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Aug 17, 2001

Mary Lou Quinlan of Just Ask a Woman Explains What Marketers Need to Know About Women

SUMMARY: "We have shown women some of the things projected for the future in the next 3-5 years. Interactive TV and computers. The things that are being designed are in general not attractive. The Internet is upping the ante all the time. They want to be cooler hotter faster, and are working with multiple screens and flashing images.  And the women ask, 'Do you know what my life is like? Could you please simplify and beautify?'" Mary Lou Quinlan, CEO of research firm Just Ask A Woman, explains what marketers need to know about females online and off. 
Contributed by:
Lisa Johnson, Internet Marketing Strategist
ReachWomen, LLC

Since founding Just Ask a Woman in 1999, Mary Lou Quinlan has personally interviewed thousands of female consumers on a range of subjects from health, home and retail to beauty and finance. Previously, as the first female CEO in NW Ayer’s 130-year history, Quinlan helped clients Avon, Continental Airlines, Procter & Gamble, General Motors and AT&T reach consumers effectively.

REACHWOMEN: If you could extract the essence from the thousands of conversations you have had with women, what have you learned?

MLQ: Women change every day. Even after listening to so many women over the years, I continue to be surprised. They are never predictable. Their lives are operating at a huge rate of acceleration, and they are adapting and growing every day.

Women are tired, but triumphant. They are really tired because of all they are doing. Not the sad whiny tired, but the proud ”look at all I can do” tired. Women have blown off the idea of balance and are constantly re-examining what is important to them.

Women are very “other” focused. They amaze me with their otherness and concern for people – their children and spouses, but also other women at large. Women tend to worry and care for others health, others happiness, and others fulfillment.

REACHWOMEN: What are the biggest mistakes companies are making in reaching women?

MLQ: Companies often wait until they have spent all the money and the project is practically complete before involving and talking with women. I see opportunity for involving women earlier and more fully in the marketing process. Companies are still waiting too long, when they could have brought women in at the outset of an issue in order to build something rather than to simply judge and diagnose it.

For example, a retail company may ask: “How can I make my store more relevant.” They may attempt to fix it themselves first, create concepts and models and then go out, finally, when it is practically ready to be built, and say, “Hey what do you think?” The company is almost reluctant to show the product until everything is perfect. Women are used to life not being perfect. They would rather you acknowledge, “Hey, our store is not perfect. Talk to me about how I can make it perfect for you.”

I wish companies trusted women more and really believed in their capacity to help them solve their problems.

REACHWOMEN: What advice do you have for online marketers specifically?

MLQ: I hope they are talking with their customers both on and offline. It would be a good idea to get some” in person” time with your customers. I am a big believer in qualitative. The more women I have talked to, the more I see that if you ask women the questions in the right way you are getting the truth that can be later proven out through numbers.

In the online world they really have to act quicker and can’t do some 6-month research study that will be old before it is printed. Those marketers are the ones who should gather women together, get them in front of computers, play and learn.

REACHWOMEN: What do you see in the future for reaching women online?

MLQ: We have shown women some of the things projected for the future in the next 3-5 years. Interactive TV and computers. The things that are being designed are in general not attractive. The Internet is upping the ante all the time. They want to be cooler hotter faster, and are working with multiple screens and flashing images. And the women ask, “Do you know what my life is like? Could you please simplify and beautify? “

Women have a great design sense. I wish these new innovations came with a clean, welcoming, simple human look. It is not that intellectually women cannot grasp several things at the same time; they do it all day long. But visually there has to be a way to sort images, knowing that that complexity is being placed in a complex life. Give her a break.

REACHWOMEN: What makes you cringe in the way companies or marketers attempt to relate to customers?

MLQ: Sometimes you meet people in marketing who make fun of the customer. They use slang to describe her. There is no way you can create the right thing for someone that you don’t respect. So I think it is important that people who are in marketing communications throw off that cruel “make fun of the customer” thing. It is old and it is killing them.

If you can’t love her, can you at least like her?

REACHWOMEN: As a former CEO of a major ad agency, what do you feel are the biggest mistakes companies are currently making in advertising to women?

MLQ: The biggest mistake companies are making in advertising to women is how bland it all is.

There are not too many times I look at ads anymore and am offended. It is more that [an ad] is boring because it is not tapping into the humor, the uniqueness, the music, or the relationships of women. There are so many funny things!

Ad campaigns are missing so many emotional jumping off points to communicate and be relevant to women. It is laziness - go to the easy sell and she will get it. Of course she will get it! She is not stupid, but wouldn’t you rather she enjoyed the process? Companies are not carving out uniquely relevant messages to women. They are relying on the same boring stuff.

REACHWOMEN: What makes you laugh about what you see?

MLQ: When women discover the obvious holes in a marketing campaign. I hear women kill an advertising idea over and over on the floor (during Just Ask A Woman’s signature “listening” events). It is not done in a mean way, the women are just surprised and wondering how a company could believe something so false about them. In response to one ad we discussed, the women were so straight and funny, with comments like: “Who the heck is she? That model (who is portraying a mom), that’s not her kid… she hates that kid.”

I would encourage companies not to continue to stereotype and categorize women. Women are smart and very complex in every age and life stage.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The folks at ReachWomen publish a useful newsletter on how to brand and market to women online. Free subscriptions at:
See Also:

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