It's Pronounced Chookshaw

The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Category: MBA (page 1 of 3)

The Brazenness of Qdoba’s Opportunistic Marketing

There are few things that are such obviously good news like a team of Navy SEALs successfully killing Osama Bin Laden. While it might not mean much operationally (the U.S. has successfully reduced the influence of Al Qaeda since September 11th), it is a great moral victory for the ten-year effort to root out terrorism around the world.

Leading up to the announcement and throughout the day, from the Phillies-Mets game last night to the front steps of the White House in the early morning, crowds are shouting “USA! USA!”. The spontaneous reaction to the news was overwhelmingly patriotic and a cathartic reaction to a ten-year battle.

Given this context, I was surprised to find the following email in my mailbox this morning:

Chanting USA! for a $1? Really, Qdoba?

Chanting USA! for a $1? Really, Qdoba?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate companies that are nimble enough to respond to current events. However, I feel like Qdoba stepped over the line here. We’re witnessing our nation celebrating a moral victory. It seems crass to exploit it to sell a few burritos.

For the record, I don’t envy companies that are competing for attention in the age of social media. There are landmines everywhere, as Kenneth Cole learned when his company was lambasted for attempting to take advantage of the events in Egypt to promote a new clothing line earlier this year. Even more challenging, companies need to be edgy just to get attention. It’s tough out there.

Being difficult, however, isn’t an excuse for getting it wrong. While I might join in the chorus of “USA!” that’s happening across the country, I won’t be doing it to get a buck off at a burrito joint. There’s a difference between being edgy and being opportunistic, and Qdoba landed with a thud on the wrong side of that line.

Ms. Hymowitz, I Believe You’re Terribly Mistaken About 20-Something Men

First, it was The End of Men, the controversial essay in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin, who argued that current social trends don’t bode well for the survival of men in the modern economy. While a little breathless in her assessment, Ms. Rosin came to some valid conclusions that should at least raise awareness that we’re in the midst of a societal shift. Yes, women are getting bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees at a rate of three-to-two of men. Yes, women make up the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Yes, women are more economically empowered than ever. I previously wrote my take on her essay here and here and, frankly, got too caught up in the hysteria myself.

Seven months later, Kay S. Hymowitz, senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, writes an article for the Saturday (2/19/11) Wall Street Journal entitled Where Have the Good Men Gone?, promoting her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to call out some of the terms and statements used throughout the article:

“Semi-hormonal adolescence” … “they might as well just have another beer” … “pre-adulthood” …  “spend their days playing video games” …  “beer pong” …  “puerile shallowness” …  “pig heaven” … “[for women] husbands and fathers are now optional” … “[men] treat women like disposable estrogen toys” … “array of media devoted to his every pleasure” … “men’s attachment to the sandbox” … “most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, … state of semi-hormonal adolescence”

We’re hedonistic, beer-swilling, women-abusing, entertainment-focused slobs. Hymowitz says in another article, “…who needs commitment when there is a fantasy football team league to dominate, the possibility that a gaming product better than the Xbox 360 could be on the horizon, and your live-in girlfriend will have sex with you whenever you want?” Amen, sister!

It’s Really About Generation Y

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the freak-out about 20-something men is happening around the same time that HR managers, sociologists, psychologists and marketers are feverishly trying to understand Gen Y. Our generation has been poked and prodded for years as Boomer parents simultaneously attempt to make up for the sins of their parents’ generation while doing penance for their own youthful indiscretions (roughly translated to “my parents didn’t love me and I don’t want you to do drugs like I did”). This shift in parental focus — from authority to friend (evidenced by sites like When Parents Text)  — has produced a generation that seems to be doing things differently. (Note: for a more balanced take on Gen Y, I suggest Gen Y Now: How Generation Y Changes Your Workplace and Why It Requires a New Leadership Style by Buddy Hobart, a seasoned former-Gen-Y-hater CEO of the consulting firm Solutions 21 and Herb Sendek, head men’s basketball coach at Arizona State University, who knows a little bit about leading Gen Y).

There is an exhaustive amount of information, data and commentary that justifies about every belief about our generation. On one side, Millenials are an aimless generation of slackers and misfits who feel entitled to high salaries and plenty of leisure time, but are so focused on their smart phones that they’re incapable of even the most basic of human interactions. On the other side, Gen Yers are a superhuman contingent of tech-savvy team players who are leveraging the extensive opportunities afforded them by families they love, to broaden their horizons, befriend people of various races and sexual orientations, and help to bring the dawn of the Age of Aquarius. Just Google Gen Y. You’ll find it all.

Despite plenty of data that could support her opinion, Hymowitz writes an article that is nearly devoid actual numbers. Sure, she mentions educational attainment statistics and unemployment rates for men and women in their 20s, along with a graph showing the average age at which couples marry in both the U.S. and other developed countries (Ack! We might be like France!). These three data points might suggest that men are doomed. The data can also be explained from a different perspective — men are focusing on good, well-paying jobs that don’t require four-year degrees (e.g. plumbers, welders, mechanics, careers in the energy industry),  unemployment always hits men harder than women (construction and other labor-related jobs are the first to go in a recession), and the age at which people get married has been trending upward for years as people attempt to be more responsible by working to get on sound financial and career footing before having and raising children.

Furthermore, many of her arguments are gender-neutral. Take the following:

[20-something men and women] are looking not just for jobs but for “careers,” work in which they can exercise their talents and express their deepest passions … For today’s pre-adults, “what you do” is almost synonymous with “who you are,” and starting a family is seldom part of the picture.

In short, it’s intellectually dishonest to blame (credit?) an entire set of societal and economic trends on 20-something men. It’s also incredibly easy to find arguments that support either side. Can we just admit that it’s damn hard to pin down a group of people that makes up roughly 25% of the U.S. population?

Men-As-Adult-Juveniles — 160 Years in the Making

Ever heard of Dr. Dan Kiley? He wrote a book implicating the man-child in The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. The quick summary: “[the book] discusses the problem of men who, although they have reached adulthood, are unable to cope with feelings and responsibilities, identifying the symptoms of the syndrome and offering guidelines on coping with and treating the problem.” Sounds awfully familiar. It was written in 1983.

Even Hymowitz turns back the clock. “American men have been struggling with finding an acceptable adult identity since at least the mid-19th century”, she states, apparently believing that men had the time to contemplate their identities while avoiding the fate of the 610,000 people who died in the Civil War. A century later, “the arrival of Playboy in the 1950s seemed like the ultimate protest against male domestication; think of the refusal implied by the magazine’s title alone,” suggesting that it was only in the mid-20th century that men enjoyed looking at beautiful naked women. I’m just disappointed that she forgot to mention the roaring 20s and the baby boom (those were the days of male class and chastity; when marital rape wasn’t considered rape at all). At least those men were married!

But now it’s 2011, and her citations of male-oriented pop culture are as gratuitous as the T&A featured in Maxim. She complains, “their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie ‘Knocked Up.’ [Note: Hymowitz goes on to mischaracterize the female lead as a totally independent up-and-comer when she actually lives in her sister’s pool house and is none-too-eager to leave]” She mentions “overgrown boy actors” (Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen), Spike TV, crotch shots, awesome car crashes, Star Wars and beer pong competitions. Frankly, I’m disappointed that she did not mention Axe, the men’s line of personal care products that is promoted in a way that objectifies women. The one argument I could get behind, she fails to mention.

My frustration with this argument is that the same can be said for 20-something women. Are shows like The Bachelor, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and the various Real Housewives somehow more virtuous? Aren’t some women guilty of coming across as mean, shopping-obsessed, man-hating girly-girls who are so focused on their own wants and needs that their narcissism renders them incapable of recognizing others’ feelings? Is Cosmopolitan magazine any less trashy? Are actresses and entertainers like Paris Hilton, Katy Perry, Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian exhibiting behaviors of a “good woman”? What about the obsession many women have for the Twilight series? Sex toy parties and pole dancing exercise classes? Lifetime? For every movie like Hangover, there’s Sex and the City 2.

To convict men for enjoying mindless entertainment is preposterous. It is dishonest to condemn guilty pleasures targeted to men while ignoring those of women. Finally, to believe that men and women go on to emulate these gender extremes is a cynical, out-of-touch, and unrealistic view unbecoming of a leading scholar.

Some of This is Great News for Women

One of the major goals of feminism was to provide women equal opportunity in the working world. While there is plenty of work to do (CEOs are overwhelmingly male, women earn roughly 77% of men), some of the trends Hymowitz uses to argue the demise of men are actually great news for women’s equality. For instance:

“In a number of cities, [20-something women] are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.”

Wait, you mean that some women are holding the financial position that men have held for damn near forever? How is this happening? Women are getting their MBAs, going to law school and becoming doctors (not to mention that the teaching profession, which is still dominated by women, is forcing many to get their Master’s degrees). Why are women showing more confidence in the classroom? They’re no longer being taught that they’re educational second-class citizens.

It is beyond my comprehension that two generations of hard work that leveled the playing field for women is beginning to bear fruit and the resulting reaction is one of derision rather than celebration. The world is not a zero-sum game. It is genuinely a better place when you combine the skills and strengths of men and women, which might be why Gen Y prefers teamwork. Perhaps I’m missing the canary in the coal mine, but I’m not all that concerned that women might finally have a shot at earning the top spots in organizations devoid of women just a generation ago.

The Family is Changing

One of the reasons that women have entered the workforce en masse is that raising a family is expensive and almost requires two incomes. With greater pressure on children to be successful and well-rounded, parents must pay for piano lessons, soccer leagues, after-school tutoring and educational summer camps. This stuff isn’t cheap (ever try buying hockey equipment?). Besides, it’s thought nearly child abuse not to take your children on vacation every year.

Seeing this pressure, many Gen Y men (and women) are trying to build their careers in order to contribute their fair share to a two-income household. In addition, 20-something men are recognizing and accepting that their wives might out-earn them. The concept of a 50-50 relationship is becoming more prevalent and gender roles are changing. There are more stay-at-home dads and other non-traditional family structures. These shifts are a function of new economic circumstances and much larger social trends.

Family is also beginning to reach beyond heterosexual couples as gays and lesbians are finding new opportunities to legally establish their relationships in a handful of states and Washington D.C. The federal government under the Obama administration has directed the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act (the law defining marriage as one man and one woman). Regardless of the lawsuits currently working their way through the courts, most notably the Bush v. Gore lawyers who have teamed up to assure the recognition same-sex marriages at the federal levelgenerational attitudes toward gays and lesbians show a march to equality inevitability. In the midst of this social change, these committed couples are adopting and raising children, which will likely grow as the legal impediments to gay marriage are broken down.

Yes, there are too many single parents (34% of children are in single-parent households). Too many children suffer through their parents’ divorce. Non-traditional families are even more prevalent. We don’t know how these situations will impact our future society, but I feel confident saying that whatever happens, good or bad, it won’t be the result of the Xbox 360, beer pong or fantasy football.

Where She Deserves Some Credit

This quote might be as clear as anything she says, if only she omitted “undomesticated”:

“Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.”

She’s absolutely right! The country is in a challenging economic environment. Gen Yers are just hoping to find jobs in an era where Baby Boomers are staying in jobs longer, which has slowed the workforce turnover by a decade-plus. Men aren’t sure whether opening a door for a woman will get him a “thank you” or “I’m capable of doing it myself thank-you-very-much”. Who pays for the first date? How do men know when to accept an offer to split the check or turn it down? How do men balance “being a good man” and being thought of as a misogynist for what was once considered chivalry? And those advisers and confidants — they’re a peer support group of guys and women. Sometimes, our age-mates are not the perspective we need. In those cases, we ask our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, uncles, bosses, older friends and mentors  — not exactly a sign of oblivious immaturity.

She addresses another issue that’s tough for men to navigate — the lack of milestones of adulthood:

“But pre-adults differ in one major respect from adolescents. They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. … I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.”

This is a difficulty for us — it is hard to write our own script and we’re challenged by what to write. Conventional wisdom that the world is a zero-sum game and the rise of women necessarily means the fall of men, we’re being given mixed messages and becoming more defensive of “our turf” (watch a family comedy, like Everybody Loves Raymond, and you’ll see the in-control wife having to suffer a witless husband). Add the pressures we face to be quickly successful in an economy that isn’t lending itself to success and it becomes overwhelming. We’re trying to be all the things we’ve been taught that the modern man can be — as Hymowitz says, “sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky”.

Men are confused. Men are being told their interests are stupid (see this commercial from McDonald’s). Men are told they’re supposed to be sensitive. But, don’t be overly-sensitive because they need to be strong. But don’t be overly strong because women need to be in charge, too. But don’t let women be too in charge or you’ll be an unattractive pushover. But be ready to give in and compromise because a relationship should be 50-50. And for the love of God, dress stylishly, but not too stylishly because you’ll be thought of as gay. Men are told to accept women for their interests no matter how banal (I MUST watch Teen Mom tonight), yet are castigated for watching football on Sundays. When we point these things out, many of our female companions respond, “I don’t know why you’d want to date us!”

Maybe There’s a Different Conclusion to be Made

Here’s the thing … the kids are alright. Really. We are. We got this.

Social shifts have never been clean. Whether it’s directing fire hoses at civil rights activists in the 60s, figuring out how smoking pot and listening to Stairway to Heaven brings the end to war and racial injustice in the 70s, coming to terms with AIDS and economic downfall in the 80s, attempting to make sense of why we all exist in the 90s, or sorting through the emotional turmoil of war and terror in the aughts, generations of young American men and women have proven themselves to be capable of demonstrating the kind ingenuity, discretion, and know-how required to lead this in this world as adults. Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other internet tools are turning freedom movements in the Middle East that are 30 years in the making into successes as a result of the leadership of young people using technology developed by 20-something counterparts.

I cannot and will not apologize for the loser men with whom the comedian Julie Klausner has slept (she’s quoted early in the Hymowitz article). Everyone knows a parent’s-basement-dwelling unemployment-collecting slacker 20-something who has permanently created an indentation of his considerable butt in a 70s-era couch as a result of hours-long video game binges. Every guy I know has a friend who treats women as sex objects, looking to rack up points like the video games Hymowitz likes to cite. There’s the Star-Wars-friend and the guy-who-drinks-too-much friend and the sports-obsessed-did-you-see-that-play-on-SportsCenter friend. We choose these friends because, in most cases, they represent a part of ourselves through whom we live vicariously. We’re as likely to pound beers as in the movie Beer Fest as women are likely to have sex with anything that moves a la Samantha in Sex and the City. It’s stupid, mindless entertainment that allows us to imagine a life that, for just a moment, appeals to our lesser reptilian selves. Despite Hymowitz’ belief that “most [emphasis mine] men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort … semi-hormonal adolescence”, it is simply untrue. Most men in their 20s are simply navigating the world like everyone else, including our female counterparts.

Realizing that there are generational gaps in thinking, I’d like to propose some questions. For those who complain about how “these kids got trophies for everything”, I’d like to ask, who bought the trophies? [Hint: Boomer parents] Who doesn’t want a higher salary, especially when the minimum requirement for a job includes a graduate degree and well-rounded background by the age of 24? Does anyone turn down more vacation time? How many people who married in their early 20s wish that they had thought about it a little more as they sign their divorce papers in their 40s? Would most couples want to financially struggle in the beginning of their marriage as they’re trying to have and raise children? Who would bypass traveling and other once-in-a-lifetime experiences at a time in their lives when there are few consequences? As life expectancy extends into the 80s and beyond, is it horrible that 20-somethings take more time to figure out what makes sense to them? Who wouldn’t want to work to find the ideal job and life? Could previous generations be irritated/jealous that Gen Y has the guts to pursue these goals? As I’ve heard several HR consultants say, “Generation Y asks for what we all secretly want.”

A Modest Proposal

Here’s the disclaimer … I love beer. I can sink a ping pong ball in a cup like champ (there’s nothing like the pressure of double redemption). I own a Wii and have rocked out on Guitar Hero. I have a subscription to Esquire. I own Superbad, The Hangover, Billy Madison and thoroughly enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine. I’m dating a medical student who will likely out-earn me sometime in the future. Some of my friends are gay, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, Pakistani, poor, rich, slackers, over-achievers, aged 14 to 88, married with children, and/or perpetually single. I took advantage of opportunities in my 20s: I failed at a couple of jobs, traveled to Eurpoe, missed my rent because my graphic design freelance work wasn’t paying the bills, and survived on wings and beer for the better part of my 25th year. Shockingly, I survived. I’m gainfully employed making a decent salary in a good job, pursuing my MBA, own a few successful companies (including one focused on beer), have a great family life, and am not terrified by the thought of marriage. Ms. Hymowitz, I’m both your pathetic typecast and the person who is the exception to your rule.

Since you’re comfortable with dispensing unsolicited advice, I’d like to offer you some myself. Get out of Manhattan and come to Pittsburgh. Have a few beers at a bar with my friends. Take in a game of hockey with us (seriously, you have to appreciate the talent of Sidney Crosby). Ask us questions. Talk to us about our love lives. Ask us about our hobbies (from golf to home brewing to skydiving). Maybe you’ll realize that we’re stressed out and have our own ways of blowing off steam. Maybe you’ll realize that we adore our girlfriends who are feeling equal pressure to succeed in their own complicated lives. Maybe you’ll realize that our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are our best friends and teachers. Maybe you’ll appreciate that even the most slacker of us are volunteers and go to church on Sunday. Maybe you’ll enjoy hanging out with us and want to do it again or, in male parlance, come to the dark side of the force.

The SI Swimsuit Issue and the Art of the Receipt Coupon

A buck off T&A

A buck off T&A

Today, after stocking up on Diet Dr Pepper at CVS, I was given a coupon for $1 off the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The SISI has become a phenomenon in and of itself — despite SI’s conservative journalistic approach to sports reporting, the magazine hits its readers once a year with some borderline softcore porn, complete with body paint in lieu of an actual swimsuit.  Every year, some intriguing, gorgeous woman graces its pages (while appearing in 2010, 2011’s intriguing woman is Brooklyn Decker), resulting in a testosterone cattle call.

No, I’m not mentioning this simply because I was looking for links to the online SI swimsuit feature, though I’ll admit that it was an added bonus. I mention it because it was one of the first receipt coupons I’ve ever gotten that comes even remotely close to something that is targeted to me. No, I won’t buy the swimsuit issue, nor can I remember the last time I bought a magazine anywhere but by subscription (FYI, according to the research firm Management Science Associates, people who buy magazines in-store are 50% more profitable customers than average). But, unlike almost every other opportunity to reach out to me as I’m heading out the door, this is one of the few receipts that even minimally has fit my demographic, i.e. male.

I really question the usefulness of post-sale receipts (I was unsuccessful in tracking down the data). I see three main problems:

  • I am an unmarried, 30-year-old male shopper, hardly the target for coupon-based marketing. Why even bother? I can count on one hand the number of coupons I’ve exchanged from a coupon printer at the point-of-sale. The last one I can remember, probably nine months ago, was for hot pockets — I had gotten a coupon as I was scanning them and saved a dollar unexpectedly (i.e. the store lost $1 on that sale simply because of the timing of the coupon). Plus, I usually throw away the receipt and coupon upon exiting the store. In the rare instances I think, “wow, I could use this someday”, I completely forget about it and later find it in my car with an expiration that predates the Obama administration.
  • Apparently, I’m not a demographic fit for most deals. I have gotten coupons for yogurt (I rarely buy yogurt), Ensure (while I buy protein bars, they’re not of the old-people-need-nutrition kind), Centrum Silver and Always Ultra Thin Maxi Pads. Yes folks, given the vast wealth of data they’ve got on me at this point, the promotional system they’ve implemented decided that I need to try a newly-launched feminine hygiene product.
  • On any given day, go to a grocery store with a point-of-sale coupon printer and self-service checkout lines. You’ll see strings of coupons that people never took. Doesn’t that teach the customer that the coupons are worthless?
  • I’ve noticed that many retail receipts now include a coupon. Why would you wait until the consumer has checked out before giving them a discount that might entice them to buy? Are you really expecting them to save a Target coupon that will save them 50 cents on their next 24-pack of toilet paper? If you’re really dedicated to giving someone a coupon as they leave, it better be a damn good deal.

Do these coupons make sense? Are the coupon programs worth the investment companies have made? Is there some sort of other motivation (i.e. the retailer can sell coupon placements to companies, which offsets the cost of the systems)? I’d love to see some data on this trend that extends beyond my own experience. Perhaps there are demographics or categories that make more sense than others. But please, folks, save the trees. I’m not expecting to buy baby food for a while.

Marketing to Women #16 – Women Like Expensive Things?

She paid $40 for that $5 bottle of wine. Sucker.

She paid $40 for that $5 bottle of wine. Sucker.

I love psychological priming studies. For those who aren’t familiar, priming is the act of exposing someone to a stimulus (say, a picture of a smiling face or crying baby) and then seeing how someone reacts to another stimulus (say, how they feel about a certain product).

My favorite example of this phenomenon was mentioned in Martin Lindstrom’s book Buyology, where he showed that playing French music in a liquor store increased sales of French wine by about 60% (usually without the person realizing the music was playing). To pile on, the store changed the music to German and had a similar sales increase of German wines, while the French wines began selling at their previous rates. Background music significantly changed buying behavior with only a handful of customers realizing it.

I mention priming because I came across a study conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists (thanks to Eric Barker for posting at Barking Up The Wrong Tree — I highly recommend his blog) that showed that disclosing the high price of a wine before tasting the wine produces considerably higher ratings, although only from women. Perhaps counter-intuitively, disclosing a lower price does not result in lower ratings.

Here’s what I think is important:

  • Drinking the wine, according to the researchers, was an ambiguous experience, meaning that measuring quality is inherently difficult or impossible, even for experienced tasters
  • There’s an interesting gender-based differential showing that women have a significant high price-high quality bias compared to men for ambiguous status-related products
  • A lower price doesn’t necessarily have an effect on the perception of quality of ambiguous status-related products for either gender

Now, the perception that higher price correlates to higher quality, regardless of gender, has been reinforced multiple times in research. However, this study cites experimental evidence that men and women have different attribute biases (feel free to read Gender Differences in Preferences by Croson and Gneezy, 2009 — I haven’t gotten there yet). So, what does this really mean with respect to the judgments women make? I don’t know for sure, but here are a couple of theories:

  • Leaning on stereotypes, women like expensive things and get greater enjoyment out of things that cost a lot of money regardless of the quality of those things. This would be referred to as “princess syndrome” among bitter single men or men in committed relationships writing marketing blogs who tend to carry the “man flag” in the gender wars (ahem).
  • Women might be uncomfortable (consciously or unconsciously) with their ability to judge something that they feel is beyond their area of expertise. Having pricing information before tasting it might be the way women substitute others’ judgment for their own. Remember, the study didn’t ask “what wine do you like more?”, but rather, “how would you rate this wine?” The lower-priced wine, therefore, was assessed more in line with their experience because they weren’t intimidated by a $5 bottle (subjects in the study spent, on average, $13 for a bottle of wine, with 40% of them spending $10 or less).

Do you see where those reasons for rating wine a certain way could drastically change the way you pursue a pricing and marketing strategy? If you’re in the “princess syndrome” camp, you’ll position your brand of wine to reflect high status, selling the bottle for considerably more than average in the hopes that you’ll capture a high-margin market. If you’re in the “judgment substitution” camp, you might sell your wine at an average price and position it to reflect quality and comfort, reinforcing that she simply can’t make a bad decision by buying your wine. Since the study didn’t address what wine women actually buy, a marketing manager could be pursuing the wrong strategy based upon their interpretation of the results of the study.

Regardless of what you perceive to be the reason for the study results, it’s undeniable that people can be led to perceive the world a certain way by exposing them to information/stimuli before making a decision. Marketers need to realize that they have to reach customers in much more specific, targeted ways in order to influence behavior. This often means getting a better understanding of why humans make decisions and admitting that most of the decisions we make are based upon subconscious influences. In the end, consumers are far more likely to make emotional decisions and marketers need to get better at figuring out how to appeal to the very real and complicated feelings our customers bring to the buying experience.

It’s the weekend … go out and have a drink. Just remember to drink the average wine — you probably can’t tell the difference and will save a couple of bucks in the process.

(Hat tip to my girlfriend, Mallory, for some great additional perspective.)

Marketing to Women #15: Heart-Shaped Box of Chocolates

Red Octogon: Optional. Red Heart: Not Optional

Red Octogon: Optional. Red Heart: Not Optional

It’s Valentine’s Day, a special occasion deemed both by my father and a local arts and entertainment weekly to be a “made-up holiday” (that nearly any holiday can be accused of being “made up” is another argument entirely). Regardless of how fictional the premise (the Catholic Church nixed Saint Valentine from it’s calendar of celebration in 1969 since there is no historical connection to any of the saints named Valentine), King Henry VIII declared the day a holiday in 1537 (yes, THAT King Henry VIII).

Valentine’s Day is a big deal: 190 million cards (1,330 different designs by Hallmark alone!) and 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be exchanged. Not surprisingly, the data skews female — most cards will be given to teachers (a majority of whom are female, especially in the lower grades, where a majority of the exchanging takes place), mothers and female significant others.

Interestingly, the commercialism of Valentine’s Day is at the foundation of its modern celebration. By the mid 19th century, printed valentines, with lace and bows, were widely available for purchase and mailing. Usually, it was the man who bought valentines for a woman who had caught his eye. In other words — very similar to what happens in 2011.

One of the more recent conversations about marketing and consumer insight centers around the idea that the purchaser is not the end user. In nearly anything written on the subject, the story is told of women who know the needs of another person (child, spouse, friend, etc.) and purchase a product for that person to use. On Valentine’s Day, not only are men the ones leading the purchasing, but men are also uncomfortable with that role (not a shock since a majority of women would break up with her boyfriend if he did nothing to acknowledge the day). Men on average will spend $130 on chocolate, flowers, jewelry and dates, which is roughly double what women expect to spend. That’s a lot of money up for grabs, and since Valentine’s Day is a test of the relationship, it’s a highly-profitable opportunity to help a guy avoid a social faux pas.

I challenge marketers to come up with a better way to help men through this minefield. Men are dying for some assistance — finding the right card, the right box of chocolate, the right restaurant — and there is precious little out there by way of help. Sure, you can order flowers online or swing by Kay’s Jewelers (Every Kiss Begins With Kay!), but their self-interest is untrustworthy. All men want is to not screw up … why isn’t there anyone to help?

This might be worth exploring further. Until then, I must run — like millions of other men around the world, I need to pick my girlfriend up for a nice dinner. Even marketers can be sold.

Marketing to Women #14 – And He Was Wrapped In Swaddling Disney Merchandise

My future Prince and Princess<br /> of Potential Profit?

My future Prince and Princess of Potential Profit?

Sometimes, in those random and unintentional moments of daydream, I think about what it will be like to have my first child (no, Mum, this is not my way of telling you that I’m soon to be a father). I think about the excitement, fear, concern, support, love, tension, frustration and holy-crap-I’m-now-legally-responsible-for-the-survival-of-another-human-being that my friends and family members have told me about when recounting their own experiences. It’s usually a positive momentary thought until I’m distracted by more important things, like remembering the time of the next Penguins game.

My daydream took a tumble today after reading an article in the New York Times titled Disney Looking Into Cradle for Customers. It explains that Disney is pushing its newest product priority, Disney Baby, in 580 maternity hospitals in the United States. According to the article, “A representative visits a new mother and offers a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, a variation of the classic Onesie.” The catch? The representative asks for the mother’s email address so that DisneyBaby.com can send her targeted marketing messages. The purpose of this campaign, as outlined in the article, is to build brand awareness and loyalty, and to get the mother (what, no daydreaming fathers in the mix?) to think about her first Disney park experience with her children at the earliest point possible. You ask yourself, “How do they get access to the mothers?” A consulting firm paid by Disney pays the hospitals for access.

Let me be clear: I think that it is the height of callousness that a sales representative from a corporation, no matter how family-friendly, attempts to collect marketing information from a woman who has just given birth. As someone who has recently experienced a moment of emotional vulnerability that could have been exploited for financial gain (my father passed away a month ago and I had to work closely with the funeral home to make arrangements), I realized just how refreshing it is to not have someone else’s profit motive take priority over my own emotional state. Does Disney really believe that a full-court press by a bilingual salesperson in a maternity ward is the best way to get a new mother to emotionally connect to their brand?

I fundamentally believe in the positive power of marketing. At its best, marketers find people who can use a product or service that will make that customer’s life easier/better/more fun and give that person a compelling reason to buy. However, I also believe that customers should be treated with dignity and respect. I believe Disney is failing that test.

Along the marketing-to-women conversation, I can’t help but notice that the quotes from company representatives were made by two men. I’d love to know — were women consulted on this strategy? Yes, an OB-GYN and a mother were quoted in the article in support of Disney’s strategy, but would most women follow? Do women feel comfortable being exploited like this, not only by a company but also the hospital in which they’re giving birth?

Note: My name is terribly difficult and, beyond the novelty of having ABC as initials, there is no reason for me to pass this name on to a future generation. For $2,500, I’ll gladly sell first naming rights to my child and $1,000 for middle naming rights. I can’t wait to daydream about the future Mickey McDonalds Ciuksza being born.

Marketing to Women #12 – Wrapping Up the Semester

Hey all — I’m happy to report that it is the end of the semester and, with it, the end to my Marketing Management course. It’s been a rough summer juggling classes (we had about three days off between terms), the real job, a couple of start-up projects, building a web site for a client, troubleshooting another site for that client and doing this Marketing to Women research. It’s been a wild ride and I’m looking forward to weekend trips, rounds of golf and all of the other things I have time to do now that I don’t have papers and tests to worry about for a month-plus.

In a short period of time, I’ve become incredibly passionate about the need for all marketers to better understand how to reach women in a compelling, honest way. I’ve had the good fortune of speaking with talented, successful marketers who have accomplished so much in their careers:

This truly is the short list of people who’ve taken the time to answer my questions, from the silly to the sensationalistic. Hell, I even had a great Twitter exchange with Tom Peters ( @tom_peters), one of the few men consistently discussing this publicly, who kindly declined a request for an interview (*ahem*). In the end, I can’t thank everyone enough for their perspectives, guidance and continued support.

The one question everyone keeps asking is, “what do you want to do with this when you’re done with the research?” I guess it threw me off because: 1) I hadn’t thought of it; and 2) unless I sprout a female brain, I don’t suspect that I’ll ever be done. My short answer is that I want to grow to be a better marketer and have the ability to compete in what is essentially a women’s market (as Tom Peters said, women are the leading buyers of “damn near everything”).

I’ve taken two things from this project: 1) the 90%+ of creative directors and the 75%+ of marketing executives who are male are acting as if nothing is changing in the way gender influences the market; and 2) as a result, there are few men educating themselves about how to stop insulting 35% of women and making the majority of them feel “vastly underserved”. Why is this a problem? Because companies end up making crappy products that are less useful than they should be and drive us consumers crazy. They make our lives more complicated rather than less so. Their products don’t feel right in our hands when we use them. They don’t have great customer service when their poorly-designed products break or don’t make sense. And the companies who are selling this stuff aren’t paying attention either, making the buying process painful and causing us think twice about buying the product in the first place. It makes everyone miserable. If women do, in fact, make or influence 85% of spending, then companies are loathe to forget one axiom — if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I have a long answer to that question. I’d like to help be a translator. I feel that marketing, user interface and customer service have the power to make the world a better place. I also feel that continuing to allow those areas to be driven almost entirely by men’s preferences is hurting, not helping. I’m not expecting miracles, but simply hope to nudge the process along. Perhaps my discoveries, many of which seem to obvious to women, will help my fellow male marketers. And I think that’s worth the time that will continue to go into this exploration.

Thank you all for reading and your feedback. I couldn’t be more appreciative. Keep it up — I need all the help I can get.

/abcjr

Marketing to Women #11 – The Challenges of Research

Wouldn't it be nice?

Wouldn't it be nice?

I’ve spent the last four years in market research, almost entirely focused on analyzing secondary data sources (i.e. getting data and/or conclusions from someone else and analyzing them for some other purpose). It’s a fantastic way to do research, mostly because the hard work has already been done and you, the secondary researcher, simply has to pull it all together, see a pattern and develop conclusions from the available work. It’s (relatively) fast, cheap and easy compared to surveys, focus groups and other primary research methods.

The problem is that the studies aren’t always right. Maybe it was bad methodology. Maybe there wasn’t enough data. Maybe the margin-of-error was too large or the sample size was too small or the test subjects weren’t random enough for the data to mean anything. Sometimes the study is developed in order to reach a specific conclusion (do you think industry-sponsored studies are always conducted for the benefit of the public?) or maybe there was a political reason why there just had to be a conclusion to justify the money spent on the study. It’s a minefield.

“85% of purchases are made or influenced by women.”

That’s a big deal, right? And it’s critical to the argument of the importance of focusing on women in the marketplace. Is it true? I don’t know, because I can’t find the data to support it. Despite the fact that it is used in nearly every presentation/article/book I’ve come across, I can’t seem to find where it originated. The problem gets worse as the game of statistics telephone continues — I’ve seen it said that 85% of purchases are made by women, which is a whole lot different than adding influencing and buying together. What is the 85% in the first place — is that on a dollar basis or a number-of-purchases basis? And what the hell does “influence” mean, anyway? Does she have veto power, is she subtly hinting at a decision, or are men asking for women’s input? These details are important.

Let’s assume that the 85% number is based on the number of actual decisions to keep it easy (i.e. buying a car is equivalent to buying a bottle of shampoo). I’ve completely made up the following data (seriously, please don’t cite me as a source for these bogus graphs) but let’s see how this might look depending on different methodologies and conclusions:

There are four scenarios above: the first is that women are making 85% of the decisions, which is a pretty amazing number; the second is that men and women are separately making 15% of the decisions, but influence each other on 70% of purchases; the third is that decisions are different for each gender with regard to both income source and influence; and the fourth differs by how women are influencing the decision. Wouldn’t those differences matter to your analysis?

Why does any of this matter?

We’re often attracted to data that justifies things we already believe, known as confirmation bias. In a recent post discussing policy research, which is particularly susceptible to confirmation bias, Will Wilkinson says:

Fairly few political commentators know enough to decide which research papers are methodologically convincing and which aren’t. So we often end up touting the papers that sound right, and the papers that sound right are, unsurprisingly, the ones that accord most closely with our view of the world.

This might seem unusually wonky, but I think it’s critical to what we’re all trying to accomplish. One of the ways we can convince marketers of both genders to pay attention to this subject is to give solid evidence that marketing to women is critical to sales success. If we’re throwing around numbers that sound unrealistic or are based on easily-refuted research, we’re making the focus on women easier to dismiss.

On a personal level, I tend to think the 85% number is close to accurate on a dollars basis (that’s huge) and that women have an amazing amount of veto power in purchasing decisions whether or not she’s writing the check. What are the percentages? Whose money is each person spending? Those things matter and would change my behavior in how I reach out to consumers.

Do any of you know where to find well-written research in this space? Do YOU have the source for the 85% number? Have you ever seen a piece of research that you found questionable? Have you ever made a decision based on bad research?

Marketing to Women #10 – Chief Detail Officer

I found a TED Talk by Rory Sutherland (an ad agency veteran from Ogilvy) called Sweat the Small Stuff, where he argues that some of the best solutions are also the simplest and least expensive. Mr. Sutherland says that the challenge is:

“…the tendency of the organization or the institution is to deploy as much force as possible … whereas actually the tendency of the person is to be almost influenced in absolute reverse proportion to the amount of force being applied.”

Since everything I do these days is seen in context of this research project, I couldn’t help but think of how a lot of what I read/hear from interviews says that women see detail in ways that often escape men. While I couldn’t find any “numbers” research on this, the results of the countless interviews, focus groups and surveys conducted by the women who have spent their lives in this space suggest this is true. In many ways, I think this issue is exactly what most executives (read, mostly men) are getting wrong in the marketing of their products and services to women — they throw a ton of money at problems where simplicity is often the best solution.

I see two areas of “detail weakness”…

User Interface

User interface (or UX for those who like to show that they’re in the know) is the way an individual interacts with a product. Most often used in web development, the term is finally making its way into product design. The most recent example I saw happened this weekend when I saw a cup holder on the side of a baby car seat — while I totally understand the reason (sippy cup, snack holder, etc.) it’s something I never would have thought to include (remember, I’m a single guy who’s an only child and has only passing thoughts of ever having children). User interface is also mentioned by all of the marketing to women professionals — women want products that work with minimal effort, are ergonomically designed for how they use them, and have straightforward controls that don’t take a of learning to use (the web version of this is convincingly argued in the book Don’t Make Me Think). Often, these problems are not solved with multimillion dollar budgets, but with creative thinking.

I have my own low-budget test for this. There are two people in my life who serve as my “if they can get it, anyone can get it” guinea pigs: I go to my mom to test my web interfaces and instruction manuals; and another friend (who shall remain nameless) for product assembly/use. I give a set of instructions and, if they can find it/accomplish the task, I feel confident that it will work for nearly anyone.

Promotion (Ads, PR, etc.)

Women often complain that they’re not adequately represented in the advertisements they see and roughly 35% of them are actually insulted by the way advertisers reach out to them. I don’t think this is a budget problem, it’s a detail problem.

I’ve been guilty of this. While working on a consumer product, I hired an ad agency to build a look-and-feel, including some photography that showed attractive models (two female, one male) using/wearing the product. The company sold to both men and women (a rougly 60/40 man-to-woman ratio), so the design was supposed to lean male, but not too much as to exclude anyone. The photography came back and I (i.e. my testosterone-fueled self) was in love. There was one particular shot that showed the two women facing the camera, but chest-to-chest, with one of the women’s hand on the other’s shoulder. I thought it was sensual without being over-the-top.

“So, I guess we’re using gorgeous lesbians as our marketing strategy”, my 22-year-old female marketing assistant said (herself a runway model). She hated the entire shoot. I dismissed her concerns as being ridiculous. “We need to be a little bit edgy, especially with our audience skewing male … besides, it’s a good aspirational shot for women … isn’t that critical?”, I responded. She snorted and didn’t talk to me for a week. Guess what? I was wrong. We backtracked and used the far less sexy images — while they were still a little too edgy, we were able to use some of the shots without totally abandoning our investment. I think that’s a great example of our male-centered world being “normal” to us, but not not women.

So what’s the point?

Sometimes, you don’t need a gazillion-dollar marketing initiative to tease out the little design details that make the difference between a usable product that sells and one that frustrates your users and gets a two-star feedback rating on Amazon.com. Here are a few ideas how:

  1. The customer is the target, not you — This is the greatest challenge for designers and ad executives. We often huff and puff that, if our customer can’t figure it out on their own, they’re not smart enough to buy our product. Well, unfortunately for that kind of team, they are smart people — smart enough to take your product back if it doesn’t work the way they think it should. My college Chemistry professor said, “KISS … Keep It Simple Stupid”. It was great advice.
  2. Take Mr. Sutherland’s advice and hire a Chief Detail Officer — Designate someone who looks at the world just a little bit differently — an outsider not caught up in the minutiae of what you do on a daily basis — and have them look at what you do. Does it make sense to them? Can they understand how to use it immediately? Do they ask questions like, “why doesn’t it have/do/look like/feel like [fill-in-the-blank]”? Pay attention to their reactions and have the humility to realize that you/your team/your engineers might not have all the answers (or you’re answering the wrong questions). Want real honesty? Ask a twelve-year-old and pay attention to what she thinks is stupid.
  3. Eliminate the budget — Perhaps this is my start-up bias, but cash-strapped companies with products just coming to market have to be obsessive about usability. For instance, I’m involved in a project now that will require roughly $100,000 to get off the ground, with a considerable amount of that cost related to having injection molds made. We don’t have the type of money to go back to the drawing board and make five or six molds before we have our final product — we have to get it right on the first shot. That means obsessive testing at every step of the design process and constant feedback from potential users. What would you change if you didn’t have a budget? What are the simple things (color-coding, obvious on-off switches, directional arrows) that can be done to eliminate confusion?

It’s incredibly simple to make it simple, it’s just not very easy. Find others with a different perspective on the world, ask questions and step back from your own place to come up with ways to make your products, and our lives, easier and better.

(Rory Sutherland video after the jump)

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Marketing to Women #9 – Women Drive Word of Mouth?

Women Talking

Look at us using up our 16,000 words!

In my reading, I keep encountering the following:

Women talk. A lot. Constantly, even. And way more than men.


It makes sense, right? I mean, there are plenty of studies to support this. The Female Brain, written by Louann Brizendine M.D., cites a statistic that women use 20,000 words a day to men’s measly 7,000. Like the misinterpreted conclusion of Albert Mehrabian, who said that 7% of communication is the words, 38% is body language and 55% is vocal tone (this is true only in the expression of emotions — think of the many possible definitions of a significant other saying “I’m fine”), the 20,000 number spread like wildfire. This is especially true amongst marketers, who grasp for any data they can get their hands on to support a hypothesis.

The problem? It isn’t really true.


Contained in a Boston Globe article that fact-checked The Female Brain is the following:

According to a 1993 review of the scientific literature by researchers Deborah James and Janice Drakich, “Most studies reported either that men talked more than women, either overall or in some circumstances, or that there was no difference between the genders in amount of talk.” The research since that review … follows the same pattern. [Emphasis mine.]

In fact, a study published in 2007 by the journal Science found that, “participants’ daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day.”

So, if words matter more than pop-marketing suggests (Albert Mehrabian has lamented at how his work has been taken out of context) and men talk just as much as women, then what can marketers conclude about gender and word-of-mouth?

In the book What She’s Not Telling You by the team at the Manhattan-based consultancy Just Ask a Woman (Mary Lou Quinlan, Jen Drexler and Tracy Chapman — @justaskawoman), women are driven to tell their friends about new products and services to show that they’re on top of things and “in the know” to reinforce an approval need. So, there you have it, women have a need to share their experiences, good and bad. In fact, the book says:

Women will share the story of a bad experience with four to seven others, but they’ve been known to repeat a really hurtful incident for as long as 23 years.

That’s pretty rough (23 years!). But, what does all of this sharing mean? Is word of mouth is still king of trust? I’m not so sure. A recent article in AdAge published Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer that showed in 2010 only 25% of people consider their friends credible, down from 45% in 2008. So what’s killing trust? To quote the article:

“When you’re seeing so much noise, it’s very easy to dismiss a lot of it, and that’s a problem marketing messages have had for a while now,” said David Berkowitz, director-emerging media for 360i. “Facebook really exemplifies this with the live-feed and news-feed options,” he said. “If you use the live feed and have a few hundred friends, some kind of peer recommendation, whether it’s explicit or not, appears every couple of minutes and sometimes they come in a matter of seconds. If you’re seeing all of that come in, it can be overwhelming.”

That’s where I am cautious about word-of-mouth marketing as the be-all-end-all. I’m not saying it’s ineffective — it’s hugely effective when someone we trust recommends a product or service. But, if it’s true that women have a need to share product “finds” with their friends, and a woman has a lot of friends, that can mean some conflicting recommendations (or, as mentioned above, noise).

I’m also going to throw out an entirely data-less anecdotal opinion that counters conventional wisdom — I believe word-of-mouth might just be more effective for men than for women. Why? Because men are often more direct and solutions-based. We don’t seek many opinions, we ask the one friend we trust to quickly solve our problem. And, in the rare case that a guy friend gives us a lead unsolicited, we often take note and act on it. My hunch is that the conversion rate on recommendations between men is higher than women.

The point of all of this is to say that there are a lot of assumptions being made based upon layers and layers of quoted statistics coming from studies that are, at best, misinterpreted. As marketers, we need to be careful to avoid putting too much faith in data that backs up our own biases (women are just walking gabfests, for instance) and, instead, attempt to devise a marketing mix that identifies spheres of real, tangible influence. Is that a friend? Is that a PR campaign? Is that a mommy blogger? Is it traditional advertising? Social media? It depends on your product, service and budget. All-in-all, this should serve as a warning that word-of-mouth won’t necessarily carry the day for your brand.

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