Mother, Wife, Businesswoman, Slave

From the twenty year old student to the sixty-something retired ballet instructor this morning's panel of women showed us a remarkable and varied array of behaviors and attitudes as well some consistent ones.

The consistent themes were the reliance on email for just about everything (one 30-something Mom and business woman claimed her use of email was "close to a sickness"); the near ubiquity of a Facebook presence - even among the demographics that are not historically well represented there - with one Mother / Teacher / Entrepreneur describing herself as a "Facebook Junkie" and 30 year old panelist admitting she has now come to use Facebook more than her email (she later revealed after the panel that she once gave up TV for a year and that was when she took up Facebook - as well as watching TV shows online) and an over-riding confidence with most forms of computer-based communications (not to mention an almost sensual pleasure in just browsing and shopping - and yes, the panelist inquestion was happy with the word "sensual").

All the panelists received some form of email newsletter or updates from brands and companies they trusted or had bought from. One even had printed coupons from one such source with her as she always printed them out in case she found herself in a position to use them. Interestingly, a handful of the panelists had used coupons in this way and considered it pretty much normal behavior for women, but not men. As one of our older - and no doubt wiser - panelists observed, "the reason men don't use coupons is the same as the reason they don't ask for directions" (cue audience laughter and applause). In the end, they agreed, it comes down to machismo.

Inevitably, the subject of spam raised it's ugly head as panelists blithely threw off tales of how they nonchalantly consign unwanted and unrecognized emails to the "black hole of the spam folder". While not all did that - some merely unsubscribed - others felt it was quicker and at least one other felt it was safer than to risk a potential virus. Naturally, there was some concern relating to some of this sort of talk but it was clear that spam is in the eye of the beholder and if it was seen as such then not a lot of mercy was on offer. Some acknowledged they would look in their spam folder and occasionally find something they wanted - one even looks every time before she closes her computer - but others didn't even know how to do it or where it was.

One thing that typifies just how hard it is to neatly slice and dice behaviors of female consumer (or any other group for that matter) was neatly encapsulated in the answers to a question from the audience about when the panelists typically carve out time to go through emails - the answer ranged from throughout the day, through always, 2am and when I can.

And although not all of the panelists were accessing email on their phones, it's clear that the likes of the iPhone are having an impact. Those who had them were addicted ("it's an extension of your arm!") and even the one panelist who had bought one within the last week was in the process of loading her contacts and enabling her email account - though she'd already started using Facebook.

One echo of a panel at last December's Email Insider Summit made up entirely of Moms was the importance of the free offer or discount - particularly in the subject line. Get this right and it just might keep you in the inbox that bit longer. Paradoxically, make it too appealing and you seem to run the risk of being perceived as a malignant, virus carrying message. Clearly getting the subject line right is a mix of fine art and high wire balancing act.

All in all then, a rich panel with some great participants from a range of different backgrounds - and of course, some great questions from the floor.

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