Marti Barletta: An interview by Bob Morris

Posted on: February 28th, 2011 by bobmorris

Marti Barletta

Barletta helps organizations get smart about women. She is the author of the groundbreaking book, Marketing to Women, now available in 15 languages, and co-authored Trends with Tom Peters, who named her MVP/BizGuru of 2005. Her latest book, PrimeTime Women™: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders, breaks the story on the unprecedented buying power of women in their prime (ages 50-70) and details why this “silver bullet” segment is the prime source of business growth for the next two decades. A Wharton MBA, Barletta founded her consulting think tank, The TrendSight Group, to help companies best the competition by boosting their marketing, sales, recruiting and retention effectiveness with women.

Morris: Please provide a briefing on the background, mission, and current activities of The TrendSight Group.

Barletta: The TrendSight Group (www.TrendSight.com) helps companies pull ahead of the competition by boosting their marketing, sales, recruiting and retention effectiveness with women. The TrendSight Group consultants are senior-level marketers with strong backgrounds in advertising, branding, consumer research, affinity marketing and sales training who help Marti develop and deliver client solutions. Using her proprietary GenderTrends™ model, they generate ideas that connect with women consumers, corporate executives and business owners. The firm’s clients have included Wachovia, Neuberger Berman, Deloitte Consulting, Volvo, Mercury, Ford, Trade Secret, Toys R Us and Logitech.

Morris: In your opinion, in recent years, what have been the most significant changes in perceptions of what you characterize as “the world’s largest market segment,” women?

Barletta: I like to think that there has been an enlightenment since the first edition of Marketing to Women was published in 2003 – companies recognize who the most powerful consumers are. There are flourishing initiatives in many industries including financial services, home improvement, home services, retail, consumer electronics, golf and even the automotive industry.  Is there room for improvement?  Absolutely — many companies are still tentative in their commitment and should be allocating more resources to this lucrative market and there are some, believe it or not,  that are either not convinced or are suffering from inertia and still need to get started.  In fact, I am working on a presentation, and this is still a working title, called Jump Start Your M2W Initiative.  It is chock full of tactics and ideas for getting company wide buy in of these ideas.`

Morris: To what extent do cultural values influence marketing to women in quite different countries such as China, India, Japan, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia?

Barletta: Enormously. Every application of the GenderTrends™ principles has to be customized for the specific product and prospect involved. Just as marketing for a major car manufacturer is quite different than marketing for a local jewelry store, marketing to women in India is quite different from marketing to women in the U.S.

However, the important thing is that the foundational GenderTrends principles are universal. Around the world, women care relatively more about people, while men care relatively more about “things and theorems.” Women’s decision style is more comprehensive, while men’s decision style is more streamlined.

That’s because I developed the principles based on research that transcends cultural differences. For example, a lot of it is wired into the biology, which I think you’d agree is the same the world over. Many of the gender differences in perception, processing and emotional response trace to the ways that women’s biochemistry is different from men’s, and how their brains are organized differently. From another perspective, scientists studying priorities, aptitudes and attitudes generally conduct their research in multiple cultures – in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas – specifically to confirm that these are fundamental differences and not culture-specific.

I’ve translated these principles into implications for marketing, sales and workplace interactions for audiences in Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan, as well as to multinational audiences with attendees from all over the world, and their response confirms that the GenderTrends principles ring true every time. Moreover, an ad agency in Venezuela did a study based on my book that confirmed the principles in that country. And I’ve been contacted by a university professor in India who will be launching a similar initiative there. So, while the marketing rendition of the principles must certainly be tailored to women’s differing cultural environments, the underlying insights apply  worldwide.

Morris: Despite all that has been revealed by you and others about women as the world’s most powerful consumers, which misconceptions persist that must be addressed?

Barletta: Well, it’s interesting. When Marketing to Women was first released in 2003, I had to spend at least the first 10-15 minutes of my programs demonstrating that women had money. That seems ludicrous now; but honestly, only five years ago, people knew women bought all the household stuff, but had no idea that women are also the primary buyers of many categories historically handled by men – financial services, home improvement, consumer electronics, computers, etc.

The only thing that was ever published about women’s earning power was that old chestnut about “on average, compared to men, women earn $.76 on the dollar.” When I dug underneath that, I found that women bring home 55% of the income in the majority of U.S. households, which gives you a radically different perspective on who wields the wallet on the homefront. Up till then, nobody had put together the facts that single women head 27% of U.S. households; and that 30% of wives out-earn their husbands.

Still, even though nowadays people say “Marti, everyone knows that women buy most of almost everything…,” I’d have to say I am not seeing much evidence that companies are doing anything about it. Sure, you see an ad here, or an event there that is well-tailored to female gender culture. But I’ve yet to see the kind of comprehensive commitment of a company’s entire marketing focus that would suggest Management really gets it.

Tom Peters gets it; he’s been ranting at companies for twenty years about the need to totally reinvent their thinking about their best customers. But I’d say most marketing and top management executives have no idea of the amount of money they’re leaving on the table with their tentative little toe-in-the-water initiatives.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Marketing to Women, please share some of the statistics which suggest the nature and extent of impact women have on purchase decisions of various kinds.

Barletta: Women are the world’s most powerful consumers.  They make up just over half of the population and control well over half of the spending both at home and in workplace.  Packaged goods firms and retailers have long been aware of this but many people are still surprised to learn that women drive the purchases even in historically male driven categories.  Here are a couple of examples cited in my book:

53% of investment decisions

55% of consumer electronics

60% of home improvement buyers

80% of home improvement decisions

60+% of new cars

66% of computers

Morris: You identify “the eight myths of marketing to women.” Based on what you have observed, especially in recent years, which of these myths seems to be most prevalent? Why? And what, in fact, is true?

Barletta: Well, naturally I think that all are important but let’s take a look at the most global myth – Marketing to Women may be important but resources are limited and we have to focus on the core business.  The reality is that marketing to women is not about diversity it is about sales, share and profits.  Women bring in half or more of the income in most U.S. households and they control 51.3% of private wealth.  When you harness those facts with their spending power you begin to see that your brand needs to figure out how to keep their spending from flowing to the competition.

Morris: What are the most significant differences between women and men in terms of how they advance through what you characterize as their “purchase path”?

Barletta: When men set out to make a purchase they are looking for a good solution, something that fulfills their top two or three criteria. They shop by process of elimination and like to get their shopping done quickly so they can move on to other activities. Women, on the other hand, are seeking the perfect answer — the optimal solution. When she shops it’s a process that begins with a broad survey of all available options. After all, if you haven’t looked at everything how do you know you’ve made the best choice?

If a woman discovers a new feature or brand mid-search she may go back to square one and begin again. Her male counterpart might consider that backtracking. Take a look at how, on average, the spiral purchasing path of a women compares to the linear purchasing path of men:

Morris: To those who sell products or services to couples at the same time in a purchase situation, what advice do you offer? To what extent (if any) should each be viewed – treated – differently?

Barletta: Although often women control four of the five stages of the buying process (activation, nomination, gathering information and maintenance) men often particpate in the most public phase – the actual purchase.  And, men often resist appearing to be influenced, especially by women and particularly in public.  This means when you are selling to a couple you will want to question the woman directly so she can tell you what she wants without appearing to direct her husband.  You will also want to be sure to tap into what you know about selling to women and be sure to listen carefully and pay attention to non-verbal cues.  I would also suggest that you step away and give them some privacy as they finalize their decision.  Last but not least – don’t forget to cultivate a rapport with her.  She is your best source of referrals and recommendations provided she is pleased with your product or service.

Morris: You include advice from ten “GenderTrends Geniuses.” Is there any one key point or theme that all of them address, if only by implication?

Barletta: Here are the three key points they are all focused on are the same as the three reasons I wrote the book in the first place:

1. Women buy most of almost everything, not only in the consumer market but also in the corporate and small business arenas. Yet most marketers are at best tentative about, and at worst, oblivious to this opportunity – leaving the field wide open for the innovators who make a committed effort to seize share by winning women’s business.

2. Women are different from men in their attitudes, priorities, communication patterns, and decision styles. Not surprisingly, then, women respond better to messages, media and a marketing mix that is more tailored to female gender culture.

3. Marketers who design their programs and communications to be more relevant and credible to their primary buyers – women – will boost the return on every dollar in their marketing and sales budgets.

Morris: Now please focus on PrimeTime Women. Here are two separate but related questions. First, what differentiates a “PrimeTime” woman from other women?

Barletta: Now that’s a big question.  So big that I had to write a book to address it!  I’ll do my best to do it justice in just a few minutes.  First off PrimeTime (50-70) is a lifestage.  These women are the healthiest, wealthiest generation in history.  And, because the Boomers are currently PrimeTimers they are also the fastest growing demographic segment.

What makes them different?  First, boomer women who are passing he age 50 mark are a different breed from earlier generations of older women.  They are more educated and accustomed to being wage earners. Assets are concentrated in their hands and they are confident decision makers. Second,  boomer women are different from younger cohorts.  Their families are out of the house – although I like to say that they are off to their next quest not lamenting their empty nest.  They are looking to spend quality time with friends and family and want to create a personal legacy.

Morris: Now the related question. How does marketing to a “PrimeTime” woman differ from marketing to other demographic segments?

Barletta: I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the most important initiative marketers and advertisers can take is to portray these women as they percieve themselves.  Steer clear of anything that says middle age or circa 1950.  PrimeTIme Women don’t want to deny their age.  Forget standard ideas of retirement – even PrimeTimers who stop working will be devoting themselves to other sorts of purposful activity including philanthropic efforts and adventure travel.  PrimeTime Women percieve themselves as vibrantly independent of part of a vibrant set of peers.  Marketers speak her language and portray her as she sees herself will get the most bang from their marketing buck.  Those who ignore her do so at their own peril.

Morris: What is the single worst mistake that can be made when marketing to her?

Barletta: That’s easy. The single worst mistake – and just about every marketer I’ve ever talked to does this – is to define this target as “women of a certain age.”  For example, reporters have often asked me what advice I might have for marketing apparel to older women, or mature women or some such designation. And my first thought is, “Don’t.” Instead, market to women who appreciate fabulous fabrics, luxurious comfort and smart designs that flatter a fuller figure. Some will prefer classic styles, like Talbot’s, some will prefer expressive styles, like Chico’s and Coldwater Creek. But there is not a woman anywhere who wants “middle-age mama” clothes, and marketers who think in those terms are going to fall flat on their fannies.

Or take cars. Don’t market to “women in their fifties” – that is absolutely the kiss of death. Market to the woman who is finally able to let go of family factors in choosing a vehicle and can now buy the car she wants to drive. As PrimeTime Women’s kids leave the nest, the SUV sector will continue to tank, and I predict four sectors of cars will soar: luxury sedans, like Lexus; sports cars, like the Mustang; “cute” cars, like the Mini and the Beetle; and “green” cars – all of the hybrids. While all of these trends are driven by the underlying lifestyle changes of PrimeTime Women, none of them is defined as “cars for middle-aged ladies.” Marketers who define their target that way are putting blinders on their ability to see and profit from this extraordinary opportunity.

Morris: One final question. Based on all that you have learned about marketing to women in recent years, what do you consider to be the single most important insight that your research and direct experience has revealed?

Barletta: Wow – that’s kind of like being asked “What’s the single most important rule in football?” There are a lot of them!

I guess this is going to sound kind of simplistic, but the number one key learning is that women and men are different.

Surprisingly, that’s kind of a new insight. It has only been in the last twenty years or so that scientists have been analysing even medical data from women separately from men. And while some differences in aptitudes and interests had been recognized – differences in math, spatial and verbal abilities, being the most obvious – for socio-political reasons, people were reluctant to translate those into implications customized differently for male and female gender culture.

When I started my work, it had never occurred to any of us in the marketing community that women might prefer, prioritize and decide based on different factors than men. Beyond “companies should treat women with respect,” there weren’t any principles established for whether and how to treat them differently from men.

Now we know that a salesperson who treats a female customer exactly the same way he treats his best male customer risks incurring her wrath, because she has a different set of expectations. Oddly enough, she probably doesn’t even realize that, because, while he is assuming most women are like most men, she is assuming most men are like most women. They’re both wrong, and that clearly leads to some rapport barriers!

So the single most important insight is the simple acknowledgment that men and women are different. Understanding how to translate that insight successfully is the key to more effective marketing and sales results from the customers that buy most of everything. And that’s why companies need to get smart about women!

 

 

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