Women are the great mega niche

Energetic founders of Ginger Consulting are helping major retailers position for success
with women, who buy 85% of all goods and services.


Beth Perro-Jarvis and Mary Van Note, the energetic founders and sole employees of brand research and strategy firm Ginger Consulting—it’s virtual, but “based” in Minneapolis—call women a “mega-niche.”

They also say that women “influence” 85 percent of all consumer purchases. It that’s the case, I’m thinking it’s us fellas who are the mega-niche. And not all that mega.

What’s the difference, generally speaking, between XX and XY in the retail space? Mary compares the typical male shopping approach to aboriginal hunting: “catch it, kill it, drag it home.” In other words, get in and get out. Women tend to like “exploring—shopping is more an embracing experience.” (Men can get dreamy in some retail environments—like car dealerships and golf retailers.) At the same time, women also do a lot of research, particularly via the Internet.

Beth and Mary are particularly busy these days: They’ve been doing projects for retailers and consumer products companies including Target, Banana Republic, and Kimberly-Clark. The retail business has been pretty unpredictable lately, with consumer confidence measures on a month-to-month rollercoaster. Why so much work? Their clients are catching up on things.

”Everyone stalled for a while,” Beth says. During the brunt of the recession, retailers were “paralyzed.”

”Retailing was price oriented,” Mary adds.

”But the dust is settling,” Beth notes. “Retailers need to check in with their customers. They’re thinking: ‘How can our business fit in with the new normal?’” Indeed, the foundation of Ginger’s thinking is “very customer-centric,” Mary says. Adds Beth, “Customers are the only people with the power to expand your business.”

Mary and Beth work on a project basis, which is what they prefer. They provide research, ethnography, ideation, and from-the-outside insights to help retailers and retail products companies refresh and renew their marketing.

”We espouse radical simplicity,” Mary says. They’re not particularly interested in working on a retainer basis, and they certainly don’t want to spend time generating wordy reports that “feed the file drawer.” They prefer energy, optimism, fun—attributes retailers (and their customers) can use these days. “Life is hard right now,” Beth notes. Consumers are “bedraggled and beat up.”

Besides, they don’t need to spend months and months on a project—they’ve got long résumés. “We’re a premium resource,” Mary notes. Adds Beth, “It doesn’t take us very long.”

Still, their work is serious fun. A recent project, for Foster’s Wine Estates (brands include Beringer, Penfolds, and Rosemount Estate), addressed a big issue for large-scale winemakers: Wine tastes may change, but a vintner can’t simply rip out its vines and replant the latest trends. Chardonnay may have lost some of its cachet, but a winemaker still has to sell it. As Mary says, quoting a wine exec, “You need to move the juice.”

Ginger’s idea, based on their research: Concept wine. You’ve seen concept brands: Barefoot, Yellow Tail. Another (new to me) is the provocatively named Bitch from Australia. Based on Mary and Beth’s research and ideation, Foster’s is now developing some concept brands.

Ginger doesn’t always take “female” projects (one of their past clients is Jack Daniel’s). But it has become a specialty. The heart of the firm’s research efforts is its “Alpha Panel," 400 thoughtful, articulate opinionated women in 10 metro areas nationwide.

Ginger has tapped the panel’s insights for numerous projects, including a recent one that Mary and Beth particularly enjoyed—and which makes your humble blogger-dude a little nervous to discuss. It’s about, um, you know. The client: Kimberly-Clark. The brand: Kotex. (There. I’ve said it. Sort of.)

Based largely on the Alpha Panel’s insights, Kimberly-Clark took a product that has been presented in a lot of embarrassing ways—mostly by trying to avoid being embarrassing—and updating for women customers seeking real engagement, not taking-around-the-product marketing messages. Ginger and the Alphas helped shape some groundbreaking commercials (a little too groundbreaking for some stations), and stylish new packing.

“Moms rule the world,” reads a maxim on Ginger’s Web site. So why do marketers still consider women a “niche”? Is the marketing industry that behind the curve? Mary and Beth have some provocative insights on the topic. More to come.