meet more people, we learn about new lifestyles, we broaden our horizons. These experiences change our assumptions about people.
But, even with tons of experience, our assumptions about people of the opposite sex, or of a different skin color, can be faulty. Corporate marketing programs that have fallen flat on their faces are ample testimony to faulty assumptions.
Solid research is critical to solid marketing, especially when targeting an unfamiliar group.
It may help to have a member of the group to which you are marketing be an integral part of the research and planning process. Here, my colleagues were split. Some felt that being part of the target group was only marginally helpful; others felt it was vital. One side argued that preconceived notions, biases and assumptions often got in the way of good planning. The other side pitched their case based on the target group representative's ability to intuit promising directions, his or her sensitivity to "hot buttons," and knowledge of which lines of research to pursue.
Given the fact that a good marketing plan starts with meticulous research, I find that dealing with programs targeted to women poses additional problems. For too long, women were neglected by marketers. Research data on women was skimpy and difficult to find. No more. Enter a company called About Women Inc.
About Women is a woman-owned, Boston-based company, founded in 1987. Its mission, according to a company fact sheet, is "to act as a central athenaeum of information about women." Currently, more than 2,000 people, primarily for-profit and nonprofit marketing execs, read the company's monthly Marketing to Women newsletter, or one of its annual compendiums of trends.
For research I recently needed to do on women's health, I turned to one of the company's compendiums, "About Women and Health." This 275-page publication is bursting at the seams with reports on nearly everything a marketer would need to know about women and health. The book reports on surveys and research studies done on women as consumers, every phase of a woman's life span, and all aspects of women's lifestyles. Also provided are complete details on all primary information sources, so researchers can go directly to those sources as needed.
The introduction to the book is excellent, providing the reader with a comprehensive and far-reaching review of the topic, despite the editor's obvious biases.
Each month, the company's Marketing to Women, a 16-page newsletter, gives readers reports on studies done on women, which can help marketers get an edge on the competition. About Women also publishes quarterly supplements, research reports on women's topics other than health, a year-end compendium on marketing trends to women in a variety of areas, and offers telephone consulting to subscribers.
About Women can be reached at 33 Broad St., Boston, Mass. 02109. Its telephone number is (617) 723-4337.
(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921;  392-3160.)