Written by Mary Welch Thursday, September 30 2010
Say you work at home improvement store. A woman in her late 40s wants to put in new flooring. Your assumption is that she’s more established in her career and able and willing to spend more for beautiful hardwood floors.
Now, say a woman in her early 20s comes in wanting the same thing. Your assumption is that she may not have as much money as the older woman and that she either has children or will have children so she is steered more toward wash-and-wear flooring.
You may have made incorrect assumptions.
“With the older woman, you would think she’d like something fabulous, like lovely bamboo flooring because she may have more money and her kids are grown,” says Bonnie Ulman, president of The Haystack Group. “But she may be exactly like the younger woman because they very well both may have 6-year-old children who will be roller blading across the floors. So income may not be the deciding factor in a purchase; it’s the age of their children. The Mom Factor is very important to how women make decisions and approach their lives. Those who don’t know how to properly market to moms are missing the boat.”
Ulman wrote the book on marketing to moms. Literally. She is the coauthor of Trillion-Dollar Moms: Marketing to a New Generation of Mothers. “What we do at The Haystack Group is counsel clients to always think about the person they’re building a relationship with before they think of themselves. Too often, it’s the reverse.”
The Haystack Group, an Atlanta-based public relations and communications firm, believes in relationships, not transactions. The company’s basic tenet is that communications strategies should do more than drive awareness; they should impact business.
Finding the answers to the most burning communications needs of clients, even those they don’t know they have, is like the proverbial needle in a haystack, Ulman says. It might be hard to find, but it’s there if you know where and how to look. And what’s more valuable than finding the needle?
The needle often involves women and learning about them, Ulman says. “We delve really, really deep in studying women. We ask the ‘why’ as much as the ‘what.’ Why does she feel the way she does? There are nuances that I’m afraid a lot of marketing people don’t take into account. A woman is like a mosaic, and you have to understand each part – wife, mother, sister, friend, businesswoman – and take into account all those multiple people who are in one body before starting to market to her.”
Such things as a woman’s parenting style will offer insights as to what brands she will be interested in and what marketing points will prompt her to buy, Ulman says.
“Let’s go back to the two women with 6 year olds,” she says. “There are women, mostly older ones, who may have struggled hard to have a child. Maybe they had fertility issues. Now that mother tends to be so much more protective of her child because it was so challenging having one. She’s extremely attentive to things like nutrition, health, bike helmets, and security issues. The woman who didn’t have these problems may be not so focused on that area.”
Marketers must realize that “sometimes a 25 year old and a 45 year old may have more in common than you think because they’re both dealing with 6 year olds, so you can’t just have a marketing strategy for moms or young moms.”
Ulman is also seeing generational issues. Surprisingly the millennial moms – those in their early 20s – are looking to their own moms for advice and mentoring more than the gen X women did. “The gen X moms didn’t embrace multi-generational relationships. What we’re seeing with the millennial moms is something we have not seen in a while.”
The lesson, Ulman says, is that the millennial moms are “extremely astute on the way they custom-blend their lives. They want to have it all. So they will conduct business at a baseball game and make no apology for it. They feel they can blend all the sides of their lives together.”
Cloud Conrad, vice president of brand strategies for Maid Brigade Inc., says that working with Ulman and her team has changed the way her company thinks about – and markets – to women. “Our core customer is working women, and, honestly, I don’t think we understood our audience. Our assumptions were archaic. I think our model was still the early ‘80s with dual income. Our audience had changed, but our marketing wasn’t reflecting it. Bonnie came in and challenged our language and our thinking about our customers. It was important insight. She taught us not only what to say but how to say it.”
Conrad admits that her company and its (mostly) male executives were “a bit out of touch.” Maid Brigade’s creative team came up with a new campaign that was slightly edgy.
“Ulman pushed back and said it needed to be re-done, it wasn’t right,” Conrad says. “We weren’t addressing the issues properly. I really liked the creative – and fought for it because it was edgy – but she told me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear. And, she was right.”
Maid Brigade is still working on better targeting its audience, Conrad says. “I know not all moms are alike. But I do understand Bonnie when she talks about the alpha moms and harnessing them. Our business is basically gotten through referrals, and the alpha moms play a large role in that. Through Bonnie and her focus groups we learned a really important lesson: Do not make our women feel guilty about having a dirty house. That was huge.”
Ulman constantly studies women and conducts focus groups around the country. “We talk to moms and try to find out what makes them happy. There’s an undercurrent of sadness and frustration where moms have this obsessive need to do everything right, and when they can’t, they can’t handle it and reconcile the fact that they can’t be perfect. That was a surprising piece of research.”
Overall, when you really study women and their nuances, it often ends up in an “Aha! moment,” Ulman says. “It can be so blindingly obvious. But we don’t always think of women – and moms – as being more than one person. Good marketers will understand all facets of women and not make assumptions. All moms are not equal – just rent a vacation house with several families and contrast their styles. That should tell you a lot right there.”
Mary Welch is a freelance writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Dawson Times, Plan Your Meeting magazine, and Atlanta Business magazine. Previously, she held many positions with Leader Publishing, including editor-in-chief of Atlanta Woman, editor of Business to Business magazine, and editor of Catalyst magazine. As editor of Business to Business, she assigned, edited, and conceptualized a series that was awarded Silver in the 2005 GAMMA Awards for Best Series. Welch was a reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle for eight years and freelanced for publications including Glamour, Advertising Age, South, Georgia Trend, and Oz. From 2000 to 2003, she served as vice president of media relations for Bank of America, during which time she authored Forever Green: A History and Hope of the American Forest with Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell.