Women: Drive Sales By Being Your Own Focus Group

Last Updated Sep 8, 2010 12:14 PM EDT

You know that moment when you step into a store and there's a little rush of air? That is the last whiff of hope from marketers hoping that all their efforts -- advertising, coupons, support for women's causes, packaging, celebrity endorsements, Facebook promotions -- will pay off. Choose me! Choose me! Choose me! That's what they are begging as you stroll down the aisle with your hand protectively on your purse.

Sharon Love lives in that moment. She is CEO of TPN, a marketing firm that is part of ad agency giant Omnicom.

It's not just Love's 23 years of agency experience that equip her to advise big companies in how to get shoppers to pluck their products from store shelves. Two years ago, Omnicom's top women formed G23, an internal, top-level focus group that pulls together their cross-discipline brains and their century-plus (sorry, Sharon!) of collective experience to brainstorm new directions for client campaigns.

Consumer product folks have done a pretty good job of reaching women when women are the obvious target, says Love. (My personal favorite: the 'secret life of cleaning products' Swiffer campaign that Procter & Gamble is having such fun with. Almost makes me want to go to Cincinnati.)

Love thinks that companies trip up when they are trying to appeal to both men and women: think fast food, technology, financial services, and cars. "When a brand has a heritage with a mostly male following, and they are scared to death to lose that customer, that's where it becomes difficult," says Love. "It's either exclusionary or, when they get desperate, very condescending." Her pet peeve: commercials in which cars take corners at 90 miles an hour -- unsafe at any speed, and alienating to common-sense consumers, not to mention cautious, carpooling moms.

Omnicom's G23 swings into action when a big brand needs their combined brainpower and experience to break out of ruts. It's a virtual agency within Omnicom -- an on-call focus group of women who examine their personal consumer experiences from an advertising point of view, and the client's advertising from a personal point of view. They also commission research to follow up on their intuition and form the backbone of a new client strategy. Their combined expertise has helped Chrysler reposition its minivans, and Limited break out of its traditional demographic.

With women scarce at the top levels of most industries, bringing them together in a no-hold-barred brainstorming session can deliver big ideas in short order.

Here's how your company can adopt the G23's big idea.

  • Focus the meeting. "Examine the relationship between women and your brand," advises Love. That alone can articulate assumptions - both good and bad -- and crystallize possibilities.
  • Unleash a wide-ranging discussion about what growth energized women consumers could bring to your brand.
  • Include a session on how the brand is currently perceived or misperceived by women.
  • Emphasize that the best ideas are borne of both personal and professional observation. Senior women are, by definition, experienced in business and life. This is the moment to bring all that to bear to find new avenues of growth.

Photo courtesy MorgueFile user ecerroni.