The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Month: June 2010

Marketing to Women #8 – Science Says “Get Back In the Kitchen”?

Sometimes article titles are overly-explosive in order to drive traffic, and I thought, for a minute at least, that “Preventing Homosexuality (and Uppity Women) in the Womb?” over at Bioethics Forum might be one such example. I’m pretty sure my first gut reaction was wrong.

Most of the article discusses introducing hormones during pregnancy in order to reduce Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, and, by statistical correlation, female homosexuality (or, as the journal article put it, “a dose-response relationship of androgens with sexual orientation”). While I am in no way prepared to discuss the biological underpinnings of female homosexuality, I was a bit surprised when I saw the following quote in the article:

“CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”

In the same article, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms: “Long term follow-up studies of the behavioral outcome will show whether dexamethasone treatment also prevents the effects of prenatal androgens on brain and behavior.”

One of the chief researchers, Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, was giving a presentation, showed a slide of someone diagnosed with CAH, and said the following:

“The challenge here is . . . to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

My point in posting this is NOT to incite a riot from any one of a number of camps who have strong opinions on subjects like homosexuality or the use of medical intervention to influence certain behaviors. I’m not a behavioral scientist and I’m just scratching the surface of learning more about brain chemistry and how brain development is influenced by gender. However, I’m a bit surprised that a renowned researcher is using societal norms to help define what she seems to perceive as abnormal behavior, a symptom or the result of a disease.

So what does this have to do with marketing? If members of the scientific community are classifying behavior abnormalities based upon whether or not a young girl is playing with dolls or fantasizing about having a baby, it’s not so much of a stretch to understand why marketers can’t get these gender roles out of their own heads. “Even science says a woman wants to get married and have kids,” the brand manager says, “so our campaign needs to reflect that.” I don’t think we (society, marketers, fill-in-the-blank) need another excuse to lean on stereotypes that are fitting fewer and fewer members of society.

Am I reading too much into this? Am I not sophisticated enough to understand the study? Is this an outlier I should ignore, or is this really the type of stuff that keeps us from being able to understand that different isn’t bad but simply different?

Marketing to Women #7 – The Walk of Shame

Lorena Bobbit

You're learning about women, not marrying Lorena Bobbitt

I got my copy of Bridget Brennan’s Why She Buys in the mail today and hoped to get through it relatively quickly. I decided to take it to the gym with me and make the most of the 60 minutes I’d be on the treadmill. I grabbed my gym bag and left the office book-in-hand.

As I was walking out, I looked down and saw that the front side of the book jacket was facing the outside world, with huge black lettering practically screaming the title WHY SHE BUYS. I felt a little uncomfortable with this, so I flipped the book over, holding it against the top of my gym bag, and put my hand around title printed on the spine. I walked over to the US Steel tower (there’s an awesome YMCA in the basement) and headed into the locker room. When I got on the treadmill, I discovered that the jacket was making it much harder to keep on the reading rack, so I took it off and folded it so that only the white inside part of the cover was visible. Then I spent the next 60 minutes reading.

At some point early in the book, Ms. Brennan discussed how men have been socialized from birth to reject all things feminine at the expense of being thought of as being a sissy or (gasp) gay. I kind of laughed to myself — it’s as if she called me out right then and there for being embarrassed about doing this potentially profitable research.

Think I would have been more enlightened after that experience? Nope. On the way out, I continued my covert ways. Even knowing that it’s silly and even counterproductive, I couldn’t help but worry about what passers-by might think about me reading a book about the big S-H-E. I’m in the process of doing the largest research project I’ve ever attempted, reading as much as I can (three books down, about five to go based on my current purchases/inventory), speaking with leading authors/thinkers in this category and writing about it, quite publicly, on this blog. I have bought tampons for girlfriends without blinking an eye. But I feel awkward about people seeing me with a book about selling to women.

My conclusion? This is a very hard subject for us men to tackle. We’re embarrassed about it, concerned that someone will question our manhood because we’re discussing it. As a result, we’re simply ignoring the impact women have on the market, thinking that we can get by without worrying about their sheer financial muscle. But we can’t afford to, and all of the data says so. How can we possibly adapt and compete if we’re too embarrassed to talk about it in the first place? Have you ever seen a professional sports general manager assure the fan base that he has acquired all of the talent necessary to win a championship only to see the team get clobbered by everyone in the league (*ahem* Pittsburgh Pirates *ahem*)? How can that GM make the right moves and build a winning franchise if he’s too embarrassed to admit mistakes and learn what it takes to be successful? (Hint: He can’t, as us Bucco fans can attest.) Wouldn’t you rather have your favorite team run by GM who is responsive, willing to own up to errors, open to new information and strategies, and comfortable with completely changing his view of what that team needs to succeed?

So, that means I have to walk the walk. I need to resist the urge to hide from what might be the most important marketing conversation happening today. If I can’t expect this from myself, I can’t expect it from anyone else, either.

Marketing to Women #6 – Many a Truth Has Been Said in Jest

I don’t know why it took me this long to remember this, but the Harvard Sailing Team, a New York City-based sketch comedy troupe, did a pair of videos – “Boys Will Be Girls” and “Girls Will Be Boys”. While playing on some obvious stereotypes, their execution is both fantastic and unnerving. I figured that, with all the serious discussion, Friday would be a perfect day to lighten the mood. Without further ado:

Boys Will Be Girls


Girls Will Be Boys


So, what’s right about these? What’s wrong? Did anything strike you?

Marketing to Women #5 – Too Busy to Shop: Interview with Kelley Skoloda

Too Busy to Shop by Kelley Murray Skoloda

Buy this book

First and foremost, I have to thank Ms. Skoloda ( @toobusytoshop) for being so kind to let me interview her for this project. Knowing that I’m doing this research for my MBA and that my blog isn’t exactly getting 1,000 hits an hour, she was a fantastic sport, even in dealing with my less-than-adequate interviewing skills. I also want to thank Brittney Osikowicz ( @bosikowicz) for the referral (her second appearance on this blog!).

For a quick background on her, I will quote her own site instead of attempting to write her bio myself:

Kelley Murray Skoloda is an author, an MBA and a public relations executive. A partner/director of Ketchum’s Global Brand Marketing Practice, Skoloda is a recognized authority on marketing to women and is the architect of the widely-publicized Women 25to54, a communications offering that offers a better way to reach “multi-minding” female consumers. (More here)

In other words — Marketing Rock Star. Also, a Katz MBA alumna, which makes me feel all the better about choosing Pitt for B-school.

Kelley shed some light on a few topics that have been challenging for me to decode in my reading without some real Q&A (I’ve finished three books with four more on the way). In no particular order:

“It comes down down to how men and women are hard-wired.”

She discussed some specific research that concluded that, at a very biological level, women are hard-wired for interconnectedness and men are hard-wired to make more straightforward decisions. I’d tend to agree, though I know that there is some controversy when statements like this are made. However, marketing is about taking as much available data you have about the target and making do with what you have. Assumptions must be made and I’m willing to roll with that one going forward.

“We have a lot of work to do.”

In the conversation, she mentioned that there are a lot of male brand managers that work on women’s lines. I wondered aloud if this had any effect on the data I mentioned in the previous post (a majority of women feeling “vastly underserved”). Her response was that we a lot of work to do in understanding what women want and need (Note: I’m making the connection between the presence of male brand managers and the perspective of female consumers, not her). However, she also pointed out that companies are making progress simply because they recognize the sheer numbers involved. She mentioned that Kodak hired a “Chief Listener” (her name is Beth LePierre and here’s her summary of her first days on the job), who is focused on ways to make it easier for moms/women to share photos.

It’s more elementary than you might think.

I half-complained (is there such a thing as a half-complaint?) that a lot of my reading has suggested things like, “respect a woman’s intelligence”, “make her laugh”, and “she likes to talk so give her something to talk about”. I said that it seemed a bit rote and awfully elementary — isn’t that all sort of obvious? Yes, she said, but it’s an elementary thing that folks aren’t getting. Take note, guys — some of it really is that obvious. Don’t miss the obvious.

What about that 85% number *everyone* is throwing around?

If you read anything in this space, you’ll find the data point that 85% of purchases are made or influenced by women (I’ve used this myself). How long will this last? While there isn’t any hard data, anecdotal information seems to suggest that men might be more comfortable moving into domestic roles. She mentioned a site P&G launched in June 2010 that is focused on men called, described as “a household tips website for the growing number of American men who have become homemakers in a tough job market”. Does P&G have some harder data on this or are they just building a firewall for a potential shift in the market? Regardless, that 85% number might fall as times change.

This is some great insight from someone who’s been in the trenches of consumer marketing to women. I was incredibly fortunate to get her perspective and she gave me plenty to think about as I continue on this path. I strongly suggest checking out her book Too Busy to Shop. Please check out her web site and her blog. Finally, you can order the book from here.

What do you all think about her (and my) conclusions?

Marketing to Women #4 – What’s Great About Being a Woman?

You're really hot, but I still wouldn't want to be you

You're really hot, but I still wouldn't want to be you

I love being a guy. Not that I had a choice in the matter, but I enjoy it thoroughly. From simplified underwear choices to not ever having to think about my cuticles , I just love how streamlined and simple it is. Borrowing from a great riff by the comedian Louis CK, if I had to renew my sex every year, I’d check the “man” box every time.

A lot of women might say they’d love to be a guy, but deep down, they know better. They’d check the woman box every time, too. Both sides might want to spend a day switching chromosomes (yes, men would ogle at themselves in front of a mirror for 24 hours), but I think we’d all choose to be firmly planted in our existing homes on Mars or Venus.

I point this out because, for the men out there trying to develop marketing strategies for women, we can’t possibly imagine that it’s great to be a woman. We see periods and heels and the societal pressure to please everyone and the manual dexterity it takes to put on a bra and what brides make their supposed “best friends” wear to their weddings and we just crumble. Men see a bunch of stuff that is painful and frustrating. Women see a spectrum from it’s-fact-of-life to it’s-a-great-thing-about-being-a-woman. It’s a fundamental disconnect.

I have to think this is why women are so frustrated with marketing. According to the MayoSeitz study I’ve mentioned before, a comprehensive survey found that the majority of women feel vastly underserved. Let that sink in. Here, I’ll help…

“…the majority of women feel vastly underserved.”

Women buy more cars than men. Single women buy more homes than single men. Women decide $4.3 trillion of spending each year. And that majority doesn’t even include the women who think they’re just-a-little-bit underserved. That majority believes it is vastly underserved.

Women — we need an education. What really makes you love being a woman? Why would you check the woman box every year? How much has it changed from when you were younger? Is it about sex, clothes, attitude, society, the ability to have children? Are they stereotypical things or are there benefits us guys would never understand? I’d love to hear (read: desperate for feedback to help me better understand this) your thoughts on the matter. Comments anyone?

Marketing to Women #3 – Another Round of The End of Men

Because every mention of strong women must come with a picture of Rosie the Riveter.

I suppose when someone writes as provocative a piece as Hanna Rosen’s The End of Men, there are going to be some interesting and equally-well-written rebuttals. A representative sample:

My thoughts after a weekend marinating on the subject and discussing it with several women (including Mama C.) — I’d agree that the article was a bit breathless and lot Chicken Little. However, I don’t think that the rebuttals address what I believe is the core truth:

Women are a force, not as a rapidly-rising contingent of workers but as financial equals (the true democracy) in a game where brains are favored over brawn.

That, my friends, is a shift that will have a ripple effect across society. Will it be a zero-sum game as Hanna Rosen presents it? Will it be a fantastic (and seemingly unprecedented) adaptation by both genders? Will we see an accelerated pace of redefined gender roles? Will everyone go along and get along? Are we moving from patriarchy to matriarchy, are we keeping things in place but forcing women to try to be all things to all people, or will we develop some hybrid where the “archy” doesn’t really matter anymore? There are so many questions to ask, many of which will only be answered by time.

As marketers, we don’t have the luxury of waiting to see what the market wants to do. We have to come up with ways to launch products and build campaigns in the midst of this change (I’d challenge that we often have direct responsibility for shaping this change, but that’s a more complicated topic). And, maybe two data points does not a trend make, but Newsweek published an article on the same day as The End of Men came out declaring “The Richer Sex: Companies had better cater to women“. It’s a light read and not particularly groundbreaking (gratuitous mentions of Louboutins, Sex and the City, technology adapted to women’s seemingly insatiable interest in stylish products and the faux self-esteem-boosting Dove Campaign for Real Beauty), but it shows that this might just be “the next big conversation”. It can be debated that this is a good thing (often, “the next big conversation” focuses on the superficial, missing the bigger picture), but it’s finally on the map.

Here’s what’s kind of scary — with the lone exception of the guy I mentioned above (loved his breakdown of men vs. women, masculinity vs. femininity, and patriarchy vs. matriarchy), I don’t see men participating in the conversation. In my search for books written about marketing to women (I bought three), I couldn’t find one written by a man. Are we afraid to talk about it? Are we willing to simply let women take the lead? Are we putting our heads in the sand? Or, as I’m discovering, is talking about it taboo, considered a threat to our masculinity?

My two-week trek has elicited some interesting reactions. My female friends (often reliable for these types of conversations and the main reason I can now spell ‘Louboutin’ without Googling it) are loving it. Others seem to think I’m a fetishist, gay, desperate for a date or just weird. The looks of horror I’ve gotten from men and women alike when openly discussing the U by Kotex campaign were/are priceless, especially with my marketing professor announcing to the entire class that I’ve now become captain feminine hygiene. But, regardless of the potential hit to my dating prospects, I believe passionately that men have to join this conversation or we’re going to come at marketing problems from the wrong perspective and ultimately lose the war for women consumers. As my good friend Meghan Skiff recently wrote, no one can afford to allow themselves to become irrelevant and, if they do, they shouldn’t have a seat at the table.

In other words, man-up guys. We hate to lose. And as scary as it might be, it looks like the only way to win in this new game is to learn more about women than we likely ever wanted to know.

Marketing to Women #2 – The End of Men

Women comprise 51.4% of the U.S. population, but make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions. (MayoSeitz Media)

This was the statistic that got me started down this road. It got me asking questions: What of those decisions are made by women and what of those are influenced? Whose money is it? What is the final purchase result? And, to some extent, what are men buying in the 15% of instances that they’re making the decisions by themselves?

Some of those questions were answered in an article published yesterday in The Atlantic Monthly titled “The End of Men”. The thesis should scare men and women alike as there is a gender inequality 180 that could be as damaging as the chauvinist tendencies of most of history. PLEASE read the article — it is well-written, fascinating and disturbing.

Why is it the end of men? Ronald Ericsson, a now 74-year old biologist who devised a way to separate sperm to help people to select the gender of their children in the 70s, is quoted in the article as saying:

“Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”

The article goes on to explain how the world is changing to favor the skills/talents/demeanor of women. This is demonstrated by a few key facts/statistics:

Continue reading

Marketing to Women #1: U by Kotex

It looks like confetti!

It looks like confetti!

I threatened you that tampons would be my first women’s marketing post. Might as well go big or go home, right? Why not tackle one of the things us men are most challenged in discussing on the first go ’round?

So, I’ve been particularly fascinated by U by Kotex since encountering it in the health and beauty section of Target. It was featured on an endcap (I’m particularly obsessed with the endcaps at Target, which often feature some amazing clearance items). The black box with the big ‘U’ and color contrast was a particular draw, having no clue on first sight as to what it was. I saw the Kotex brand, tilted my head, furrowed by brow and said “Really?” out loud, drawing the attention of a couple of women in the section (awkward). Since then, I’ve seen these boxes everywhere where feminine hygiene products are sold, as they’re being displayed in very prominent store placements. At this point, the guy-freaked-out-by-the-monthly-cycle-that-shall-not-be-named was bested by my marketing mind.

Wow, that's boring, even for me.

Wow, that's boring, even for me.

The next natural progression was to take a stroll down the feminine hygiene aisle, where I found some fascinating packaging (see above). There’s really nothing to distinguish a brand — category leader Tampax is at the top (I noticed that the logo had been changed since the one on the box used by my mom to store batteries in the closet as a kid — Reduce, Re-use, Recycle!), positioned next to the store brand that has a very similar scheme (the usual tactic when a company wants to sell their higher-margin private label and have it be compared to the market leader), with a bunch of indistinguishable pink and baby blue boxes. Playtex Sport stood out because the women on the box were depicted as having an absolute blast while on their period, contradicting the behavior of every one of my ex-girlfriends while in a similar state. Perhaps the most interesting was Kotex — not only was it on the bottom shelf (retail products and Tequila have a similar rule when it comes to placement on the shelving hierarchy), but it had a generic box design with red flowers. Not sure exactly what subliminal message the flower was supposed to send, but, even in my open-mindedness, I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about it. Kotex obviously figured out that, well, its brand sucked.

Speaking with a friend of mine about the subject, she said that she goes to the aisle, grabs a box of the tampons to which she’s been brand loyal since her first period, and vacates the premises as quickly as possible. “I HATED it when they changed the box on me, because it made me stay there longer than I wanted to”, she complained. So, maybe that was exactly the point in the package design and positioning — keep it simple for women bothered by the experience and help them get the hell out of there.

Continue reading

My Name is Albert. I’m in Marketing and I Don’t Understand 60% of Consumers. Please Help.

I have no clue why<br />women care about shopping here

I have no clue why women care about shopping here

Hi. This is my first meeting at Marketers Anonymous. My name is Albert. I’ve done marketing for years in a variety of industries. I have done graphic design, marketing strategy and implementation, and have done both B2B and B2C. I’ve developed a web site for a matchmaker and have designed marketing collateral for the consumer market. I’ve done all of this without having the faintest clue about why women buy what they buy at the prices at which they buy. I need help and I’m here to say that I’m ready, willing and able to accept it.

I realized all of this after my Sephora post. I got some great feedback (mostly from women) who thought it was HILARIOUS that I was so freaked out/uncomfortable in that environment. I told a few guy friends about my experience and they responded words/phrases like, “brave”, “crazy” and “I can’t believe you’d actually go in there by way of anything but brute force”. It was also reinforced by a story that a friend told me — she LOVES Louis Vuitton and was SO excited to get a handwritten thank you note from her salesperson for buying a handbag. I couldn’t believe that a $3 card would help seal the deal on a $1,500 handbag.

Women make around 60% of the purchasing decisions and I have so little insight into how they see the world. How can any marketer feel comfortable building a strategy when 60% of the market is a mystery? I ask myself things like: Why do women focus so much on the color pink? Why are women willing to endure waxing certain areas that, to me, would be worse than death itself? Why are some women excited about buying designer shoes at a store like Marshall’s while others would rather pay full price for the exact same item at the branded store? Why will some women eat from the McDonald’s Extra Value Menu to be able to afford a $300 bottle of custom perfume from Barneys in New York?

As a part of my marketing class for my MBA, I’m required to write “learning journals”, which I’ve chosen to do as part of my blog. I’ve decided to use the rest of the class (through the end of July) to analyze women and the way companies successfully and unsuccessfully connect with them. My hope is that I come away from the project with a better understanding of what makes women tick (at least as consumers — in other contexts I’ve already conceded defeat).

So, ladies, I’d love to hear your suggestions for things that might come second nature to your decision-making but are completely invisible to us men. Guys, I’d love to hear about the types of things that confuse you/freak you out/make you glad to be a man. Any and all suggestions are welcome (for instance, one of my next posts is going to be about the logic behind the Kotex U line of feminine hygiene products and yes, I really am going there).

Leave a comment, shoot your suggestions to or DM or @reply me at Twitter@AlbertCiuksza. I’d love to hear from you!

(Update: Make that 85% — the percentage of purchases women influence [Thanks Too Busy to Shop!]. This is going to be one hell of an uphill climb for a clueless only child.)