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Tapping Into Women's Market Power

Last week, Lifetime Networks gathered nearly 200 of its top clients to do something networks rarely do. We spent the entire morning talking not about us, but about our audience. Our forum, “Every Woman Counts: Marketing to Women” was a morning of insights about how to effectively reach an incredibly valuable audience. We assembled experts from the worlds of publishing, TV, politics and digital media who offered new perspectives on how to connect with women in today's changing marketplace.

There was a time when the power of women's purses went almost unnoticed. Now, we know if a marketer wants to make a sale, it takes more than just getting its product in front of us. Marketers have to make that all-important connection—they have to understand the world women live in and give us the information we need.

Lifetime's audience (women 18-49) is comprised of three distinct generations: the younger end of Baby Boomers (they grew up on Prince, not Dylan), Generation Xers and Millennials. Together, these three generations are 68 million women strong, more than the population of France. And while there are many characteristics that separate those three generations, there are more that tie them together.

There were five key themes that united the hearts and minds of our female audience. Here's what they told us:

Respect women's constant quest for time. Just about every economic decision women make today is affected by the sociological reality of life in the 21st century—there simply aren't enough hours in the day. Whether or not we work outside our homes, we are overscheduled. Most of us operate with the same pressure—we have too much to do and not enough time to get it done. We are not complaining. We consider our busy schedules a badge of honor. That's why we want products that make our lives easier and less stressed. As a working mom, I can tell you that if you make our buying experience easier and more enjoyable, we will reward you with our loyalty.

Give women practical advice. We want information that will help make our day easier, information that is simple and user-friendly. Give us tips. We love that. We don't want you to talk down to us—we are smart, savvy consumers. But we are not afraid to seek help. Remember, we are the ones that ask for directions. We are looking for information in short, easily digestible nuggets. As one of our panelists, Ellen Levine, editorial director of Hearst Magazines, said, “Get to the point and it will resonate.”

Understand that women are the “deciders.” Don't fall prey to stereotypes. Just because a woman is buying the diapers does not mean she is not also buying the car, the computer and making the financial decisions. Some statistics: 75% of women manage home finances on their own or equally with their partners. 20% of all homes are purchased by single women. We are doing it all, and we'd like to see that reflected in advertisements. Women, in fact, are the ones who are doing the research online—figuring out what product works, which ones other women like and what meets their needs.

Use your muscle for the good of women. Be socially conscious. We finally live in a world where it pays to be a good corporate citizen. Women are looking for companies that are making a difference in the world their children will inherit. Companies that support good causes, that keep our environment safe, that help keep people healthy—these are the companies that are being rewarded with women's loyalty. Another of our panelists, Geralyn Breig, president of Avon North America, advised, “When you support these causes, you must do it from a place that is authentic. It should not be used as a marketing tactic. Consumers will sniff that out right away.” Women will not put social consciousness above all other concerns, but they want you to help make the world a better place and will trust you if they believe you are doing your part.

Look for women on all platforms—even gaming. Women are major users of technology and are big gamers. Just because women aren't playing World of Warcraft doesn't mean we are not playing casual games online. Our luncheon speaker, Sheri Graner Ray, talked about the fact that women love games that are not time-sensitive (we may have to take a break to deal with our kids or take a conference call), and we love games that appeal to our own sensibilities. We're not embarrassed to play fashion games or spend a little time on a virtual makeover. For us, it is a much-needed respite from our harried lives. We reward ourselves by taking a few minutes to play, and while we are not necessarily competitive about it, we are good!

The experts we gathered last week offered tremendous insights, but one point came through the loudest and the clearest: Women are a vitally important audience, and every one of them counts.

Richman is executive VP of ad sales for Lifetime