For all that blather about alpha males, adult men are a beta demo. There are 6 million more women aged 20 or older than there are men. What makes the 21st-century woman a consumer phenomenon is her deep pockets, born of greater education and clout in the workplace. The rise of the female consumer phenom -- or she-nom -- merits an overhaul in strategic thinking. Marketers must keep feminine preferences in mind not just for "women's products" but for items ranging from digital cameras to beer that traditionally have been pitched aggressively to guys.
"The concept of marketing to women as your lead user is the way of the future," says Bridget Brennan, founder of consultancy Female Factor Communications. In virtually every category, smart marketers will put women in the bull's-eye, not on the periphery, she says.
Many marketers fear that direct appeals to women will alienate men, but the opposite is true, Ms. Brennan says. Products with a feminine veneer are apt to turn off not just men but women who suspect these are watered-down versions of the real deal, she says.
Women value comfortable retail environments, easy-to-use products, and -- the biggest missed opportunity for those seeking to build buzz among women, says Ms. Brennan -- superior service. Not even the burliest man could dismiss these gender-neutral features as too girly.
"If you are meeting women's expectations, you're giving men something they didn't even think to ask for," she says.
Look at the stereotypically male bastion of consumer electronics. Women play a role in initiating electronics purchases in 45% of cases, translating to about $68 billion, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
When they hit stores, women cycle through a range of emotions: "Confident" tops the chart at 60%, but they report feeling "stupid/confused" (41%), "sensory overload" (39%), "anxiety ridden" (18%) and "bored" (23%), according to CEA.
While no self-respecting geek would know it, Sony Style Stores were built from the ground up around women's priorities. Far from "feminine, fussy pink," however, the environments are lifestyle-based, says Dennis Syracuse, senior VP-Sony retail stores.
To assuage women's techno-trepidation, Sony's 36 U.S. retail operations draw inspiration from high-end women's fashion boutiques, featuring a service-oriented concierge desk and elegant displays. As part of the retailer's aim to demystify technology for female consumers, signage translates jargon, "which is what women want to hear." Increasingly, adds Mr. Syracuse, so do men.
Plasma screens sit in lush living-room settings, allowing customers to imagine the products at home, and stores have wider aisles to accommodate strollers. "Environments created with women in mind will often be family-friendly," Mr. Syracuse says. "And [in] family-friendly environments, men will be comfortable as well."
Sony's previous foray into the U.S. retail scene consisted of a showcase site on Chicago's tony Michigan Avenue, with a limited amount of merchandise for sale. That operation has closed, replaced by the more purchase-friendly Sony Style Stores, including two in the Chicago area.
Rather than shock-and-awe volume, the Sony Style Stores still offer a tightly edited selection, based on Sony's research into women's top requisites for technology. "But we found that men wanted the same things," Mr. Syracuse says. Both sexes want gadgets to be "light, easy to use and mobile."
Women, and marketers, feel less compelled to pursue the male mystique. When Cynthia Good, founding editor of women's business magazine Pink, began her career in TV news in the 1980s, she donned her navy power suit with floppy bow tie and even consciously lowered her voice. Women at the time "felt that if they were more 'manly,' they'd have a better chance of success," she recalls. "So when marketers tried to sell me products, I wanted to buy and think like a man."
Today, the floppy bow tie is gone, and women "don't want to be men in suits anymore," she says. Nor, she adds, do women want messages designed for men, and that's putting pressure on advertisers to change.
Pink, which Ms. Good launched in 2005 with founding Publisher Genevieve Bos, reports that its business-savvy female readers' median personal income is $75,000 and their median household income is $125,000.
Given the many general-business magazines, some marketers initially wondered "why they needed to advertise in a business magazine for women," Ms. Good says. But increasingly, marketers understand that businesswomen's priorities differ from their male counterparts', particularly in their strong desire for work-life balance.
KPMG signed on with Pink to build awareness among businesswomen, who are increasingly making decisions about professional services, says Christine St.Clare, advisory partner at KPMG.
The agreement also demonstrates the company's commitment to women in business. In addition to advertising in Pink, KPMG is the national sponsor of the 2006 second annual Pink Conference Series.
Veteran agency executive Mary Lou Quinlan emphasizes the value of viral marketing efforts for reaching women, but she cautions that success depends on a campaign's authenticity.
Pay a so-called "brand ambassador" to talk up a spirits brand at a bar and the effort will fizzle fast. "Women are smarter than that," says Ms. Quinlan, founder and CEO of Just Ask a Woman, a marketing-to-women consultancy in New York.
SABMiller's Peroni Nastro Azzurro, a premium beer imported from Italy, leaves the "brand ambassador" approach-not to mention traditional category norms-in the dust.
Traditional beer marketing, reliant on sophomoric humor, bikini babes or some combination thereof, has largely ignored the female consumer base, says Elina Maniec, Peroni brand manager at SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co.
But not Peroni. As part of SABMiller's $50 million global campaign for the brand, U.S. efforts targeted "modern sophisticates" of both sexes in Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Miami. The campaign puts women on a fashionable, more equal footing with men.
The marketing, inspired by Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," injects the beer-drinking experience with a shot of "effortless Italian style," Ms. Maniec says.
Peroni struck a two-year deal with fashion event producer IMG Fashion to be the exclusive beer sponsor of Fashion Week events in New York, Miami and Los Angeles.
In addition to product sampling during this past September's Fashion Week in New York, key promotional staff wore limited-edition Peroni caps designed by Italian hat brand La Coppola Storta, giving typically style-starved beer merchandise a makeover di modo Italiano.
Traditional media included billboards, a 30-second TV spot, and ads in chic venues such as W, Black Book, Men's Vogue and Surface. The effort also included window displays in fashion retailers such as Diesel and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and a "La Dolce Vita"-inspired mini-film, viewable online and-coinciding with a swank campaign launch party in June-projected on a building in New York.
London-based creative boutique The Bank handled the campaign's creative; Starcom Worldwide, Chicago, handles media placement.
Linking Peroni to fashion instead of football shows that a macho marketer like SABMiller can go beyond testosterone as a propellant.
Ms. Maniec says that although Fashion Week and style in general naturally appeal to women, "our fashion-forward male friends are also intrigued by the stylish element of the brand's advertising tactic."
By tapping the common interest in Italian elegance among modern sophisticates, she says, "the campaign transcends genders" and puts both sexes "on equal ground."