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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Marketing To Women - It's A Business Thing!

Continuing on with capturing relevant articles on Flooring The Consumer, here follows the more-in-depth interview that Kim Gavin refers to in Marketing To Women - from Floor Covering Weekly, October 3/10, 2005, page 16, by Kimberly Gavin.

[Note that the reference to "It's a Business Thing!" comes from
Tom Peters where in Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age and Women Roar! he reminds us that addressing the needs of women represents business opportunity #1 in our economy: “Women’s increasing power is the strongest and most dynamic force at work in the American economy today”.]

By now the industry is well aware that its target customer is female. Study after study has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman makes the flooring purchase decision.

To help retailers of Wear-Dated carpet - admittedly often a bunch of guys - capitalize on the market, Solutia deploys Christine Whittemore, director of in-store innovation for Wear-Dated. She says retailers should target and cater to women for one reason: "It's a business thing."

FCW editor Kim Gavin spoke with Whittemore about the whys and hows of marketing to women.

Why should retailers market to women?
Whittemore: Women represent 51 percent of the population and 47 percent of the labor force. This may surprise many in our industry -- women hold 50 percent of the managerial positions. Women tend to be better educated than men. There are more women graduating from college and graduate programs than are men. They represent 47 percent of Americans with assets over half a million dollars.

They are the chief decision makers on a whole number of fronts. Relating to the home: 40 percent of home improvement projects and products; 61 percent of major home fix-up projects; 83 percent of consumer purchases – and I’ve seen that go as high as 85; 91 percent of home sales. There are more single women purchasing homes and about 94 percent make decisions on home furnishings.

Those retailers who don't make an effort to address that core consumer are going to lose business. On the floor covering side, consumers tend to consider it a commodity item because it's so unpleasant to shop for. There's no emotion connected to it, no romance. It's been reduced to the lowest common denominator and that's price. If you want to have fun, you go elsewhere. That's a critical concept that flooring retailers need to wrap their heads around. Consumers are willing to spend money. They will trade up where they can because some products will make them feel good about their homes.

Another reason that retailers should pay attention to women is they will talk up their experience like crazy, be it good or bad. Word of mouth is extremely powerful.

What do women want from a retailer?
Whittemore: They want an enjoyable shopping experience. Flooring is complex and represents big dollars. It’s not going to be a snap decision. She could fall in love with something, but she's rarely given the opportunity to make the emotional connection with the product. She wants a place where she can relax, a store that draws her in to browse and touch. That conveys a commitment to the category, fashion and her. That brings in lighting, color, how product is showcased. Women pay attention to everything. If it's unpleasant, she will walk out. If she’s accompanied by a spouse, is there a space for him to be comfortable? If she has children, is there a place they can play so she can relax? Women can be very tolerant, but I think they are developing higher expectations of the retail experience because there are more places now that are fun to go to.

What else?
Whittemore: The next important aspect beyond the physical environment is the "software" - the people, all the points of interaction with the consumer. Is the salesperson going to listen? It's not about a hard sell. You want to welcome her like you were welcoming her into your home. "Let me take your coat. Can I offer you something to drink?" Doing all of that conveys respect. You have the opportunity to ask questions, to find out what it is she's trying to accomplish. It takes time. Women like information, but don't like to be pushed. They may come back three or four times. They may also come in armed with more information than the salesperson has.

What are some of the more successful marketing strategies that you've come across?
Whittemore: Events where a consumer can come in. Maybe it's a bring-a-friend promotion to hear someone talk in a store environment. Those are successful because she has a reason to go into a non-threatening environment. I can't stress enough: No Hard Sell. Some of the retail stores that are getting it are the ones that will have different categories under one roof - maybe wallpaper and paint. I've heard of things as simple as having balloons to give to the children, which says "I care about you." Although there are some incredibly high-tech events people can do, the ones that are successful are the ones that say "I know who you are. You belong in my community. I can help you make difficult decisions as you go through life."

It's important for retailers to provide information. Women want to understand what it is they are purchasing. That's why they react so negatively to the hard sell. Give them a chance to be in control of the decision.

What are some other key points about the process?
Whittemore: Give her information. Make sure everyone (in your store) understands it’s a fashion item and it’s about making her home better so you get some of that romance in there. Giving her infromation lets her try things out. Be very patient with all of her questions. She likes to go to people for information. The Web is a source, so she may be emailing and doing blogs, but she will go to her friends, family and salespeople. That's an opportunity to develop that relationship.

Visually, it’s important to show the product in a situation she can relate to. Show people living on the product. That was a big revelation for us when we were doing our brand revitalization in 2002 - how critical it is to put people in the ad.

What about advertising? Do women view ads differently?
Whittemore: If you go back to cave times, men were hunters and women were gatherers. The whole notion of shopping is a lot about gathering. I've seen a lot of work on ads that resonate with women vs. men. Women respond well to ads that are about affinity, relationship, not "This is going to make my home better than her home. This is going to make my home a wonderful place to welcome the family."

What are some big marketing mistakes?
Whittemore: A big one goes back to respect. If you don’t respect her or take her seriously she’s going to walk out. Be helpful. Use signage and material so she can get educated. Walk in her shoes. No hard sell. Don’t be a car sales person. Don’t prejudge.

Don’t focus just on product features and benefits. Her eyes will glaze over. Ask the question, "How will it help her achieve what she wants?"

Store environment. Don’t have one that overwhelms her with racks and racks. That's a core paradigm we face in this business: We love having our racks. How about giving her information with all those racks? And information that makes sense to her, not just to the trade. It goes to the environment that draws her in. She’ll spend time. The more time she spends, the more comfortable she’ll be and the more likely she’ll be to spend money.

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