By  on September 2, 2009

It’s getting harder to capture the attention — and spending — of women, even as they grow more optimistic about their lives and chances of success.

“If you make a mistake, they’re going to tell 300 of their friends,” said Michael Silverstein, co-author of a new book, “Women Want More” (Harper Business: $27.99), and a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. “You can’t pull a fast one. Women are smart consumers who are much more discerning, who can see the real and the fake.”

Among the statistics and 25 graphs and charts peppering the 336-page book, written with Boston Consulting Group partner Kate Sayre, are those illuminating the rapidly rising education levels of females: 57 percent of U.S. college students are women, as are half of the collegians around the world. Fifty-nine percent of the country’s graduate students are female. Before 1972, only four in 10 girls graduating high school enrolled in college.

Beyond the power of buzz at stake, still considered the most persuasive form of marketing, $12 trillion in the hands of working women globally is up for grabs, $4.3 trillion of it held by American women. Six in 10 females earn half of their family’s income; three in 10 make all or almost all of it, a reflection of their rising levels of education.

These funds could be largely won by players in a handful of consumption categories women say are most important to them: food, fitness, beauty and apparel. In the U.S., women influence or make almost three-quarters of purchases, considerably more than the four in 10 who do so in developed countries overall, according to “Women Want More.”

The book, which is being published this month, is based on interviews with hundreds of women in 10 countries and a 2008 Boston Consulting Group survey of 12,000 women of all income levels in 40 geographic regions around the world.

In researching the book, the authors found brands such as Apple, Adidas and Nike were named most often by women as “catering to their needs, making them feel the best and capturing their imagination,” Silverstein said. “They’re not classical female brands. They are all affordable luxuries.”

As digital, activewear and athletic shoe brands are ringing true, Silverstein said, “there are huge opportunities” for other marketers to address women’s desires.

The authors found what women want more of is time, money and love.

“Above all other issues, women everywhere intensely feel a lack of time in their lives and the pressure of trying to contort time to accommodate everything they want to achieve,” Silverstein and Sayre write.

In the realm of apparel consumption, women’s desire for more time is now “trumping” their longtime priority on fit as the primary element influencing a purchase, Silverstein said. If a woman doesn’t make the time to shop, how a garment fits becomes irrelevant. Coming to the fore instead are considerations like the cost of gasoline, travel time to stores, the ease of obtaining information about products, and shopping services such as next-day delivery and favorable return policies.

In short, the days when shopping was a popular leisure activity are continuing to fade.

“Billionaires are now role models for women,” Silverstein said. “It is fair now for women to want to be billionaires.”

If they expect to win the attention and money of these well-educated, economically powerful people “marketers will have to look at the purchasing cycle from the consumer’s point of view,” he said.

From this vantage point, the question becomes how to shorten the time in which, and increase the ease with which, women decide to buy something, actually purchase it, and begin using it.

Among those answering the call in the apparel sector has been H&M, with its quick-and-out offers of exclusive, well-priced designer collections. “H&M has been brilliant in crescendo marketing — it’s almost theater,” Silverstein said. “They open the curtain, the orchestra pit comes alive and suddenly the goods are there and gone.”

Though feeling a lack of the time they would ideally want, females are generally optimistic. About 8,000 women around the world, or two-thirds of those surveyed for the book, said their “daily life will be better” in five years, and two-thirds said “their own hard work will help drive their success.”

To connect with women in the first place, television and the Internet are the best bets media-wise because women spend an average of about seven hours a week watching TV and seven hours a week on the Internet.

“Five years from now, it’s likely to be 10 hours on the Internet a week and four hours of TV a week,” Silverstein said, based on the rise of Internet streaming of movies and TV programs from Web sites such as Hulu to computer monitors, digital video recorders and Internet-enabled DVD players.


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