What Do Women Want?

What do women want? Although most men like to think they have us figured out, the reality is that each woman comes complete with her own set of problems and demands. Fortunately, for both men and marketers, the answer to this question may be as easy as identifying a woman as one of four archetypes.

Cynthia R. Cohen, one of the nation’s leading authorities on consumer trends and retail strategies and Founder/CEO of Strategic Mindshare (www.strategicmindshare.com), spoke to HBS students as part of the Marketing Club’s Distinguished Speaker Series on February 22nd. She revealed unique insights that allow marketers to better influence the buying behavior of the gender that controls 80% of all household spending and 75% of all retail spending: women. Known as the “Strategy Diva”, this spunky consultant with signature pink high heels and unparalleled energy explained that women can be segmented into one of four archetypes: (1) Jennifer “The Mom”, (2) Samantha “The Self Indulgent Woman”, (3) Judy “The Epiphany Woman” and (4) Sylvia “The New Golden Girl”.

Jennifer “The Mom”
Jennifer bases all of her decisions on time. Anything that can save this lady time will win her dollars. She typically purchases for the whole family and you can find her building inventory at places like Costco. She is a fashion follower, meaning that she doesn’t have time to develop her own fashion taste so she relies on one or two brands to dress her from head-to-toe. She loves department and big box stores because she can cross off all sorts of items from her shopping list at these one-stop-shops. Since she is often a sacrificer, focusing her attention on meeting her family’s needs, she is easy to please: retailers simply need to reward her with a free gift, something that shows her that she deserves to be spoiled too.

Samantha “The Self Indulgent Woman”
Samantha is the exact opposite of Jennifer. Samantha is the #1, #2, and #3 priority in her life. She buys primarily for herself and constantly thinks about what she can buy to enhance her lifestyle. She is a fashion leader, jumping on trends before anyone else in town – she must be the first to be spotted with the season’s must-haves. She only buys brands and her purchasing habits can be described as aspirational. However, Samantha does not have to be wealthy. A Samantha can “shop up” from Wal-Mart to Robinson’s May – the point is, she is spending more than others in her income bracket. Samanthas are the prime target for the right hand diamond, which has been recently advertised by diamond companies to empower women to buy their own diamond rings. So how can you reach a woman who has such high expectations from retail? Nothing really wins loyalty, but retailers that offer special discounts to their “best” shoppers may steal sales from the competition.

Judy “The Epiphany Woman”
Judy is on her way to a new profession post-epiphany. She is making radical changes in her work, lifestyle and all her favorite brands and service providers. New clothes, car, home and other products help her define her new image and meet her new lifestyle requirements. She has a strong desire to try new things and enters the retail environment well-armed with knowledge on product specifications. Judy can be reached best through informative advertising. Infomercials work well with Judy and she happily shells out dollars on that next life-changing gadget. Retailers that suggest new, innovative projects that inspire Judy will win her business.

Sylvia “The New Golden Girl”
Sylvia’s favorite saying is “ride and let your heirs walk”. She’s not concerned about saving for anyone else because spending on herself (and her pets if she has them) is just too much fun! Shopping is truly a hobby for her, and if she’s wealthy, it serves as her day job. She usually is no longer married or working and doesn’t have children living in her home. She is considered an “entertainment spender” and she is price sensitive. She gets a rush from finding a sweater freshly marked down on a crowded sales rack. Tending to be the oldest segment of the women, she is the most loyal customer for a retailer and can be reached through reward programs and special loyalty shopper sales.

bebe Marketing
Cynthia is a member of the Board of Directors of bebe, a public company with stores, catalog and web sales. She described the company’s marketing programs which speak to the Samanthas of the world. bebe positions itself as the fashion apparel retailer for young, urban women who want clothes that are sexy and fun. Always carrying the season’s hottest trends in body-complementing styles, bebe allows Samantha to show off her body and her fashion sense. bebe owes much of its success to its exposure on “Ally McBeal”, the hit TV series from 1997. bebe outfitted the show’s star, Colista Flockhart, in smart, sexy suits that showed women it was ok to show off their feminine side in the office. Today, bebe continues to secure TV product placements, in addition to its branded advertising campaign seen in magazines and on billboards.
Cynthia explained that the models in the ads must communicate the sexy confidence that makes bebe a lifestyle choice and not just a clothier. In addition, bebe sends out catalogs that look more like fashion magazines to their customer base, stuffed with special promotional offers and news of special events to draw customers into the stores.

Whether she is your girlfriend or your customer, it’s important to understand how to best reach the woman you want – and, like it or not, she is becoming even more powerful in the economy as an influencer and as a spender.