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Book review: Why she buys and the power of women consumers

Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World's Most Powerful Consumers,

by Bridget Brennan (Crown Business, $32)

Tom came to our house the other night to sell us new doors.

Tom did a great job. Tom knows everything you'd ever want to know about doors. How and where doors get made. How doors get installed. All the features, benefits, options and warranty coverage. And all the ways in which his company's doors are superior to what the competition sells.

Yet, it's what Tom didn't do that sealed the deal. Tom didn't refer to my wife as the "little lady" or the "woman of the house." Tom didn't talk only with me and ignore my wife. Tom didn't slide his quote across the dining room table for my eyes only. Tom didn't tell us that with all the money we're saving, I could lend my credit card to the "little lady" for a Saturday afternoon of shoe shopping while I stayed home and babysat the kids.

Which is a very good thing for Tom. Because if Tom had said or done any of those things, he would have lost the sale even if the doors were going to cost us a buck. And I would have received a sharp, hard kick to the shins under the table.

That's because my wife was making the decision on the new doors. She's the one who lost patience with a screen door the kids can't open, another screen door that flies off the hinges in a stiff breeze and a pair of well-worn, energy-inefficient doors completely lacking in curb appeal. My wife's the one who talked with co-workers for a referral. She's the one who, on her day off, went door shopping in showrooms and booked the sales call. And she's the one who's paying for the doors.

Not everyone gets it like Tom, even in our enlightened age.

"Women not only have money, they have veto power," says Bridget Brennan, CEO of Female Factor. "It's the most powerful one-two punch in the consumer economy."

Brennan cites studies that show women purchase or are the key influencer on about 80 per cent of all consumer product sales.

"To make a massive generalization, men are the sex that manufactures products, and women are the sex that buys them," says Brennan, who adds that men hold down 85 per cent of Fortune 500 corporate officer positions, nearly 70 per cent of chief marketing officers and 90 per cent of top creative directors at ad agencies.

"If the consumer economy had a sex, it would be female," says Brennan. "If the business world had a sex, it would be male. And therein lies the pickle."

So we end up with products dreamt up, designed, manufactured, marketed and sold by men who are too often clueless about what women want and why they buy.

Take the print campaign for the Ford Flex SUV as an example of what happens when men market to women. With seven seats and a fridge, the SUV is obviously intended for families. So how did Ford market the car? With an ad that shows the SUV driving down a deserted road in the dark, with CPR For The Dead Of Night as the headline.

"Perhaps it would be better not to use words such as CPR and dead to headline a campaign for a vehicle in which women are going to be transporting their families," suggests Brennan. "The industry is littered with ads written from a masculine point of view, even though women purchase and influence more than half the car sales."

Callaway Golf gets it. Callaway, a leader in the golf equipment industry, is run by George Fellows, a former Revlon CEO and father of two daughters. "For some reason, our society still hasn't caught up to the fact that women should participate at the exact same levels as men in a whole host of activities, but in order to do that appropriately, they've got to be equipped in the right way," says Fellows.

So instead of coming out with a line of men's clubs with pink shafts, Callaway consulted with women golfers and instructors, put women on product development teams and re-engineered the golf club. Callaway adjusted head design, head size, swing weight, shaft weight, shaft flexibility and grip size. Based on consumer feedback, Callaway rolled out a new Gems line specifically designed for women, and in 2008 rang up the second highest sales level in the company's history.

Brennan says Callaway and other smart, consumer-focused companies such as Procter & Gamble, MasterCard and Unilever are clued in to five global trends driving female consumers. The presence of more women in the workforce changes everything. Delayed marriage means more money spent on "me." Lower birth rates globally mean fewer kids, but more stuff. The divorce economy means two of everything. "The reality of divorce is that it unleashes a torrent of consumer spending, and not just on divorce lawyers."

And the presence of more older women redefines target markets. "Look at enough advertising briefs, and you might think that everyone older than 54 is dead, or at the very least broke," says Brennan. "But that couldn't be further from the truth. The opportunities are as enormous as the population itself."

Gender, says Brennan, is the most powerful determinant of how a person views the world and everything in it, more powerful than age, income, race and geography. To help us guys bridge the gender divide, Brennan offers insights and strategies on how to market products and services to women, whether in a store, on the web or around the dining-room table during a sales call for new doors.

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