In December 2007, I went to a breakfast about women and financial services and wrote the post you see below as a result.

Flash forward to February 2011, and Wells Fargo launches a new Web destination for women thinking about retirement, backed by the results of a new study on the same topic. 

As I surfed over to Beyond Today, I was optimistic.  Unfortunately, I found more of the same.

Really happy older couple

Why why why must we continue to alienate big blocks of women? 51 million women in the United States are single and I’d wager that a lot of them, like me, don’t cook.  To start a blog post about investment allocation with “Pasta, pot roast, peas… ever get in a rut with your menus?” is just old school. Not to mention the shot of the hysterically-delighted older couple (maybe he’s on Viagra) on the home page while 40-50% of marriages end up in divorce, 32 million people live alone, women live considerably longer than men, etc.  Or the primary involvement of Jean Chatzky: an expert I like, but one who is frequently seen in other venues (like The Today Show and Oprah).

In other words, there’s no new news here – still Version 1.0.  I guess I expect more.  Maybe the thrashing is because gender is no longer (or shouldn’t be) a primary segmentation characteristic in the first place.

Women And Financial Services
December 2007

I attended a breakfast last week entitled “Marketing to the Female Investor.”  I was pretty jazzed about this because, in addition to a pretty good expert panel, the core of the event was a review of fresh research on the topic and I was looking forward to getting a sophisticated update on my own experienced-but-possibly rusty notions.

That’s not exactly what the audience got.

The research’s executive summary declares that “single women are on the rise” (is this the 70′s?) and the study confirms that women are living longer, marrying later, get 58% of all undergrad degrees awarded in the US and are opening businesses at 2x the rate of men.  Speakers presenting the research still referred to this as the “women’s market” – despite the fact that 52% of all US citizens are female – and declared that members of this group have “special needs.”  The research itself, as in years past, said that 71% believe that financial services marketing is targeted to men, and fewer women then men say they understand financial services products well or extremely well (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, IRAs, trusts).  A nervous presenter inadvertently plunged me into a moment of despair when she explained that, while the female respondents may not have an equal understanding of said products, “they are still intelligent.”

Good grief.  Had nothing changed in 15 years?

When the morning (mourning?) turned to the panel, however, the tone began to change for the better.  Most of the panelists’ real-life priorities and programs focused on women’s changing roles in society, and how these role changes are increasingly non-linear:   that women, more so than men, may move back and forth between the core roles of provider and caregiver… and may, as a result, be more or less educated about financial services, may be shopping for products at different times, etc.

So is there a primary segmentation scheme more relevant than gender?  Is it more valuable to target based on whether a person of either gender is home taking care of a child or aging parent vs. bringing home the bacon?  With roles, education levels and life span all changing, is gender becoming a secondary variable, rather than a primary one?

I sketched out the following during the session (and since I can’t draw in 3D, I just inserted the “Decision Maker” axis in here so I wouldn’t forget about it…):

There’s no question that, when observed in as close to real circumstances as possible, men and women tend to have different ways of consuming information, choosing financial advisors and so on.  But, right or wrong, “women’s marketing” has frequently been housed in retail bank groups focused on special niche populations – and this has not served to create a breakthrough positioning for, well, anyone.

Maybe we’ve reached a critical mass at which point it’s not whether one is female or male that should drive marketing communications and sales process design, but rather the role a person plays that dictates her – or his – financial needs, habits and buying behaviors.

Like many marketers – especially direct marketers who study real behavior, in addition to demos and psychographics – I have long marveled at marketers’ general disregard for older Americans.  It’s  as if you become 35 (30?) and fall off the face of the marketing earth.  Or all your mail is suddenly about the Craftmatic Adjustable Bed or characterized by calls-to-action such as “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” 

So I have been really thrilled to see some of these attitudes change.  Dove, Vespa and Kelloggs have all done a nice job.  Companies are utilizing online advertising to reach the 60% of seniors and 80% of boomers are on the Internet.  And there are more websites reflecting the “young” older market, my favorite being the new from Robin Wolaner. and others target a 40+ consumer who is physically and mentally active, likely to continue working at least part-time until they die or their health prohibits it (even with money, forget retirement – too boring) and very interested in romance, relationships and s-e-x.  Just yesterday there was an amazing article in the Wall Street Journal on how the sports medicine profession is branching out to embrace older athletes.  The article mentions that folks age 55 or older make up the fastest-growing segment of health-club members and that 10,000 competitors are expected to participate in the Huntsman World Senior Games, “an event in which anyone over 55 can compete in sports including basketball, triathlon and mountain biking .”  Triathlon??  Who, me? Right after my nap. It seemed that people were finally understanding that “psychographics are way more important than demographics” (Seth Godin) when marketing to seniors today. So I was quite discombobulated to read an article in AdAge (“How to Target Older Demos,” 9-24-07) that seemed to be pulling in the opposite direction.  An article in fact, that appeared to be pulling its readers back to the 1950s.The article is based on Project Looking Glass, a study completed by a marketing company called Varsity.  Varsity is unfamiliar to me.  Based on the physical layout of the AdAge page, my eye was naturally drawn first to the charts and bullets  – which is where I got into trouble with observations and tips such as:

·         Seniors 65+ share a Depression-era frugality

·         Problems with everyday activities are increased, such as bendig down or opening a package

·         Marketers should choose easy-to-see colors and feature young-looking people in ads

·         Companies should slow down voice prompts

·         If direct mail is employed, use thicker (easier-to-open) packaging

Now aside from the fact that I’m nowhere near my 60s and even I get creaky sometimes bending over, these details just sounded so lopsided compared to all of the current studies I’ve been reading!  The picture being painted was the classic “these are old people and bring on the Depends.”  What was going on here?

So I backtrack and actually read the article in question and discover that Project Looking Glass collected its data… during a month-long stay at a RETIREMENT COMMUNITY!!    I mean, the data may be perfectly sound based on a sample from a — repeat — RETIREMENT COMMUNITY — but it’s certainly not the representative and diverse sample that I assumed was the background for the article’s graphics.

A funny but serious example of how – when it comes to market research, as in most things – context is everything.