What women want, with all due respect to Sigmund Freud or that horrifying Mel Gibson movie, continues to stump marketers. And the fact that working has become the norm in the world's fast-changing economies hasn't made the question any easier to answer. But few books offer as many insights as Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World's Largest, Fastest-Growing Market (HarperBusiness, September 2009). Co-authored by Boston Consulting Group execs Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre, the book is based on a survey of some 12,000 women in 22 countries. And it shines a bright light on the pressures and opportunities the world's one billion working women face every day.
Like most studies of this kind, the authors get their arms around the data by shoving women into six main archetypes, based vaguely on life stage and income. And they've got the requisite nicknames, like Successful Multitaskers, Fulfilled Empty Nesters, and Pressure Cookers. But in this case, the authors are also well aware that the central issues in most women's lives transcend any such slicing and dicing. Women feel overextended, stressed out and generally under loved by the companies they deal with. (Turns out their greatest disappointments are banking, investing and financial services companies, with healthcare close behind.)
Companies can't afford to make mistakes with this audience, the authors say. Not only has their "upward spiral" meant more personal affluence, women continue to do the majority of the household purchasing, controlling $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in world consumer spending.
And there are plenty of examples of brands that do understand women-some predictable, like Procter & Gamble's Oil of Olay, some from the who'd-a-thunk it arena, such as the Nintendo Wii Fit, and some that are just culturally transcendent, including the resonance of the Oprah Winfrey brand among the veiled women of Saudi Arabia. These brands thrive, the authors argue, because they understand the complex concerns of women as they move through these archetypes.
The best parts of this book, though, have nothing to do with brands, but the many profiles of women talking candidly about their wants, needs, and dreams. Inevitably, they aren't longing for faster fashion or cleaner floors, but for more time for what they really value: Love, a close connection to friends and family, and a healthy balance between work success and personal fulfillment.
Know any down-in-the-mouth CMOs or ad execs so paralyzed by the downturn that they literally don't know what to do with themselves at the office? If so, forget the pep talk, and just give them a copy of The Shift: The transformation of today's marketers into tomorrow's growth leaders, by Scott M. Davis (Jossey-Bass.) The book is shamefully biased, but it's a great ego boost: Marketers are the most important people in every company. Really! "No one is better suited to drive the growth agenda than the head of marketing," he writes in the preface, and you get the feeling he really believes it. In fact, the entire book is devoted not just to ordinary marketing execs, but those he exalts as Visionary Marketers. (By the second chapter, you may be picturing these VMs wandering around the C-Suite in Jedi robes, while the poor slobs from R&D, sales, finance, and operations are off soaking their heads somewhere.)
The relentless marketing boosterism would be annoying if this book weren't so useful, and Davis identifies five key areas for corporate transformation at a commendable nuts-and-bolts level. There's even a checklist for each called "So, what do I do on Monday morning?" Davis addresses big concepts -- shifting a company's cultural focus from operations to customers, let's say -- on a step-by-step basis, including research and coalition-building, and tries to be as pragmatic as he is strategic. The goal is simple: CMOs should gradually ease the other C-dudes out of the sandbox, until they "have changed their profile and perception from being seen solely as a cost center to a powerful revenue (and margin) driver," writes Davis, a senior partner at Prophet, until finally, "these marketers have become partners with their CEOs, helping to articulate and drive their company's growth agenda from here on in." Power-mad? Maybe. But considering how beat up many marketing execs feel these days, The Shift may be just what the doctor ordered.
For all marketers' talk about using the Web to build business, few think about the ways they use it to build business relationships. Trust Agents: Using the web to build influence, improve reputation and earn trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith (Wiley) offers a thorough guide to doing so with credibility and integrity. Many of its lessons, admittedly, are on the tedious side -- but then, the authors argue, building an online reputation is a painstaking and arduous task. (Think slow roast, they say, not TV dinner.)
But it's hard not to like a book that takes lessons from Pac Man, Robert Frost, Donnie Brasco and the Brazilian art of Capoeira, and is peppered with such Boy Scout-like subtitles as "How not to be scummy." The practical advice is solid, including software, tool, and Web resources. But with a goal of building online relationships that are honest, transparent, and genuine, the book is most helpful in explaining the sometimes bewildering ethical considerations of managing an online reputation and community.