"When we talk about marketing to women, we often assume that all women are mothers," Melanie Notkin told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts. In fact, she said, 47% of women age 44 or younger are childless. 

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We've all heard the joke about half of our marketing spend being wasted (we just don't know which half), what we have here is a case of failing to market to half of the potential audience—in fact, the half of the audience who are "some of the wealthiest women in America."

Essentially, Melanie realized that these women were "neglected by marketers," the crazy part being that as secondary caregivers—but primary gift-givers—these women actually wanted to be marketed to!

It dawned on her that she had discovered a new niche market—women without children of their own, but with children in their lives... aunts, in other words—and decided that she would create a place for this niche to live, to be validated, and to feel like "true contributors" to the "American family village."

In short, she decided to "launch a multiplatform media company." SavvyAuntie.com was born. 

The site met with almost immediate success. Turns out that given the intense emphasis on motherhood that we find in our culture (just think about how much celebrity magazine space is devoted to the question, "Is she pregnant?"), women who don't happen to be mothers wanted and needed a place to talk about the specific issues that they deal with, a place that really never existed before.

It turned out, as well, that companies—Hasbro, Tropicana, Disney, etc.—were more than interested in having an opportunity to market to these women once they actually began congregating in one place. Melanie was in business.

I asked Melanie whether she was surprised by the success she has enjoyed thus far. She replied, "I had undeniable and unconditional belief in the success of this. So the fact that there is success doesn't surprise me. It elates me and I'm very proud of it."

What has surprised her, however, is the speed with which success has come. She had, for example, planned to write a book for Savvy Aunties (it was part of her five-year plan), but she didn't realize that she would be approached by a publisher within a year of the site's launch (Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids came out in 2011.)

She also didn't expect that she would soon be asked to speak at PlayCon, the leading conference for folks in the toy industry, and that toy executives would be seeking her out for advice on marketing to the Savvy Auntie segment (which she had more or less created).

Finally, she was surprised to learn not only how "mom-opic" our own culture is (to the point that Jessica Alba could quip she was a "real mom" only after she had had her second child) but also how women, all over the world, who don't have children struggle with some of the same concerns and frustrations because womanhood is equated with motherhood. 

Although Melanie has achieved real business success with Savvy Auntie, she views what she's doing as going well beyond that.

"Perhaps one of my greatest successes," she says, "was to create a language around an experience that is so magical, wonderful, and one that I am so personally proud of. When these women have words that are allocated just for them [such as "Savvy Auntie"], that is sort of their secret understanding of being part of a club… and by the way, it is the first time they're part of a club like this."

Providing companies with a new way to market to a target audience is how you build a business. Providing people with a new way to understand and celebrate themselves is how you build a community, and maybe even a movement. It's hard enough to do one of these things. Melanie Notkin has done both. 

You can listen to my entire conversation with Melanie, above, or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. Of course, you can also subscribe to Marketing Smarts in iTunes and never miss an episode!

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