You Can't Market Financial Services To Women

Before you jump to conclusions — and all over my head — read first, and then let me have it if you’re so inclined.

There’s renewed talk these days in financial services circles about “marketing to women.”

Renewed, because I remember that 11 or 12 years ago, in the height of the dot-com boom, start-ups emerged dedicated to providing financial services to women (I still remember Jennifer Openshaw coming into our offices telling us about the Women’s Financial Network). I haven’t been involved in the financial services industry long enough to know if there was focus on marketing to women (specifically for financial services) before the dot-com era.

Recently, the topic has reappeared a number of times in the past few weeks:

  • In a CU Times article titled Marketing to Woman Require Cultural Change, Roger Conant writes that the reason why many credit unions’marketing programs don’t directly speak to women is that “the majority of the industry’s leadership are still primarily male…and most males are unable to transfer facts to actions when challenged to focus their attention on the growing power of women, both in the marketplace as well as the workplace.”
  • On her Marketing To Women blog, Holly Buchanan penned a post titled Marketing Credit Unions to Women which encouraged credit unions interested in marketing to women to (among other things): 1) Make them feel smart; 2) Use female-friendly language; 3) Create kid-friendly branches; and 4) Support her causes.
  • An email from Currency Marketing announcing its Money Mom marketing program.

My take: Marketing financial services products to “women” is doomed to fail, and simply not a very good idea.

[Put the gun (and keyboard) down, and keep reading before you shoot, and argue with, me]

In her post, Holly quotes a source that says women make 89% of the banking decisions for their families. In my research, which dates back a few years ago, I found that women were the primary financial decision makers in a majority of US households, so I have no reason to dispute the claim.

But, if 89% of the decisions are made by women, then pretty much ALL of the decisions are made by women, no? Which means, the ONLY people worth marketing to are women.

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But let me ask you marketers something: Imagine for a moment that you there was no way for you to know the gender of your customers and prospects. How would you segment consumers in order to learn their needs, attitudes, and preferences, as they pertain to the products they buy and how they buy them?

You would look at age, income, lifestage, channel preferences, etc., right?

If you did that you might find differences in behaviors and preferences between Gen Yers and Boomers, or differences between low income and high income consumers, or differences between people with young children and those (even of similar age and income) who don’t have children.

You would then use the segments you identified to learn how to best design products and marketing campaigns to reach consumers within each of those segments.

After doing all of the above, if I then came back and told you that all of your customers and prospects were of just one gender, what would you change? Answer: Nothing! You would have already learned what the real drivers of different needs and preferences were.

What I’m trying to convey here — and I’m worried that I’m not articulating this clearly — is that “women” is not a manageable, marketable consumer segment. It’s simply way too broad (oh geez, no pun intended).

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Roger’s comments bear some analysis here, as well. In the history of consumer products, many companies have successfully sold feminine (or female-oriented) products via male product managers. Marketing is about learning about consumer needs, designing products to meet those needs, and implementing marketing programs that reach and influence the target market(s).

Should Fisher-Price fire everybody over the age of six because they’re not the primary users and audience for the products (toys) they produce?

Of course not.

Roger goes on to quote Verity Credit Union CMO Shari Storm as saying ““I think the hardest part is to have the fortitude to carry this through.”

Shari is 100% correct. But her comment applies to ANY strategic marketing effort — it’s just as applicable if the focus was Gen Yers, people of specific ethnic backgrounds, or Martians.

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Verity’s “marketing to women” efforts (which are the model for Currency’s Money Mom campaign), also needs some more scrutiny here. Primarily because Verity’s Verity Mom marketing campaign is NOT an example of “marketing to women.”

Verity is focusing on “moms.”

Verity did what I advocated for above: It  identified the segment of the market they wanted to market to. Now, while the overall market of Moms is pretty large, effectively, Verity is really focusing on a subset of that “market”: Women in the their late 20s (at the younger end) to the early 40s (at the older end). In other words, mostly Gen Xers who are hitting the prime of their earning years, and the prime of their financial needs.

It’s also important to note (I’m talking to you, Roger) that Verity did this without firing the entire leadership staff, and replacing them with Moms. At least, I don’t think Verity did this.

What the credit union did do, was hire a Mom to blog, tweet, and be the “face” of Verity to this market segment. While certainly filling an important role, this person is hardly a senior manager in the organization.

In fact, as has been proven with other Young & Free marketing campaigns launched by a number of credit unions (which is, essentially, a similar model to the Verity Mom campaign, but focused on marketing to Gen Yers), this important role can be filled by many different people, a point proven by many credit unions who have replaced their “spokesters” after a one-year stint.

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Bottom line: “Women” is not a viable, realistic consumer segment for financial services firms to market to. There are other attributes and dimensions of the market that better determine how financial services firms should design products, and take those products to market.

You may now load your guns and take your shots at me.

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