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Living in a Woman’s World

In 2000, Mel Gibson starred in the movie What Women Want, a comedy about “Nick” (Mel Gibson), a somewhat chauvinistic advertising exec hot shot, who has his life turned haywire when a fluke accident enables him to hear what women think. At first all he wants to do is rid himself of this curse, until a wacky psychologist shows him that this could be used to his advantage! His first target is Darcy McGuire, the very woman that got the promotion he wanted. But just as his plan is beginning to work, love gets in the way.

This description alone screamed “chick flick,” that is until I started to receive email after email from friends, colleagues, ex-girlfriends and the final straw, my own father, telling me that my life story had made it onto the big screen… See, at the time I was leading marketing and creative services at Avon, otherwise known as “the company for women” and to say that my life was full of lip gloss, mascara and eye liner wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Sure, the brand I was driving and its products were geared towards women, but the months of strategic planning, brand development and eventually the advertising itself was flat out challenging for anyone, male or female.

Not someone who takes himself too seriously, I decided to rent the movie and while I’d hate to admit it, the movie wasn’t that far off from what I did then and actually, what I do now as a brand strategist.

Developing a brand’s positioning and marketing strategy is all about getting inside the mind of your consumer, understanding their needs, their wants and most importantly- their desires. It’s from that exploration (and the experience of the person and team driving it) that comes the link: The hook, the single-minded, own-able and defendable proposition you want to express. Now you’re thinking to yourself “what the hell does he know about women’s beauty? He’s a guy. He doesn’t wear it (and I DONT). He doesn’t shop for it and probably has no clue what women go through to find the perfect lip gloss. Without regurgitating my resume, the simple answer is: You’re right. I don’t know what women go through, and I sure don’t know about the frustration that comes with beauty shopping. But this is precisely what gives me the advantage, especially when it comes to driving a brand’s growth.

Not knowing the answers is the first step. Strategic marketing people too often use their own personal experience to drive a positioning or a brand expression. It’s a fatal mistake. Especially in NYC, where nothing we see, experience and encounter is representative of the “fly over states,” those 30-45 states you fly over to get to the west coast. Those states also happen to drive, for most companies, about 85% of their sales.

Being able to actually shut up and listen to a consumer is not an easy skill to acquire, especially when you own a brand and pride yourself on being able to step in their shoes and walk their walk. Which brings me full circle back to Mel and this not so awful movie.

For any strategic marketer to be successful, you have to be willing to embrace your consumer learning in a way that doesn’t mitigate your years of experience, but compartmentalizes it in favor of actually listening to what your target audience is saying. In Mel’s case, he got caught literally with his pants down, putting on panty hose. And while I’ve never gone to that extreme, I did find that my right hand made for an excellent testing swab for lip gloss, mascara, eye liner and about two dozen creams, lotions and other products in development. A guy has to have his limits.

So in about two weeks I have the opportunity to sit with a dozen fuller figured women and talk about what its like to buy a pair of jeans. I’m sure they’re going to look at me much the same way the folks at Avon did when I first got there. But, I bet you that once I come clean and admit that I don’t know what they go through and ask them for their help, that the information we get will be extraordinary.

If there’s a moral to this story it’s as John Maxwell once said, “If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone”.

More to come…

Doug Zarkin

SVP Strategy

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