Marketing to women takes center stage

Marti Barletta has been studying women as consumers since 1999, when she started the Trendsight Group, a consulting firm specializing in gender and marketing. She's a leader in articulating the importance of women as customers. In her book, "PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds and Business of Boomer Big Spenders," Marti takes it a step farther. She argues that 50-plus women will be America's most important and valuable consumer group for the foreseeable future, and she gets inside their heads so thoroughly that the book serves as a roadmap for marketers.

The core of Barletta's argument is that 50-plus women are entering the best time of their lives, personally and professionally. They'll be at the top of their games - for the foreseeable future. As consumers, they're affluent, upbeat and ready to spend - and ignored by most marketers.

Barletta's timing is perfect, as the huge generation of Boomer women cross the 50-plus threshold. This is the first generation of PrimeTime women, Barletta says, because their life experiences are so different than those of women who preceded them. They're the first generation to go to college in equal numbers to men; the first to work outside the home for pay in large numbers; and the first to benefit from major advances in health, fitness and nutrition that that are boosting the life expectancy of women (currently 79.5 years and rising).

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The result? Fifty-plus American women are the healthiest, wealthiest, most active generation of women in history. And, women age 50-70 will be prime targets for marketing of all kinds of products and services for the next 20 years.

Here's how the PrimeTime woman looks by the numbers:

  • Peak income. When people retire, their income falls. But half of men and women age 50 to 64 are still in the U.S. workforce. Barletta's data shows average peak income for U.S. households between 45-54 years of age at about $59,000-29 percent higher than adults age 25-35.

  • Peak working years. Baby Boomers - women and men alike - have no intention of quitting work … either because of need or desire. Study after study shows that 75 percent or more intend to keep pursuing their careers indefinitely, launch a second career, or throw themselves into volunteer work.

  • Peak assets. Households headed by adults age 55-64 had median net worth of $182,500 in 2001 - more than double than the U.S. norm.

  • Spending power. Once the college bills are out of the way and children launch their own households, the discretionary spending power of 50-plus women soars. "They spend 2.5 times what the average person spends," Barletta says. "Women are the primary buyers for computers, cars, banking, financial services, and a lot of other big-ticket categories."

  • Optimistic. Barletta's PrimeTime women seem to be more upbeat about life than women in their 30s and 40s, who are trying to balance the pressures of child-rearing and careers. "All the research shows that women in their 50s and 60s are in the happiest decades of their lives." (See chart below.)

  • A growth market. By the year 2026, 49 percent of all U.S. adults will be over 50, compared with just 39 percent in 2000 - the result of the enormous Boomer age wave. It's the only growth demographic around - every other age bracket will be flat or shrinking in size.

    How can entrepreneurs and small businesses tap into this lucrative target market? Barletta suggests focusing on services that will appeal to time-starved, affluent women.

    "One thing I've been saying for women in general - and especially PrimeTime women - is that companies need to get beyond the idea of customer service, and offer customer services. Customer service in this country is so bad that consumers have given up on it. Barletta advises small businesses to "think about the services that what will be important to this fast-growing, more-moneyed segment of the population - and offer them!"

    Here are some sample service businesses Barletta has in mind:

  • Winterization. "Every winter after a big storm, I need more salt, but it takes me time to get over to the store and get it. I'd gladly sign a contract with a store that will guarantee to deliver a bag of salt after every storm.

  • Gardening. "I'd love to do business with a garden center that delivers a pot of fresh flowers to my porch once a month, along with any other heavy, cumbersome products I might want for my yard, like soil and mulch."

  • Home electronics. Boomers are creating "specialty rooms and spaces" for home theaters and game rooms, and they're buying second homes. Who's going to help them set up all that expensive, complicated and unwieldy stuff?

  • Pickup service at the mall. Barletta asks: "Will someone start this company - please? I'd love to see a service business that set up drop off and pick-up locations at four different points of a shopping mall. They want their customers to walk the whole mall, but to the extent that I'm a successful shopper, I quickly get loaded down with packages. And in wintertime I'm wearing a heavy uncomfortable coat and these malls are indoors. So, how about a company where I check my coat, drop off my packages as I go - and then make a call from my cell phone when I'm done to have everything delivered right to my car?"

    The irony here is how poorly the PrimeTime woman is understood by businesses trying to figure out how to sell things to people. Rather than focus their marketing firepower on this lucrative consumer target, marketers lie awake at night worrying about how to sell to 18-to-34-year-old men - a market segment that's increasingly difficult to reach - but a far less attractive consumer target than older women by almost any measure. "They don't think women make decisions, or that older people have money," Barletta says. "They see the numbers I'm talking about, but they don't believe them."

    Or maybe marketers have just fallen asleep, after all?

    About the Author: Mark J. Miller is president of 50+Digital LLC, a multimedia publishing and consulting company serving the information needs of Baby Boomers. He also writes the 50+ Digital blog.

    reprinted with permission from Anita Campbell's Small Business Trends

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