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Remember their stress when marketing to women, author says

Just Ask a Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy

Author: Mary Lou Quinlan

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

Details: 260 pages, $27.95


Consider the stress that women face if you want to reach them with your marketing and sales appeals, marketing consultant Mary Lou Quinlan writes.

In her new book Just Ask a Woman, Quinlan says all women are under unrelenting, 25-hour-a-day stress. This is especially true if they are caught up in the multiple roles of professional, homemaker and mother.

Stress is also a constant in the daily lives of young, single women as well as middle-age and senior empty nesters, Quinlan writes.

Therefore, one of the keys to successful marketing to female consumers, Quinlan says, is to avoid adding to their stress.

"Why does it matter whether companies understand women's stress? Like it or not, stress is standing between you and your marketing success with women. Its effects pervade every decision women make about your business, whether it is finance, beauty, technology, health care, entertainment or retail," Quinlan writes.

Quinlan says women buy or influence the purchase of 85 percent of all products and services sold in this country. Marketers must learn to cope with the stress that can keep them from connecting with their female customers, she writes.

"Remember that if you don't make the connection, you don't make the sale. If your product contributes to her stress because it is complicated or undependable, she will select one of the many competitive choices available to her," Quinlan writes.

The author cites the makers of Calgon bath products, "once the mainstay of stressed-out older women," as a poignant example of a company addressing stress in the lives of younger women. The company invites teens to participate in such things as school spirit contests on its Web site, and it provides information on scholarship programs for young customers.

"The company has tied the stress-reducing bath granules to social stress relief for real life. This kind of marketing thinking not only connects with young women but also helps transform a dated brand into a relevant one," she writes.

The author suggests these steps to marketers who want to connect with female customers under stress: Accept her stress without competing with it or questioning it; pay particular attention to the needs of stressed-out moms; simplify your product or service to support her life; and look at your product or service through her eyes.

Then, she introduces a concept that she calls the "decision quadrant" to explain why it usually takes female customers longer than it does male customers to make buying decisions.

It is important for marketers to understand the customer's decisionmaking process to avoid increasing her stress.

"Do not rush her. She will buy when she is ready. Do not be annoyed with her for not buying on the spot. She is not wasting your time; she is testing you to see whether you are worthy of her business. Are you straight with her? Do you treat her questions with respect? Do you look her in the eye or let your eyes drift to the next buyer? Do you interrupt her questions by taking cell phone calls? You are dead if you do. Because she's busy, she's stressed, and she's giving you time that she doesn't have," Quinlan writes.

The components of the decision quadrant, Quinlan says, are:

+ Powerful memories or personal experience with a brand that may have either a positive or negative effect on the customer's decision.

+ Product legend, or good or bad information about a product, spread through advertising or word of mouth.

+ Her board of directors, trusted advisers considered by her to be experts on the product or service she is thinking about buying.

+ Firsthand encounters: This boils down to the old saw that first impressions are lasting impressions. In essence, marketers must make certain that the customer's first experience will not be spoiled by small errors.

Enter the "vigilante shopper." This is a new breed of female consumers who do their research and take no prisoners, Quinlan says. If they can't find what they want at one place, they take their business elsewhere, including online.

She writes that many retailers such as Sears and Macy's and apparel chains such as the Gap and Banana Republic have suffered sales declines because they have ignored the stress in their female customers' lives.

"Only a few retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl's at the low end and some of the smart specialty retail marketers such as Coach and the Limited at the other end, have shown growth indicating that they seem to be listening to women and taking action," Quinlan writes.

As the name of her company, Just Ask a Woman, indicates, Quinlan has been listening to thousands of women carefully and with sensitivity in stress-free settings. She deplores the traditional focus group approach in which women are paid to be grilled by a moderator about a proposed product or service, while brand managers and other interested parties eavesdrop behind two-way mirrors.

This book may help many marketers learn how to find out what's on the minds of their female customers. And it may prompt some to follow the lead of Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, General Motors, Saks Fifth Avenue and other companies that now use Quinlan's Just Ask a Woman consulting services.

_ Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram