Marketers, Meet the 'Multi-Minding' Woman

'Too Busy to Shop' Introduces the New Harried Consumer, but Few Insights to Go With Her

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There is a curious paradox at the heart of today's consumer marketing culture. On the one hand, as Kelly Skoloda points out in her book "Too Busy to Shop: Marketing to Multi-Minding Women," women do a whopping 85% of the shopping in America, a number that is more or less consistent across categories. On the other hand, marketers consistently bypass women in their marketing messages, as if they were merely the "product delivery system" for other consumers.

And although this may have been true once, I would argue -- as would Ms. Skoloda -- that today's woman doesn't view herself, or the validity of her opinions, choices and decisions, that way.

Women are no longer the conduit -- they are the consumer.

And yet advertisers persist in fearing that if they really aim at women, their brands will be, as one brand manager once told me, "pink" -- segregated to a women-only ghetto that men wouldn't touch with a 25-and-a-half-foot pole.

This isn't really news, but it has always seemed slightly insane to me. It does to Ms. Skoloda as well. Unfortunately she does nothing to illuminate why it is this way. Perhaps that's because she doesn't just want to talk about marketing to women, she also wants to talk about marketing to "multi-minding" women.

"Multi-minding" is a sort of evolution of "multi-tasking"; whereas multi-tasking was more activity-related ("I'm online while I'm eating lunch while I'm listening to music."), multi-minding is more thinking-related. It is the idea that people -- women more so than men -- are literally thinking about multiple things at once ("I'm reading my e-mail and thinking about the kids' homework and listening to my husband and planning dinner and remembering about the presentation next week.").

This makes sense to me and seems a logical progression that our current electronic environment accelerates. But why are we like this? Ms. Skoloda either doesn't have an answer or isn't interested in one.

Which is fine until one starts digging into her research. She consistently states women 25-54 are multi-minding. But whoa, that's a pretty broad range there: 25-year-olds grew up online, 54-year-olds still remember transistor radios. Fifty-four-year-olds were on the front lines of the sexual revolution. Twenty-five-year-olds have grown up taking those equality gains for granted. In other words, we're talking about women who have grown up in stunningly different contexts -- and yet they think the same way? Why? Because of culture? Because of gender? Or has it always been thus and we just never noticed it before? Unfortunately, Ms. Skoloda doesn't address any of these questions.

As a result of all these unanswered questions, "Too Busy to Shop" reads like a magazine article that has been padded to book length. There are, as I have tried to point out, book-length issues at play here, but Ms. Skoloda, a partner-director of Ketchum's Global Brand Marketing Practice, would rather spend her time repeating facts and figures and anecdotal evidence culled from Ketchum's 25-54 launch study. "Facts and figures" that are punctuated by a handful of interviews that invariably begin by trying to illuminate some aspect of "multi-minding" or marketing to women, but which quickly wander off onto tangents that have little to do with the topic at hand.

Data in any form, however, is always valuable and access to the study is useful, even if it's not as rigorously considered as one would like. And it does lead her to some valuable, if not particularly groundbreaking insights about marketing -- that it must be a conversation and not a monologue; that if you focus on a conversation, it invariably forces you to really listen to your consumer; and that the active extension of conversations and listening is a grass-roots, bottom-up approach to marketing. Again, not news, but always worth remembering.

These few positives, however, are ultimately outweighed by the negatives. By not delivering real depth, insight, news or innovation to her reader, Ms. Skoloda has squandered the one resource that today's multi-minding women -- or multi-minding anyones -- has far too little of: time.

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