The “Sheconomy” Is Here

By Dorothy Dowling

Tuesday August 11, 2015

Having worked with David Kong for more than a decade I know the value we both place on the importance of personal relationships with our guests, our members and our brand partners. With that in mind I am excited to be the first guest contributor to join David on It’s Personal, sharing the insights and stories I have gleaned over three decades in the hospitality industry.

The social and economic power of women is growing every year. While there are numerous statistics that support this evolution, I see the evidence every day. I notice an increase in the number of women holding decision-making roles within our partner organizations. I look at our powerful marketing partners like Disney, and others, who work hard to win the hearts and minds of women. When I present at conferences, there are more women in the audience representing influential travel organizations. Back at home, I see among my marketing, sales and business technology teams women who are also mothers, wives and leaders affecting change within their communities.

In 2005, noted business writer, Fara Warner, published “The Power of the Purse,” the first book to address the growing financial power and influence of women. Warner called on marketers to recognize the diversity among women and to authentically put them at the center of their strategies. Doing so, she said, would ensure the kind of brand loyalty that increases sales for the long-term.

The statistics speak for themselves. As women have made steady gains in higher education and career advancement their earning power has grown exponentially. As a result, women are the majority of consumers whose purchasing power, according to Iconoculture, is estimated to be between $5 and $15 trillion. Today, women manage the finances in most U.S. households and make 85 percent of all consumer purchases. This is a five percent increase in the 10 years since “The Power of the Purse” was published. Voting with their dollars, women are wielding economic influence across industries and changing the way businesses engage this increasingly powerful group of consumers.

So what do these numbers mean for how we market products and communicate with women? There is a dawning realization in the C-suite that in order to appeal to women significant changes to a product or service, or even to how the company is run, might be required.

Marti Barletta, renowned expert on marketing to women, says that men will likely book the first hotel room that meets their price point. However, women often go through a comprehensive decision process. They look at characteristics such as the gym, the hotel’s commitment to sustainability, safety and the thread count of bedding and towels. As Barletta says, “Get the guy right and you’ve made a sale; get the woman right and you have a customer.” When Iconoculture asked women what they valued most, the response was loyalty, courtesy and authenticity. From this it should be clear that one way to a woman’s purse is through her convictions.

Today’s “on-demand” economy leader, Amazon, has successfully captured the attention of female consumers who have little free time to spare and must balance their needs along with those of family and career. The retailer’s Amazon Prime, Amazon Mom and School Rewards programs enable women to quickly buy almost anything they need from the convenience of home while donating a portion of their purchase to causes they support.

New market entrant Birchbox has become a beloved brand for women because it solves the problems faced when buying beauty products online. By breaking the shopping experience down into three simple steps (try it, learn about it and buy it), women are able to sample first before committing. This saves time, money and takes the risk out of trying new products. In the world of apps, grocery list organizers like Grocery Pal, AnyList and Grocery IQ save women time and money by making food shopping more efficient, enabling them to create and share lists with other members of the household.

As with everything in business, the sheconomy is not static and the power of the purse has now expanded to include the power of influence.

For example, at work today is the growing influence of children on parent purchasing decisions. A recent study by Viacom found that 69 percent of U.S. families confer with their children when making purchases, which means businesses are working overtime to reach kids through their parents (i.e., moms). While this might sound like a good strategy for business, a brand looking to secure the next generation of consumers must first earn its influence through the authenticity so important to members of the sheconomy.

Companies that get it right will be rewarded for years to come by a loyal consumer base leveraging the world’s most powerful communications tool today: social media. In just the past five years, women have outpaced men in their use of social networks across almost every platform and are now the leading users via mobile devices. Women are sharing not only vacation photos, but also their opinions on everything from political candidates to product recommendations to corporate behavior.

We have all seen how social pressure has the potential to create seismic changes in how a company does business. Just ask Johnson & Johnson. The brand’s well-publicized move to remove potentially harmful chemicals from its baby products was initiated entirely by women using social networks to force behavior change under the threat of taking their dollars elsewhere.

Companies seeking to embrace the voice of the woman consumer must first truly understand who she is. This means knowing her as an influencer who wears many hats with the power to affect change through every community she touches. Only those brands that listen carefully and respond to this evolving and powerful influencer will develop the long-term relationships needed to win her respect and her business.

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