Sunday, May 24, 2009

Moms After Mother's Day: Getting Beyond the Surface from Color to Culture

Mother's Day is over, so that small spate of men and children shopping urgently is quietly over. Back to the basic rule of retail sales: women do the vast majority of shopping and purchasing, whether in real or web-based sites. That goes double for moms, who tend to manage the purchases for themselves, the household, and almost all the other family members. That means the mom is the gatekeeper for cleaning products, household furnishings, clothing, pet food and products, and even, surprisingly, electronics and outdoor living items. In this economy, more women may be struggling to stay employed, but interestingly they are also among the demographic groups most likely to return or start working outside the home or telecommuting. Not surprisingly, media technology and electronic resources have become even more significant in women’s lives.

“Power Moms,” as Nielsen Online calls them, are those who have young children and use electronic media for social networking, advice, shopping, consumer savings, and text messaging. Despite the wealth of information in Nielson’s report, most women – particularly women of color – feel that marketers ignore their needs. While there has been a decided uptick in the number of mainstream ads that feature African American families (for reasons so obvious, we need not mention them…), a vast majority of marketing campaigns have yet to really address the different needs and concerns of women of color. Consider how marketing campaigns target Asian or Hispanic women without consideration for the ethnic and regional differences collapsed by those categories. Or, more importantly, how these women might have something in common as consumers that goes beyond race. A simple note: the vast majority of Oprah Winfrey’s viewers are middle class white women, but her opinions and choices carry great sway among women consumers of color.

Taking account of women’s consumer habits is even more important in the current economic times. Here's one consulting firm's nine simple guidelines for marketing to women.  However, despite better knowledge of segmented markets, marketing firms still seem decidedly slow to recognize that women’s retail behavior crosses similarities and differences in their outward status. For a good example, take a look at how marketers are stymied by racial differences in the social media landscape: BlogHer reported on this problem back in 2007, with a session infamously titled after one advertisers’s gaffe, “We don’t know what to do with you.” But according to Kim Moldofsky, a quick survey of women’s blog communities suggests that there is still a lack of outreach to women of color. Here’s a simple reminder: if the people in charge don’t look like their customers, chances are they’re going to have to work a bit to gain insights. This mirrors race relations in the non-digital world. Recent studies of racial attitudes and behaviors point to difficulties faced by whites who claim to want cross racial communities and friendships but find it exhausting trying to bridge cultural and social divides. While it’s clear that excuse doesn’t hold water for forging a more integrated society, it’s also a terrible limitation on marketing and sales.

One answer in the social media world is an upcoming Blogalicious Weekend in Atlanta in October, a conference designed to link blogging women of color to marketers, public relations consultants, and other advertising and brand-development executives.

Interestingly, in the M2M Neilson study, women of all races stated that they were most likely to take advice from others who had shared experiences and children in the same age bracket, two factors that were much more important than similarities in age, race, religion, or education. This suggests that marketers are really missing the boat when they presume that color determines cultural values and consumption. While it may be true in some cases, it seems clear that the complicated juggling act of motherhood and work is something many women share that can be experienced through online communities in ways that are, dare I say it, color blind? As Marketing to Moms CEO put it, “Moms share universal concern for their children, community and family…It is clear, however, that the way [women] react to the economy, rising food costs and the dreams she has for her children is impacted by her personal experiences, upbringing and ethnic background.”

Still, let’s not collapse all the differences: Although the majority of all moms have made household adjustments to cope with the family crisis, African American moms are more likely to delay major purchases to reduce shopping. Caucasian moms are using coupons and discount codes and driving less. Some of these differences are shaped by the fact that women of color are more likely to be in the workforce and are sometimes geographically concentrated in more urban areas where retail locations are scarce.

Women of all races were clear about the significance of the internet for their consumer purchases, there were some differences: When viewing advertisements, the majority of all respondents notice the product first, rather than the ad’s message. There was only a slight difference between white and black women in whether they always or frequently use a website before purchasing a product. The web is a gendered landscape, that's for certain, but marketing firms have barely begun to consider what that really means.

image of white and black barn owls from
Daily Mail October 2008.

1 comment:

Justice Fergie said...

Hi Annie!

Thanks for mentioning our event! Hope to see you there.