Understanding the world’s most influential consumers

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 9, 2003

THE LAST TWO decades have witnessed the surge in the number of women who have joined the workforce. At the turn of the century, only 20 percent of all women worldwide were gainfully employed.

By the 1990s, the number had risen to nearly 50 percent.

In the Philippines, 51.8 percent of women 15 years old and above joined the labor force in 2001. Worldwide, women opt to start working with pink collar clerical work and eventually move on to more intellectually challenging jobs with sufficient work experience.

Today, it is not uncommon for women to occupy managerial positions, hold board seats and head blue-chip companies in various industries.

These changes in the kind and quality of work of career women and the spending power that comes with the position raises the net worth of women and makes them today the world’s most influential consumer. Like it or not, women make the buying decisions or influence the purchase of not less than two-thirds of all consumer goods and services.

As this new demographic segment gains strength and recognition, it is important to understand some of the insights that drive women’s buying behavior and purchase decisions based on a number of consumer research and empirical studies made about the women market. Some of these insights include:

One, women are brand loyal. When satisfied with a brand, they will use the same products and services they use at the workplace for their own homes.

Two, women are a great advocate channel. Women make ten times more referrals than men do. This is borne out of a natural habit among women to freely dispense helpful information, advice or directions.

Three, women need to connect and establish a relationship with the brand. Women are naturally caring and nurturing qualities that drive relationships. Women seek the same quality of relationship with brands. Brands that anticipate their needs, understand their aspirations, provide a link or connectivity to the company or service provider by establishing a dialogue through consumer feedback are likely to enjoy greater acceptance.

Four, women need to connect with other women. Dr. John Gray, author of the widely received book, Men are from mars, women are from Venus, stated, men retreat to their caves when solving problems while women get together and talk openly. Women naturally gravitate to groups and communities. Marketing activities that bring women together under a substantial cause can help drive loyalty for a brand.

Five, trust and reputation is key in the women market. Faith popcorn, consumer trend forecaster and author of “Eveolution” maintains that a brand with integrity is likely to gain acceptance in the women market.

Six, women use the Net. Contrary to initial speculations, women are very comfortable with the Internet. Skill-wise, most women have been trained to type. Connectivity-wise the Internet provides limitless opportunity to cyber-talk with family, friends and relatives as well as seek product and service information from countless websites.

A survey conducted by Jupiter Communications and Media Matrix shows that women and men use the Internet in dramatically different ways. Women go online for more practical reasons that include shopping or seeking specific information. Men tend to wander in cyberspace, often looking for nothing more than amusement. Likewise, women tend to be more loyal to a fewer number of websites.

Women seek a more efficient experience in the Net they log in, do the business and log off. Check out your girl Friday. In all likelihood, she accesses the net far more than the telephone directory for information.

Seven, women like detail. When it comes to a purchasing decision, women source a lot of information including feedback from family and friends. This is where brand recognition, reputation and marketing connectivity efforts become important.

Eight, relate to a woman’s life goal. In this respect, most men and women are different. While men generally focus on a numerical amount as a goal like earning the first million by age 30 years old, women are likely to plan their finances and spending based on improvement of life goals that include completing the children’s education by retirement age, providing care for elderly parents or putting up a business by age 40.

A marketer needs to understand a woman’s vision of her future.

A study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research arm of The Economist magazine, reveals that a cumulative 80 percent of women buy or influence consumer and business goods and services. This information is a strong indication to the marketer that whether women are in the foreground or background of a business decision process, women wield sufficient veto power.