In 2000, Faith Popcorn started the women's marketing revolution. With EVEolution, she introduced the world to the growing power of the female consumer. In 2003, the first genre of marketing-to-women books arrive on the bookstand, each one espousing the "Marketing to Women" mantra, and providing insights into how companies could win their share of this lucrative market.

With four years of women's marketing history behind us, Fara Warner's The Power of the Purse: (How Smart Businesses are Adapting to the World's Most Important Consumer—Women) (Prentice Hall, 2005) now takes us past the could, should and what ifs of marketing to women. She gives her readers an insider's look into the planning, execution, and results of transformational programs undertaken at McDonald's, Home Depot, Procter & Gamble, DeBeers Group, Kodak, Nike and Avon.

Warner also provides insight into the perils that a top brand can face when it fails to really listen to the changing trends affecting women's self-perception—in this case, the dethroning of Barbie by the newcomer Bratz doll.

Meticulously researched, each case study takes you from internal-mindset upheaval through operational transformation, and ultimately to a total refocus on the women's market. Moving from minority to majority, today's women have evolved into a key driver of innovation and increased market, profit, and brand-share growth.

So how did these companies accomplish what they did? Are there common learning threads that weave throughout these disparate industries? The Power of the Purse brings to light critical questions and outlines the steps and changes that these pioneering companies took as they learned how to truly become women-centric.

A look at some of the top questions posed and each company's approach provides strategic insight for businesses, executives, and board members struggling to win the heart, loyalty, and business of today's woman.

Is your view of women the same today as it has been for years?

Although many companies have targeted the women's market in response to the demographic and economic shifts, Warner's stories demonstrate that a true understanding of this complex group has just begun. A few brave corporations have stepped out of their comfort zone and expanded their view of how to market to the unique needs of each segment of this market. Their reward is revenue growth beyond their expectations.

What was their first step down the road to success? The author found that companies who were willing to shatter their long-held, safe, and comfortable views of women established the necessary groundwork for successful future strategies.

McDonald's: "Finding the Woman Inside the Mom."1 In the past, the approach of McDonald's to marketing its hamburgers was through moms to their kids. This method had served the company well since the Golden Arches launch in the 1950s.

In the decades that followed, the stereotypical woman customer—the homemaker mom who was part of a two-parent household—began evolving before their very eyes. But what McDonald's failed to see was the single mom, working mom, and single woman, each possessing unique needs and requirements for her new, changing lifestyle. These majority-constituting consumers now worked. The new mom had limited time and needed a place to buy fast food not only for her kids as she shuttled them to baseball practice but also for herself as she drove between meetings or worked on a deadline that stole precious minutes from her lunch hour.

At the same time McDonald's lost sight of women, the obesity epidemic began to raise its ugly head, and moms—the caretakers and health stewards of their family—began to turn toward providers of healthier fast-food options.

In 2001, McDonald's began to re-evaluate its long-held beliefs about how to market to women and their children. This exploration resulted in Salad Shakers. Though this new product failed due to poor design and lack of consumer input, it nonetheless established the groundwork for the creation of new ways to explore consumer needs: an outside-in approach, going directly to women for feedback and product design.

Women-only focus groups were held across the country in converted semi-trucks that mirrored McDonald's franchise operations. This shift from "woman as mom" to "woman as consumer" led to the development of Premium Salads, which incorporated 16 types of lettuce and the addition of Paul Newman dressing—a far cry from the past's iceberg lettuce with McDonald's-made dressing.

Today, more than half of McDonald's focus groups are women-only. The previous TV-only promotions have moved to segmented women's magazines such as Shape and Parenting.

Did this new approach work? By 2004, more salads were being sold by McDonald's than any other restaurant in the US, and same-store in-store sales began to move up.

Do you think of women as a minority?

In the late 1990s, home improvement was an industry "owned" by men. During this same time, the rate of single and divorced women was rising. This lifestyle change gave birth to the trend of the single female head of household. Single women began to purchase homes more than single men, and recently divorced women began setting up new households for themselves and their children.

Lowe's was the first to recognize these trends and made the move toward marketing home improvement to women. It saw a perfect niche. While Lowe's began to revise its stores and inventory, Home Depot began to notice the trend and created workshops for women. However, these workshops supported Home Depot's bias toward "women's projects"—home decor classes became the main way to reach the women's market. Emails and feedback soon let Home Depot know that it, too, like McDonald's, had fallen into the trap of having preconceived notions of women color its market-strategy development.

Home Depot conducted extensive research and uncovered that its female customers had found their voice. This once-silent minority had grown into a vocal majority, presenting a challenge to Home Depot.

How do you serve both your male "experts" and professional contractors while meeting the needs of the female buyer and her influence in a newly defined "home perfector" role?2

Home Depot took a two-in-one approach to store design, keeping the familiar orange shelving and floor-to-ceiling inventory for the "male" side of the business. But it modified the remainder of the store with better lighting, provided neutral backdrops for paint and carpet displays, and created bathroom and kitchen settings that help women visualize the completed project.

The outcome of this dual approach has given rise to an unexpected benefit. Contractors who never ventured from "their side" of the store now visit the room mock-ups for ideas. The "female" side of the store is helping to educate the lucrative male customer group on home trends. The result: better ideas for customers and more sales for Home Depot.

Home Depot's national workshop program has expanded far beyond home decor to soft renovation skills such as tile laying, decorative trim installation, and basic power tool skills. Recommendations from over 200,000 workshop participants keep Home Depot ahead of, and in sync with, their female customer's evolving roles.3

Do you think that your product could never appeal to women?

No one would argue about whether women love diamonds. And at first glance, you might think that diamonds are naturally a women's market. But the true target for buying the diamonds has been husbands-to-be.

Ring-shopping is often a joint-buying process, but society and tradition have created a male-majority purchasers' market. Since the early 1950s, the diamond industry has positioned the diamond ring as the symbol of marriage, engagement, and love. In an era where most women were married and aspired to have their Prince Charming place a ring upon their finger, that positioning made perfect sense. The 2000 US Census reported that there were over 17 million U.S. women living alone—double the number in 1981. These were never-married, childless women between the ages of 25 and 44. The report also showed the percentage of single women in each of the following categories:

  • Women Never Married (25.1%)
  • Separated (2.4%)
  • Divorced (10.2%)
  • Widowed (10%)

These statistics essentially showed that over 47% of the female market was not being targeted by the diamond ring market, which had been built on the tradition of engagement and weddings. This dramatic demographic shift forced DeBeers to rethink and redefine not only its view of the target market but also its designs for traditional wedding and engagement rings—and their marketing strategies as well.

Could women become a direct target? Had they earned the right to purchase and wear a diamond designed just for them? The Power of the Purse asks how it's possible to "spotlight the tension and struggle that exist inside women as they continue to balance the traditions of the past with the realities of the present?"4

DeBeers's response to this "new" market was the creation of a totally new category of diamond rings, designed for a women's right hand and supported by new sales strategies and promotions. Thousands of women heard the call: "Women of the world, raise your right hand."5 And with this call, the view of diamonds was forever changed. Independent women had truly come a long way; they now had permission to reward themselves with the gift of diamonds.

Do you think that if you focus on women you will turn off male consumers?

In 1972, Title IX mandated women's sports-program funding at universities and colleges across the country. At that time, only one in 27 women played sports. By 2002, almost one out of two was playing school sports.6

Women now make up 47% of the market in recreational sports, in everything from fly fishing to kayaking. Even the traditional male sports of basketball and soccer have seen dramatic increases in participation by women and the formation of female-only leagues.

This boom in women's sports should have created immediate success for big sports companies like Nike. But it didn't. A historically male focus and stereotyped views of women guided Nike strategy just as they had guided strategy at McDonald's and Home Depot. A view of women with "biological weaknesses" kept Nike's products targeted at women, but their product's design and message were not developed for women.

In 2002, something happened that changed all of this. An intense gender-focused conference was held at Nike. Its goal: to debunk the biases held by members of Nike's executive staff.

Workshops helped Nike's management to see how the historical "male hunter" and "female gatherer" roles were often driven by societal trends. Moreover, women's role today as "primary breadwinner" placed limitations, not expectations, on her sporting abilities. Woman had moved from gatherer to huntress, and Nike was just beginning to recognize the impact of that transition.

While Nike's marketing highlighted the achievements of women in sports, the products were never designed to address the biological differences. It took reorganizations, management changes, and continual re-evaluation for Nike to succeed in the women's market.

By 2005, Nike's Goddess program redefined sports, and a new organization dedicated to women's fitness sports was born. Nike didn't walk away from the men's market; it walked into the new women's market

Do you think your company or brand needs a complete overhaul to appeal to women consumers?

Kodak, the well-known brand that had built the camera and film industry, was in trouble. The digital camera leveled the playing field and the company became a "me, too," alongside Sony, Olympus, Canon, and Nikon. Kodak found itself in a feature war in a business that was destroying its historical film and development revenue lines. There was no turning the clock back; digital cameras were the wave of the future. Kodak had to change, or it would lose 100 years of history, going the way of the buggy whip.

In the digital race, Kodak took the same approach as its competitors, focusing on technology and all that technology could do. It shifted focus to the supposedly more technically savvy male market, but in doing so it turned its back on the family historian, the archivist of family memories, and chief event picture taker: women.

Kodak realized that the ever-changing technology made camera use increasingly difficult for all users, especially for women, who were traditionally the big picture takers. Research also showed that due to increasing complexity many pictures never left the camera or PC; consequently, they never found their way into albums or scrapbooks or, more importantly, onto photo printing paper.

The questions facing Kodak were many. How do you win back the key market that you have abandoned? How do you keep your film processing legacy alive when you know that fewer and fewer pictures are being printed?

The answer to these questions came from in Kodak's roots and the "chief memory officer"—women.7 The result was new direction for Kodak: the Easy Share system designed for ease of printing and targeted at women.

This transition wasn't for the faint of heart. It took four years, a complete reorganization, the retirement of Kodak's CEO, and massive downsizing, but the new chief executive believed firmly in the Kodak's new women-focused direction and was willing to do whatever it took to turn the century-old company around.

The results of his commitment soon became evident. By 2004's fourth quarter, Kodak's digital sales and services were up 40%. By the first quarter of 2005, Kodak once again achieved its previously held title of bestselling camera (now digital) on the market.

Stuck in Barbie Land

In Chapter 8 of her book, Warner chronicles the tale of Barbie and her rise to toy fame. Mattel's number-one toy had held the leading position of fashion doll queen for 50 years. Barbie mirrored the times in which she was "born": her white, middle class, more lifelike image depicted both society's and Madison Avenue's view of women. Even Barbie's "professional" clothing choices reflected the acceptable career paths for women (and the few professional career paths that girls could and should aspire to).

While women moved past traditional housewife, nursing, and teaching careers into science, medicine, law, and onto sports and battlefields... Barbie stood still. With few exceptions, her background gave rise to a collection of acceptable homes and lifestyles that Barbie—and, by extension, young girls—could role-play. From a sociological perspective, she was a direct reflection of the power that long-held gender beliefs hold over consumers and corporate America.

Unfortunately for Mattel, Barbie's deeply ingrained position allowed a more nimble competitor with a new view of girls to outmaneuver it; that new view held that choice was a key ingredient and body image, color, and friends were not dictated by society but by individuality. Within three short years, the new kids on the retail doll block—Bratz dolls—grew sales from $100,000 to $1 billion, while sales of Barbie spiraled downward.

What Mattel missed (as well as other companies highlighted in the book) was the generational impact that the new women's market was having on those women's children. Young girls were seeing and learning new roles to aspire to from their moms, aunts, and older sisters. Their diverse environment was no longer limited to a Ken and Barbie view of a young girl's life.

Chapter 8, "The Toppling of Barbie" 8 is packed full of ideas that challenge the traditional way of selling, packaging, and approaching retail doll sales. The lesson here is this: Nothing is sacred, so you had better learn to let go and view the world through the eyes of the today's children.

Key Observations

The end of each chapter is summarized by a set of key learnings from the brands and products profiled. A pattern soon develops that provides a clear direction for any company that wishes to get serious about the women's market.

Companies willing to take the women's market plunge must realize that...

  • Marketing to women takes a commitment of time, resources, and money. It is not a quick-fix, one-time program but a strategic direction that must be embraced at every level of the company.

  • Long-held beliefs, biases, prejudices, and marketing methods will be the greatest challenge, and success will be determined by the willingness to let go.

  • Trends that impact women will demand that programs continually evolve and change; resting on laurels will not work.

  • Creative ads are not the marketing-to-women solution. If products and services don't address women's unique needs, promotion will create (at best) one-hit wonders. At worst, they'll create unhappy customers who, through word-of-mouth, will tear down rather than build up a company's image and band.

The Rest of the Questions

Throughout the book, additional questions about ad campaign segmentation, fear of being first or making a mistake, and the benefit of really talking with, not to, female consumers is addressed. Many of the facts and data concerning women and their continued growth in earning power are updated and expanded, making the author's last question particularly relevant: "Do you ever wish the whole idea of 'gender' would just go away?"9

The answer to this question might be Yes, but the reality is that women's roles will continue to evolve. Their gender evolution demands that companies change or at the very least take a serious, unbiased look at their cultures, business models, and views of women. Those that embrace these trends will directly benefit. Those that ignore the trends will lose the opportunity to experience "the power of the purse."


1 Fara Warner, The Power of the Purse (New Jersey, Pearson Prentice Hall), 2005, p.17

2 The Power of the Purse, p.41

3 The Power of the Purse, p.41

4 The Power of the Purse, p.41

5 The Power of the Purse, p. 69

6 Sally Jenkins, "Evening the Playing Field for Women," Washington Post, June 25, 2002

7 The Power of the Purse, p. 91

8 The Power of the Purse, p.175 9 The Power of the Purse, p. 187

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Terri Whitesel is the founder and chief translator of Interpret-Her, LLC. Reach her at

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