Sites play to women's specialized interests

By Published on .

A slew of new women's sites are popping up--many catering to special interests--even as veteran online communities for women have taken a beating in the stock market.

How well new niche sites fare is open to debate; the newcomers contend there's money to be made from advertising and e-commerce in narrow categories. But online communities such as iVillage and Women.com Networks--each trading at half their '99 initial public offering prices--and Oxygen Media see the niche entrants as little more than potential partners or acquisition targets in a market where consolidation is queen.

"I don't think the new business will hurt us at all," said Candice Carpenter, iVillage CEO. "Women who have been on the Web for a while like having a simple navigation system," which iVillage said it has. "That hasn't changed." She added, "A media site has to have a reach of 10% to 15% [of female adult Web users] to be a viable proposition. We are at 9.6% right now. A lot of niche sites won't reach that."

No. 1 iVillage, partly owned by America Online and NBC, held a narrow lead over Hearst Corp.-backed Women.com in unique visitors in March-each with 5.7 million, according to Media Metrix. Oxygen was a distant No. 3 with 2.1 million unique visitors.

NARROWER BUT MORE LOYAL AUDIENCE

Jupiter Communications analyst Anya Sacharow argued that "segmentation within the women's market is definitely a way to engage an audience.

"You are talking about . . . targeting women with specific interests," she said. "When you take a demographic and combine that with a strong interest or affinity, you'll get a more narrow audience but a more loyal one."

At the end of 1999, there were 49.1 million U.S. women online, just behind the 51.1 million men online, according to Jupiter, and women are projected to pull even with men this year. By the end of 2003, there will be 78.9 million women and 77.8 million men online, Jupiter projects.

Tapping Internet-savvy and economically diverse women, new sites have set up shop and launched marketing campaigns to build recognition. Most new sites said they fill a need in the marketplace not addressed by the larger online women's communities.

WFN Women's Financial Network, for example, launched March 31 as a financial resource for women. In April, the site started a $12 million to $15 million print, radio and online campaign from Karzen Miller Creative, Los Angeles, to build its brand.

LOOKING FOR TRUST, SUPPORT

"Women have been looking for a place they can turn to to get trusted information and services in a supportive community," said Jennifer Openshaw, WFN CEO. "The lightbulb went off because I felt no one was really helping women by putting these services under one umbrella."

Also new to the scene: Totalwoman.com, developed by Web site rep company Cybereps. Launched April 3, Totalwoman is a "gathering point" for niche sites for women, said Cybereps CEO Mike Warsinske. "We found that advertisers targeting women required broad reach. So to get larger advertisers to find these [smaller] sites attractive, we decided to bundle them under a vertical portal. Totalwoman.com is a media brand. It's our intention to make sure every media planner knows Totalwoman.com as well as they know Women.com or iVillage."

To achieve that, Totalwoman last month broke a trade campaign and is spending about $2 million on radio and online advertising, created in-house, to promote the brand to consumers.

Niche sites tapped by Totalwoman include bigstar.com, ePregnancy and SocialNet.

Also making a play is Women's Consumer Network (www.womens

consumer.net), which started in 1998 as a direct marketing company. It relaunched its site as a convenient and comprehensive e-commerce destination for busy women in October after securing $50 million in media and promotion over five years from CBS Corp.

"We research products and services that are important to women; we are sort of an AARP for working women," said Melinda Halpert, senior VP-marketing at Women's Consumer Network. "We are not trying to give advice on everything from boyfriends to diaper rash."

The company, which has a 2000 marketing budget of $12 million, launched radio and outdoor ads in February and TV spots in April; Partners & Simons, Boston, handles.

Another newcomer is Women-Outdoors.com, an e-commerce and content site for women interested in outdoor sports and activities that launched March 20 and will be officially announced May 4. Parent PlanetOutdoors.com developed the site because "women and men shop very differently," said WomenOutdoors Marketing Director Michelle Theall. "To have the most success with women, you have to create something that really speaks to them. We saw a real void in terms of the way women were being reached in the sports and outdoor industries."

WomenOutdoors launched ads from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, in April issues of magazines such as Fitness, National Geographic and Self. Ms. Theall declined to reveal the company's ad budget.

COMPETITORS

Other players include Working Woman Network, a resource for businesswomen (workingwoman.

com), and womensforum.com, a network of women's sites, many of which are run by female entrepreneurs. Womensforum has been around since 1996.

Fending off the threat of niche sites, iVillage, Women.com and Oxygen are eyeing potential partnerships. In some cases, that means partnering with the new niche sites. All three online communities confirmed they were close to announcing such partnership deals.

"We partner with niche sites we feel have particularly good services and content," iVillage's Ms. Carpenter said.

"Anyone in that space is potentially a partner," agreed C.J. Kettler, president-sales and marketing at Oxygen.

Women.com, considers itself "a broad compilation of niche sites," said President-CEO Marleen McDaniel. "We have 19 points of entry into the Women.com network and branded Web sites within." Women.com is 47% owned by Hearst Corp.

LARGER SITES NOT THREATENED

Women.com also will continue to seek partnerships with niche sites, but doesn't feel threatened by them. Like iVillage, the company sees that consolidation of products and services is most convenient for women, and that breadth of content and services and reach will help it win out.

However, "You can't just generically say all women want a one-stop shop," Jupiter's Ms. Sacharow warned. "Some are interested in going to specialty shops."

All three major online women's communities also said they were implementing international expansion. Women.com, for example, recently launched in Japan and Latin America and will make additional announcements soon.

The big women's sites still must overcome Wall Street skepticism over their financial prospects. Last year, iVillage lost $116.6 million on revenue of $44.6 million, while Women.com lost $57.1 million on revenue of $30 million.

As for the category's sluggish performance on Wall Street, Ms. Carpenter said, "The women's sector is in a kind of purgatory it will emerge from. Verticals take some time to get to profitability."women, new sites have set up shop and launched marketing campaigns to build recognition. Most new sites said they fill a need in the marketplace not addressed by the larger online women's communities.

WFN Women's Financial Network, for example, launched March 31 as a financial resource for women. In April, the site started a $12 million to $15 million print, radio and online campaign from Karzen Miller Creative, Los Angeles, to build its brand.

LOOKING FOR TRUST, SUPPORT

"Women have been looking for a place they can turn to to get trusted information and services in a supportive community," said Jennifer Openshaw, WFN CEO. "The lightbulb went off because I felt no one was really helping women by putting these services under one umbrella."

Also new to the scene: Totalwoman.com, developed by Web site rep company Cybereps. Launched April 3, Totalwoman is a "gathering point" for niche sites for women, said Cybereps CEO Mike Warsinske. "We found that advertisers targeting women required broad reach. So to get larger advertisers to find these [smaller] sites attractive, we decided to bundle them under a vertical portal. Totalwoman.com is a media brand. It's our intention to make sure every media planner knows Totalwoman.com as well as they know Women.com or iVillage."

To achieve that, Totalwoman last month broke a trade campaign and is spending about $2 million on radio and online advertising, created in-house, to promote the brand to consumers.

Niche sites tapped by Totalwoman include bigstar.com, ePregnancy and SocialNet.

Also making a play is Women's Consumer Network (www.womens

consumer.net), which started in 1998 as a direct marketing company. It relaunched its site as a convenient and comprehensive e-commerce destination for busy women in October after securing $50 million in media and promotion over five years from CBS Corp.

"We research products and services that are important to women; we are sort of an AARP for working women," said Melinda Halpert, senior VP-marketing at Women's Consumer Network. "We are not trying to give advice on everything from boyfriends to diaper rash."

The company, which has a 2000 marketing budget of $12 million, launched radio and outdoor ads in February and TV spots in April; Partners & Simons, Boston, handles.

Another newcomer is Women-Outdoors.com, an e-commerce and content site for women interested in outdoor sports and activities that launched March 20 and will be officially announced May 4. Parent PlanetOutdoors.com developed the site because "women and men shop very differently," said WomenOutdoors Marketing Director Michelle Theall. "To have the most success with women, you have to create something that really speaks to them. We saw a real void in terms of the way women were being reached in the sports and outdoor industries."

WomenOutdoors launched ads from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, in April issues of magazines such as Fitness, National Geographic and Self. Ms. Theall declined to reveal the company's ad budget.

COMPETITORS

Other players include Working Woman Network, a resource for businesswomen (workingwoman.

com), and womensforum.com, a network of women's sites, many of which are run by female entrepreneurs. Womensforum has been around since 1996.

Fending off the threat of niche sites, iVillage, Women.com and Oxygen are eyeing potential partnerships. In some cases, that means partnering with the new niche sites. All three online communities confirmed they were close to announcing such partnership deals.

"We partner with niche sites we feel have particularly good services and content," iVillage's Ms. Carpenter said.

"Anyone in that space is potentially a partner," agreed C.J. Kettler, president-sales and marketing at Oxygen.

Women.com, considers itself "a broad compilation of niche sites," said President-CEO Marleen McDaniel. "We have 19 points of entry into the Women.com network and branded Web sites within." Women.com is 47% owned by Hearst Corp.

LARGER SITES NOT THREATENED

Women.com also will continue to seek partnerships with niche sites, but doesn't feel threatened by them. Like iVillage, the company sees that consolidation of products and services is most convenient for women, and that breadth of content and services and reach will help it win out.

However, "You can't just generically say all women want a one-stop shop," Jupiter's Ms. Sacharow warned. "Some are interested in going to specialty shops."

All three major online women's communities also said they were implementing international expansion. Women.com, for example, recently launched in Japan and Latin America and will make additional announcements soon.

The big women's sites still must overcome Wall Street skepticism over their financial prospects. Last year, iVillage lost $116.6 million on revenue of $44.6 million, while Women.com lost $57.1 million on revenue of $30 million.

As for the category's sluggish performance on Wall Street, Ms. Carpenter said, "The women's sector is in a kind of purgatory it will emerge from. Verticals take some time to get to profitability."

In this article:
Most Popular