[email protected] Working With Walmart, General Mills

First Advice? Clearly Communicate a Brand's Value

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- How do you reach women who are still spending money in a down economy? Tell a better story.

Lauren Zalaznick
Lauren Zalaznick
At the first quarterly [email protected] advisory board meeting on April 17, 25 high-ranking female executives from the media, marketing and publishing sectors converged for a "door ajar" meeting at NBC Universal's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York to discuss marketing to women during a recession. What emerged is an emphasis on communicating why a product, even an expensive one, has value and is worth a consumer's money.

Peggy Green, vice chairman of ZenithOptimedia, appreciated the panel's diversity of viewpoints. "It was very powerful to know you're not there representing a specific business. You're just learning how to do your job better," she said.

Because the panel was under the [email protected] umbrella, several attendees were clients. Ms. Green is currently working with the group to create a campaign for Zenith client General Mills based on psychographic data, rather than the traditional age/sex media buy. Other new [email protected] clients include Kodak and Walmart.

"If I want to reach women who are empowered and their consumption patterns, I want NBC to put together all the platforms that offer me that opportunity. It wasn't buying cable and it wasn't buying the 'Today' show; it was buying a target that General Mills wanted to reach in a different way," Ms. Green said.

Redefining value
Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBCU's Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, which include Bravo, Oxygen and iVillage, said the redefinition of "value" was a recurring theme threaded through all of the group's discussions.

"People are value-conscious, and demanding rationales for what is considered value, that's the generality," Ms. Zalaznick told Ad Age. "What's specific is that luxury goods are still moving, and it's that creation of value around that price point. Eight months ago, it would've been the sex appeal of a shiny new bag. Now it's the value of that bag, the investment. What's great to hear is the story you craft is what drives the sale."

But in order to create that story line, an open dialogue has to be created with your customer. Retail executives from J. Crew and Bluefly discussed how their online feedback from customers helps influence their product launches and keep their messaging relevant.

"In these confusing times, customers are looking to where their loyalties are, and where they spend their money is not the big behemoth anymore. The human aspect is becoming much more important," said Monica Halpert, head of content, community and communications for Bluefly. "We were all very surprised that it's the simplest form of communication sometimes that's the deal sealer. Do you actually answer their e-mails? Are you accountable for a service issue?"

Making connections
Nancy Smith, American Express' VP-global media and sponsorship marketing, shared the fairly intuitive insight that even her company's most affluent customer segment had weakened their discretionary spend. "Everyone is making choices, so we need to make more connections to create relevancy, authenticity and change the way we talk to this market segment," she said.

Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine, pointed to the strong sales of skin-care products and lagging sales of makeup as a sign of newfound value to women. "In skin care there is value because there's innovation, because it's based on innovation and research," she said. "Consumers are seeing it as an alternative to the dermatologist and things that are both scary, painful and less expensive."

Ms. Zalaznick said the recession seems to have accelerated the need to reach women based on their life stages. "People aren't distinguishing between more 'recession-proof' people and less 'recession-proof' people. A 56-year-old would be less likely to splurge on a just-for-me item. But a 26-year-old would get a manicure and a pedicure for the weekend, not because they're young but because they don't have a 401(k), they don't have money on a bonus plan, they don't have kids, they don't have a house. Yet in the advertising world, the 26-year-old is treated exactly like the 56-year-old whose nest egg has shrunk."

The findings will be revealed Thursday at the Marketing to Women conference in Chicago in a panel called "Recessionista Report: Women Behaving Smartly," from Tony Cardinale, senior VP-research, Bravo and Oxygen Media.

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