Farnaz on Featured, Negating Stereotypes, Redefining Archetypes, New World Trends, New Realities

Rapid Georgraphic and Demographic Shifts in Poverty rates

Not all trends in The New World Marketplace are positive and cheerful.  But it’s important to share all trends and forces–positive and negative. I believe the first step in creating social and cultural change is always awareness and knowledge. And perhaps if we knew that we’re all in this together, socially and economically, we will take necessary steps in changes for the better.

Last year I wrote a blog, when you think poor do you think Black or Hispanic?  It contained important research with social and demographic shifts in poverty and cautioned broad-stroke depictions of race by marketers.  Since then, there has been enormous amount of focus and research about geography and demographics of poverty in America.  Negating so many stereotypes.

Let’s start with top line headline.  Brookings Institute reports that in 2012, the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of 4) remains stuck at record level of 40%. Yes, that’s more than 1 out of 3 people. Between 2000 and 2008-20012, the number of people living in these distressed neighborhoods of 40%+ poverty, grew by 5 million (or 76%) to 11.6 million. This is big. The nation’s 100 largest metro areas have 70% of all these distressed census tracts. One in four (23%) lived in big cities in 2008-2012, compared to 6.3% in suburbs. But suburban communities experienced the fastest pace of growth in these areas…almost 3 times the pace.

If we also look at high poverty rates between 20-40%, cities grew by 21% to 5.9 million, while suburbs more than doubled growing by 105% to 4.9 million. All together, the growing prevalence of distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods in suburbs meant that 38% of suburbanites lived in tracts with poverty rates of 20% or more (up from 27% in 2000).

Suburbs in the sun belt experienced some of the steepest increases in concentrated disadvantage. Atlanta ranked in the top 3. Click here to see the table and complete report.  There is also an interesting research by Raj Chetty and others, which explains the rapid rise of poverty in Atlanta caused partly by its already pronounced levels of racial and income segregation. Surprised? I wasn’t. I lived there for 9 years.

There are also demographic shifts with these poverty rates. This new report shows lower-poverty neighborhoods became somewhat more diverse –but still largely white.  In contrast, higher-poverty neighborhoods became more white–although still largely minorities. This is effecting everyone despite the race.  And the fact that so many of these residents are located in suburbs only adds to the challenge and the need for urgency, because these communities are ill-equipped to deal with these needs. This report suggests that ignoring the growth of suburban poverty runs the risk of creating new areas of concentrated poverty.

These new poverty findings have huge business and social implications, specially for retail businesses relying on trade area demographics for transactions.

In another Brookings report, I found that it is not just the fact of being born poor that heightens the risk of staying poor, but inadequate education, race and family stability.  These three factors top inabilities for social mobility. A child raised by a poor unmarried mother has a 50% risk of remaining stuck in poverty and just a 5% chance of making it to the top. Even crueler odds (54% and 1% respectively) face those who fail to complete high school. And we are still reminded by the stain of racism, even with an African American President, with black children living in the poorest neighborhoods and attending the worst schools….half of the black children growing up on the bottom rung remain stuck there as adults (51%) compared to just one in four whites (23%).

We’ve always referred to upward social mobility as the American Dream. Then do we know why this American Dream is in a much better shape north of our border, in Canada? This report sites explanations including wider differences in school quality in the US, higher rates of teen pregnancy, and a bigger gap in college graduation rates by family background. Optimism about the American Dream will fade further as meritocracy is fiercely pressured from two sides: a growing economic divide between earned income and inherited wealth; and a growing social divide marked by differences in education, race and family structure.

Poverty remains a harsh reality for all Americans. It must be a harsh reality for business, social and political leaders as well.  For 2013, Brookings estimates of the poverty rate for all persons and for children are 14.9% and 21.8%, respectively.  No statistical difference from 2012, despite unemployment rate falling by 23%. Think of it this way, a headline adult poverty rate of 14.9% means 47.0 million people—as many as are living in both New York and Texas combined. The children’s rate of 21.8% translates to 15.7 million children. In other words, as of 2013, about one in three people living in poverty in the United States was a child. Think of what that might say for the future of this nation.

The silver lining here is that analysts predict there will be a gradual decline in the headline poverty rate for the foreseeable future, although they don’t expect it to return to its pre-Great Recession level by 2024 despite the fact the unemployment rate is projected to do so. They conclude that there has been a reasonable effort supporting people with various forms of cash (tax credits) and noncash assistance (health care, housing, nutrition, child care) despite a severely depressed economy and an unprecedented lack of jobs. Whether these programs will be enough to fight the ongoing tide of demographic changes (e.g., more single parent families) is doubtful.

We need more…primarily in the forms of education and job training. If not for the sake of social implications, for the sake of business success. I can not imagine these growing poverty rates helping businesses at all. We all know that economic and business growth comes from a growing and thriving middle class.

 

Like to hear your thoughts and comments below…..

 

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Study shows women and millennials in leadership roles translates into higher success

Finally….!!!  There is a study that proves what I have been saying for years.  This study shows that when women and millennials (aka Gen Y) are in charge, big things happen and organizations succeed.  This is not a passing trend.  Having millennials and women in leadership positions directly correlates with the success of a company.

The Global Leadership Forecast looked at the workforce issues affecting 13,124 leaders from around the world, representing 48 countries and 32 major industries.  Of the participating organizations, those in the top 20% financially had almost twice as many women in leadership roles, as well as more high-potential women holding those roles.  Does gender diversity pay off?  Yes…!!!  Absolutely…..!!!

Also, companies with a 30% proportion of young people in higher roles saw “aggressive growth,” according to the study. When it’s more like 20%, they saw “little to low growth” rates.  Granted, they leave organizations faster (within a year) and less engaged than other groups, but those are opportunities for companies to overcome.  But how can we ignore the success results of having women in leadership roles?

Even beyond the business success, there is all the life ending crises around the globe.  Heart breaking.  I couldn’t even get myself to write a business blog lately.  Who would want to read about cultural change and macro trends when faced with such never ending wars of domination and control?  I even read Gaza-tweets saying women should stop having children until men learn not to kill them.  Then I thought, it’s the leadership, stupid….always has been and always will be.  What this study doesn’t cover is what would happen if we had more women and millennials in political leaderships.  Would things be different?  I’d say…Yes….!!!

Sure, as long as there is life, there is death. Can I say as long as there is love, there is war. Maybe.  But can we move the needle by stepping into the New World order and starting to change our existing homogeneous leadership in businesses and politics.  If not for a better world to live in, for higher profit for all.  Let’s start sharing these studies.

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Work/Life Balance is no longer a gender issue, it’s cultural and generational

Work/Life balance has been in the forefront of business productivity plans for over a decade as more women entered the work force in management positions and contributed to better company performance. What started out as a gender issue, later became a generational issue, and now it’s a cultural issue. With 70% of US moms working in 2014, the cultural conversation has shifted from whether women should work outside of home to how do we understand the needs and values of the working parents, and tailor policies accordingly, to attract and retain the best talent regardless of gender and/or generation. Talent is a company’s most powerful sustainable competitive advantage. These valuable insights are extremely important in branding strategies of your value propositions to the new world marketplace customers as well.

WMRI (Working Mother Research Institute) recently conducted a fascinating study on 3 generations of men and women that make up majority of the work force now: Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980) and Gen Y, aka millennials (1981-2000). Interesting similarities and differences between generations of parents as it relates to the best ways to manage work and personal lives….clearly common grounds for all working parents as well as areas where generational and gender attitudes diverge…..

Do you remember Gen X being referred to as slackers years ago? They earned this reputation mainly because they were the first generation that demanded work/life balance. For work-centric boomers, they were slackers. Can you imagine what Boomer bosses are going through now with Millennials? I’ve spoken to many business leaders who stereotype and mischaracterize Millennial’s love and expectation of work/life balance as laziness and lack of ambition, versus a cultural shift and thoughtful re-prioritization of personal and family values.

This WMRI extensive study clearly outlines that Gen Y moms feel far more optimistic and happy than previous generations—mostly because of the support they are receiving from their spouses (as equal active partners) but also from their parents and managers. Gen-Xers tend to be stressed often viewing work as a financial necessity…but they are ambitious, highly educated and tech savvy, and overwhelmingly part of the dual-earner couples. And baby boomers feeling stretched as new demands of caring for parents, retirement and aging are upon them….hard to imagine when they find the time to look and feel younger than their age. The only group that outshine Millennials in their optimism is the female breadwinners—in every category. Interesting, huh?

Couple of surprises about Millennials, even for me…although they are cheery about family finances (64%), pleased with their relationship with their spouses and partners (71%) and were even happier about contributions fathers make in caring for their children (73%)…and although this generation is more career-minded than the previous two….they are more conflicted about child care and career. Most agree that one parent should be home to care for the kids (60%) and home when a child gets there (83%). And this is the generation that feels free to choose between work and staying home and they figure out how. Don’t be surprised if Millennial parents choose to stay at home for some years during their career. Providing flexibility may or may not be enough for them. More than half of all men and women in Gen Y think flex causes work to interfere with family time. So separation of work and family is more important to them. And encouraging unplugging even more so, specially at nights, weekends, vacations, etc.

Depending on your perception, this may emphasize some stereotypes about laziness and sense of entitlements for this generation, but like it or not, this is the future work force. Millennial’s need to unplug is not to avoid hard work, but to help them fuel for the job—whereas boomers and Gen X’ers liked the always-on, always-connected work culture that gave them flexibility of working remotely. Let’s not mischaracterize these cultural shifts in needs and values. The always-on fatigue is somewhat evident in previous generations.

What everyone wants most in the workplace, no matter the gender or generation, are job security and stability, competitive earnings and flexible schedule and culture. But communicating each for different generations may be very different. The key is ensuring that the flex options match the needs of each life stage.

Here’s the common ground regardless of gender or generation…top 3:

  • Couples should have equal input of how income is used no matter who earns what
  • Children should be cared for equally by both parents
  • Work and personal time should be kept separate

Now ask yourself if your current business practices and policies support these values? How about your branding and marketing strategies? I’m starting to see a few fathers in commercials but are we representing working parents both equally caring for children and deciding on spending? Think about it…this is a huge opportunity.

I have written about many studies that have shown that Millennial dads are more enthusiastic and engaged with their kids than previous generations. The latest Pew research released this month revealed that more dads are staying home with the kids. Although this study did not break down by generation, it showed an overall rise of stay at home dads in recent years. High unemployment rates around the great recession contributed to this increase, but the biggest contributor to long-terms growth is number of fathers who stay at home primarily to care for their family. Even more interesting and noteworthy is that working fathers with children under 18 are just as likely as working mothers to say that it is difficult to balance work and family. Roughly equal shares of working fathers (48%) and mothers (52%) prefer to be at home raising their children, but they need to work because they need the income.

These are the trends that will likely have dramatic impact on workplace policies in the not-so-distant future for both mothers and fathers. And they should have dramatic impact on your marketing and branding strategies today and onward.  Do you want to have a powerful competitive differentiation and advantage?  Start embracing these cultural shifts in needs and values.

Are you ready for the shift?

Keep staying informed, and please share your thoughts and comments below….

 

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New Multiracial Face of America – Demographic tipping shifts happening much sooner than expected

Throughout my life in the US, I was often asked “where are you from?” Of course, I looked and sounded different and it was obvious I wasn’t born here. This question used to bother many immigrants, but not me. Perhaps I counted my blessings that it was never “what are you?” … or maybe felt it was a great conversation starter. And as the face of America started changing drastically during the past decade, coupled with many great diversity and inclusion initiatives, a lot of these questions went away for most of us in today’s presumably more open and accepting world.

But would you believe me if I told you we may start getting a lot more of these “what are you” questions from the curious yet less polite among us? And not because the inclusion initiatives failed, but because we’re no longer divided into red, yellow, brown, black and white varieties. The skins are no longer just black, white and brown….hairs blonde, brunette or red….eyes either blue, green or brown….the faces now are a unique blend and mixture of all in no apparent pattern or structure.

I saw these pictures from National Georgraphic and I was blown away. Great article too. Not because I haven’t seen or known anyone like this, but because no one ever captured and published it.  A must see (click here to view)…I think it’s beautiful.

You’ve heard me speak and write about the multiracial growth for a few years now. The US census bureau started collecting details on multiracial population since 2000 when it first allowed respondents to check off more than one box for race…and 6.8 million people did so. Ten years later that number jumped by 32% to 9 million, making multiracials one of the fastest growing population in the US. We’ve reached a point that we can no longer define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. Racial identity is a highly nuanced concept, and a very personal one influenced by culture, politics, religion, history and geography. And census bureau knows that.

To be blunt, we’ve always used creative names to describe mixed breeds of our beloved pets. My dogs, Tai and Chi, are Chugs (chiwawa/pug).  And puggles (beagle/pug) even have their own web site. So don’t be surprised if you start hearing the same creative mix to describe multiracial generation. On playgrounds and college campuses, you’ll hear homespun terms such as Blackanese, Filatino, Chicanese, and Korgentinian. (The generation past Gen Y is already called Pluraist…I will write a blog about them soon.) Don’t be surprised if we end up reconsidering existing racial definitions and identities.

Although inter-racial marriages have tripled since the 80’s in this country (currently at 8.4%), a major cause for multiracial population increase, recent Cheerios ad featuring an interracial family promoted a barrage of hateful responses, including “DIEversity.” We hear similar outrage in Europe against multiculturalism due to muslim population increase. Sadly, but true, the current racial inequalities are real for interracial relationships equally. And I’m not naive enough to claim that the election of Barrack Obama has fixed it all. But I am suggesting that the new face of America is changing a lot faster than we all expected. These beautiful pictures say America will look like this in 2050, and I’m here to tell you, it’s more like 2043.

William Frey with Brookings institute recently reported that based on the most recent numbers, we’re beginning to reach a tipping point…and for the first time in the last century, we have more White deaths than births creating an older age structure. This is not an epidemic of death but one caused by lower fertility rate among aging whites. Not a big surprise. Everyone knew this would happen by 2020, but Frey reports that they are seeing this in 2012 numbers….8 years earlier and much sooner than expected. For the first time, half of children under 5 are non-white and 14 states are minority-majority. The young minority population is on the rise and will be the main work population in the next two decades as 10-12 million white boomers retire. Like it or not, this is good news. Otherwise, we will end up with declining labor force population much like Europe. It is the younger multiculturals that will help our country stay afloat.

Even beyond the work force, consider the changing customers and consumers of your product and services. Want to grow and succeed in The New World Marketplace? Consider forsaking your orthodoxies, biases and prejudices first.

Most of all, I do think it’s beautiful.  Don’t you?

Keep staying informed, and please share your thoughts and comments below….

 

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New World Trend with Gen Y: new parents, socially conscious & connected, practical, culturally liberal

The Millennial generation, aka Gen Y, is forging a distinctive path into adulthood and parenting, both culturally and economically.  While this multicultural generation is very slow in getting married—only 26% versus 36% of Gen X and 48% of boomers (Pew)—once Millennials start a family, their social and consumption behaviors change.

Let’s start with a backdrop on recent technological trends and consumptions… We know that Gen Y is highly connected and highly informed.  The number of video-playing devices almost doubled from 2010 to 2012 to nearly four devices per person, according to Magna Global.  According to a recent SDL study, millennials check their smartphones 45 times a day, and 5 out of 6 connect with companies on social media networks.  This is the generation that orchestrates their own brand experiences across multiple channels and devises—often as many as four devises per day.  E-mail is one of their last choices of preference but they share content with peers and other trusted brands through social media.  Social networks and customizable news feeds dominate content discovery, with top 3 channels being facebook, twitter and youtube.  Importantly, growing a customer relationship isn’t always about selling a product…60% of consumers like it when they receive a touchpoint that’s not related to selling a product.  Counter intuitive?  Not really.

Think of this generation as highly connected and highly informed.  Need for constant and instant communication…yet connection and relationship on an individual basis versus trying to fit into a “social norm.”  It is about personal growth, relationships and causes—values most important to them.

How they choose to interact with brands is making traditional marketing extinct.  Brands must break through millennial’s personal spam folder and provide content that finds them across many channels.  In order to win their trust, brands must be Authentic and transparent.  And their content must be consistent across all consumed channels and willing to trade campaigns for customer experience and advocacy.

There is an important cultural transformation taking place in the youth minds of the your current and future customers.  They are transforming business and branding norms. I always say….Embrace diversity, freedom, equality, adventure, inspiration and social consciousness in your branding messages, and this market will relate.  More importantly, it is all about staying color blind and gender neutral.  Diversity, multiculturalism and acceptance of all people goes way beyond race and gender.  A survey from the Public Religion Research Institute showed at least a 20-point gap between Millennials and older generations when it came to gay & lesbian rights.  Even Chick-Fil-A CEO apologises for gay marriage statements to stay relevant in The New World Marketplace.

Although unattached to organized religion, politics and marriage, Millennials are entering parenthood (10.8 million) with some distinctive cultural changes.  Last year, I wrote a blog Dad is the new Mom.  Since then, there have been numerous articles about higher level of involvement about Millennial dads being far more involved with raising their kids and playing an active role with all HH duties.  They view head of HH as a partnership.  What is also noteworthy is a recent study by Barkley showing that Millennials, now the new parents, prefer modesty and practicality over status.  While this may sound like a normal transition into a family life, Gen Y favors brands such as Walmert, Costco, Target, Kohl’s and K-mart far more than previous generations….they even prefer these brands over the web darling Amazon.  Makes sense, given that this is the generation that entered adulthood during dot-com bust, 9/11, and big financial and housing crises.  Many were just entering the work force when 2008 recession hit, facing high unemployment and college tuition debt.  Same study showed that 50% of Gen Y parents buy products that support causes and charities.  Branding implications?  All the tech trends should be positioned as practicality, not flashy status symbol.  Reconsider marketing strategies to reach this generation.

Although I’m sharing latest Gen Y trends, these trends also apply to Gen X and baby boomers for Gen Y has the greatest influence on previous generations and cultural evolution as a whole.  And even more so, older generations are redefining ageism.  This year, last of the boomers will turn 50.  And next year, in 2015, the first of Generation X starts turning 50 (with the youngest turning 35).  Like the younger Boomers who came before them, they will also bring a youthful attitude to the life after 50 with higher emphasis on self-importance and quality of life.  Yes, we refuse to define ourselves by age and cultural limitations our societies put on aging.  (For more on this, also ready my blog, 50 is the new 30)

Understanding Gen Y and knowing how to reach them will not only ensure your long term success, but also enable your brand to leverage on this cultural evolution impacting our societies cross-gnerationally.  Are you ready to shift?  Are you willing and ready to become your own future rival?

 

Love to hear your thoughts…share your comments below….

 

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Farnaz Global Moved to Austin

Yes, the rumors are true!  I have moved myself, my two dogs, Tai and Chi, and my business, Farnaz Global, to one of my favorite cities in this world — Austin, Texas.

Many have asked me why, specially those who knew I almost moved to Austin 4 years ago.  I enjoyed living in Atlanta and gained wonderful friends and business connections.  I felt I accomplished a lot in Atlanta, both personally and professionally.  But when I finally reached a point that I could do my business from anywhere, I chose to move to a city that I love, and more importantly, be closer to my family.  One of the best perks of entrepreneurship….flexibility….!!!

Please note my new office numbers:

Office:  512-761-3952
Fax:     512-857-6594

My web site will be undergoing a slight facelift soon, but my speaking and consulting services will remain the same.  In fact, I will be the keynote speaker for Deloitte Diversity and Inclusion conference next month in Dallas.  Check out this link for more details.

I will resume my regular blogging in April.  I have a lot of new research with our youth culture that you will find fascinating, and will start sharing soon.

Please stay in touch and keep staying informed.

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Do you have the right strategy for 2014?

A good, solid, differentiating Strategy isn’t easy to understand, let alone implement and go to market.  Many great, large consulting firms have used powerful frameworks with analytical rigor with companies, but I believe they are missing an important evolution of strategy which is about the psychology, thinking and feeling of the essence of strategy.  The shifts in cultural values, causes and beliefs among new world customers which have direct impact on a successful winning strategy.  This isn’t so much about what has shifted in the budgets—it’s more about what has shifted in consumers and therefore, market forces.

This essence of strategy needs to be understood and embraced by the leaders of the company.  Sure, we can use fancy words and tools to diagnose, search and forecast.  They are all necessary.  But bottom line is an understanding of why you have or have not been making money, and what needs to shift to create a differentiating value in The New World Marketplace versus the competing alternatives.

More often than not, it starts with senior leaders facing the brutal facts about their own biases and past orthodoxies that hold them back from tapping into a profitable new world market.  And that’s where commitment and conviction to strategy falls short. Transferring frameworks into actionable specifics and guidelines are important to strategy… so are the reallocations of resources along with commitment to analytical rigor and constant re-evaluations.  But truth is, leaders of companies have escaped the middle class in their daily lives, and often fail to understand that they can’t escape the rapid changes in the middle class with their strategy—unless they do something very unique and special with luxury brands riding on industry trends for a very short period of time.  Even Neiman Marcus, BMW, Mercedes and many other luxury brands are trying to tap into the middle class market and the 3 major macro trends of women, youth and multicultural.

The magic of strategy happens where there is more focus on positional improvements, not just performance improvement.  Positioning the company against the right, growing macro trends–where and how to compete by right target market selection.

It behooves me on how leaders and companies view this critical part of strategy as marketing.  Of course, I believe a good Chief Marketing Officer should be the brand guard and completely capable of delivering the right positioning against the right trends and insights.  But this may explain why so many companies these days are starting to hire Chief Strategy Officers as well as Chief Marketing Officers.  Whether that’s a CMO talent issue, or both positions will combine into one again soon after, it certainly keeps large strategic consulting firms like McKinsey in business for a long period of time.  The future you need to plan for is not just about overcoming the profit-depleting effects of the market forces.  It is about the psychology of becoming your own future rival, and willingness to embrace the New World Marketplace customers.

Flatter me please… click here  for a quick grasp on why the positioning improvement is the essence of strategy and why it will help you succeed in 2014 and beyond.  And then ask yourself, do you have the right strategy for 2014?

 

 

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Do you know the underlying needs and values to address women effectively? 10 questions to ask your strategy team

Since the Wave 5 of the Ipsos MediaCT Audience Measurement Group came out earlier this month about Women, Power & Money, I read myriad of articles on the web.  There was one in particular by MediaPost which intrigued me, examining American women’s lives, lifestyles and marketplace choices across three generations—Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers.  I thought the findings identified cultural shifts in women’s priorities and how women are shaping the leadership and financial course of The New World Marketplace.  Of course, as an X-CMO, I thought they were all missing what companies and brands should do differently with their strategic positioning and branding messages with these new findings.  But that is why you are here, reading my blog.

There is no doubt that, despite gender lags in pay and salary negotiations, American women are feeling increasingly empowered, independent, knowledgeable and successful. According to Allianz women money and power research, women made up half of all stock-market investors and controlled 48% of estates worth more than $5 million in 2006-2007. By 2011 women controlled over 50% of the United States’ wealth, and 60% of women with business degrees out-earn their husbands and describe themselves as primary breadwinner.  And according to the latest U.S. Census, regardless of educational attainments, women out-earn their male partners in 22% of households….while this is not a big number worth bragging, it is a far cry from Cinderella archetype.

However, there are radically differing perceptions of financial responsibilities between women and men, says the report.  Women perceive controlling day-to-day spending, with ¾ or more feeling responsible for household purchases, while big-ticket purchases are considered joint responsibility.  Men perceive differently, seeing day-to-day decisions jointly, and big-ticket purchases as largely theirs.  Regardless of this differing perception, it makes sense, in any healthy relationship, to discuss and agree on big-ticket and joint-household purchases…while day-to-day spending may not warrant negotiations.  The same is true in any Corporate structure of financial responsibilities and sign-offs, isn’t it?  This speaks greatly to who should be targeted for what product/service purchases, singularly or jointly, varying by age/generation, culture, income and lifestyle.

Let’s face it.  Since the recession, messages of price value and affordability resonate across genders, cultures and generations.  But throughout the Ipsos study, women show greater tendencies toward price and value (despite income), more inclination to spend on “experiences”, and more openness to new brands….which make them less brand loyal (only 29% express brand loyalty).  Men are more likely to spend on products, less price focused (except for financial services) and show preference for familiar brands.  For women, the security and freedom money brings is 15-20 times more important than the status and respect it affords.

This report also highlights key generational differences:

  • Boomer women perceive more differences between men and women.  However, in my opinion, this is the generation that taught Gen Y about gender equality and “girls can do anything boys can do.”  The study shows that they are more swayed by messages related to “values” and corporate social responsibility, but I believe they are also leading the way with embracing the major cultural shifts for the younger generation…for their sons and daughters.
  • Gen X women are solidly in the lifestage of family formation and its associated trade-offs.  They seem more financially constrained and price-conscious—so price/value messages resonate best with this generation of women, and considered necessity.
  • Gen Y women, aka millenials, feel empowered and equal to men, and are more likely to describe themselves as smart (70% vs. 54% men).  But they also feel more stressed and exhausted in an uphill climb in achieving equal results with men.  Gen Y is also a global generation of women with perspectives and marketplace preferences that transcend gender and cultural borders, and are inspired by shared experiences of technology, innovation, social media, and new creative brands.

I believe it is the Gen Y women that will finally close the gender inequality in corridors of power in the future.  This new generation of women not only feel more ambitious, independent, smart and educated, but they are also less likely than men to be living with their parents—32% versus 40% of men–continuing a long-term gender gap in the share of young adults living at home, according to Pew research.

In my book, I cited the Levi Strauss Millennial study that showed  values such as independence (96%) and being able to shape their own future (87%) trump everything… including becoming a mom (68%) and marriage (only 50%).  This generation of women who grew up with executive mothers see the hard-working, hard-charging work life as “extreme” and costs too great.  This is the most educated cohort of all times with a zest for entrepreneurship, if for nothing else, so they can shape their own future.  So clearly they have the greatest influence on cultural evolution for women.  (Also read, Evolving Archetypes & Rise of Women)

If you think about it, these underlying “values” and “needs” have major implications in building emotional connections through your branding and communication strategies and messages.  More importantly, they help define need-based targeting for brand products and services.  For example, price/value is increasingly becoming a greater and greater “need” for women in providing quality life for families, and brands have greater and greater “need” to differentiate amidst the clutter with lower brand loyalties among women consumers.  Generational life phase clearly bring forth different set of needs, but the aspirational values for women cross over generationally and demographically.

Targeting women, in general, is an economic imperative and strategic necessity for profitable growth.  Targeting women effectively can also serve as a key strategic differentiation for companies.  Women not only control majority of buying decisions, but they also demand change and expect it to be meaningful.

If I was consulting for your company, I’d start with asking your strategy and marketing teams these 10 key questions.  Here they are…go ahead and ask your team….this is good starting point for your strategic discussions around your Value Propositions and branding/communication strategies:

  • Have we re-evaluated our core target to primarily include women ?
  • Have we defined which women, which needs and at what relative price?
  • Does our Value Proposition(s) identify and align with evolving needs and values?
  • How do we differentiate from competition?  Is this clearly being communicated?
  • Do we know which one of our products/services is “her decision” alone, and which ones are joint with her partner?  Are we communicating accordingly?
  • Are we enhancing “her experience”?  If so, how are we communicating this?
  • Does she consider us “affordable” relative to competition?  (Note:  affordable is not the same as cheap)
  • Are we avoiding gender biases and stereotypes in our communication strategies?
  • Have we identified the sweet spot of commonalities cross-generationally?
  • Are we recognizing and acknowledging The New World Modern Woman?

Can you and your team answer these questions effectively?  Are you ready to shift?

If you like this blog, please click below and share…..and I love to read your thoughts and comments too…!!!

 

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Negating Stereotypes: When you think “Poor” do you think Black and/or Hispanic?

Who do you think of when you hear the word “poor”?  There are myriad of reports on economic doom and gloom and rise in poverty in the US, but none that hit the nail on the head with what I call, negating the stereotypes…..

A recent Huffington Post article noted that 4 out of 5 adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives–a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American Dream—driven by an increasingly globalized US economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Many people think this poverty is skewed toward racial minorities—primarily Blacks and Hispanics—but this is no longer true.  The race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially.  While Blacks and Hispanics are still three times more likely to live in poverty, census data reports that by sheer numbers, the predominant face of the poor is white…more than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, or 41% of the population, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

To further negate stereotypes, the same article shows numerous studies that reflect:

  • While marriage rates are in decline for all races, for the first time since 1975, the number of white-single-mother households living in the poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade—spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock birth among whites—1.5 million in 2011 comparable to blacks.  Hispanic-single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million.
  • The share of white children living in high-poverty neighborhoods is increasing to 17%, up from 13% in 2000, even though the overall population of white children in the US has been declining.  The same share of black children dropped to 37% (from 43%) while Latino children went from 38 to 39%.

These shifts have clear indicators as it relates to values, causes and beliefs.  These studies show that nonwhite minorities have more optimism about the future while whites (particularly working-class/no-college) have never been so pessimistic.  Whether these feelings, beliefs and values are ignited by Obama’s election and re-election, and/or economic hardships, they are reflected in hard facts.  And no one can negate the social and cultural changes that are rapidly challenging the status quo.

This puts a different spin for marketers for price/value brands, doesn’t it?  And not just in advertising and marketing campaigns, but also in growth strategies with distribution.  A different spin for politicians, election campaigns and how we evaluate social policies.  A different spin in how we feel about the widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor.  A different spin in how we see “us” versus “them”.

Two years ago, I wrote about Middle Class shrinking and the vanishing American Dream.  And last year, I wrote a blog “The Emerging Middle Class Culture in America” challenging companies and marketers to avoid broad-stroke depictions of non-white consumers.  I defined multiculturalism by a mosaic of different cultures in one platform and a society that is ethnically and culturally diverse.  I always reiterate that does not mean excluding whites or implying ethnic minorities only.

As multicultural societies become the new mainstream and new normal, and non-whites approach a numerical majority in the US, expect to see wealth, income and class to become far greater indicators and predictors of behaviors, consumption and lifestyles than race and ethnicity ever were.  I think we are in that marketplace now.

That’s not to say that race and ethnicity don’t have any cultural impact on lifestyles.  But unless you are selling products and services that cater to a very specific cultural nuance, know that your customers’ needs are driven primarily by their socioeconomic status, not their skin color.  So, start marketing to the inside of your customers, not outside.  This is not easy to do since most analysis, measurements and ratings are still broken down by age, gender, race, etc.  And that’s OK, since the same type analysis is helping us negate our stereotypes.  But, as marketers, we must learn to understand and measure customers’ needs that transcend many demographic lines.  The first step is to start negating stereotypes and challenging orthodoxies, and finding commonalities.  This not only helps your strategic positioning and marketing campaigns, but also help us remember that we’re all in this together.

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Do women hold themselves back from corridors of power? My take on “Lean In”

It took several weeks of unusual summer rain in Atlanta and couple of days without phone, internet and cable, before I finished reading some of the books laying on my night stand for months.  One of them, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg.

I was among many women who bought this book due to all the media hype, but didn’t read it immediately.  Mainly because there were so many articles, blogs, reviews, videos and TV interviews, that I felt I had already read the book.  But not true.  The promotional sound bites and all the controversy don’t do this book justice.  I must admit, reading her ‘acknowledgements’ section, which was as big as any chapter in the book, made me think that if I only had that much help with my book (or any help), I would end up with the same media coverage.  Envy aside, kudos to her and her team….I absolutely love her message and her courage to start this important dialogue, and believe her book is a must read for all women and men.  And here’s why…..

Sheryl Sandberg is the first woman who finally spoke up about internal barriers as much as external barriers that hold women back from reaching leadership positions.  It’s true.  Many women (not all) hold themselves back by lacking self-confidence through gender stereotype messages they hear and tend to believe throughout life….  by not raising their hands or sitting at the table…. and by pulling back when they should be leaning in (leaving before leaving).  Her TEDtalk speech with this main message reached over 550 million views.  In the book she goes further into complex challenges women face and adjustments/differences we can make ourselves: increasing self-confidence and closing the ambition gap, getting our partners to do more at home (Make Your Partner a Real Partner)… not holding ourselves to unattainable standards (The Myth of Doing It All)…. and of course my favorite–avoiding gender stereotypes (OK, she doesn’t have a chapter on this, but she references it allot and I’m personally all about this.)

All that sounds great, right?  I nodded my head in agreement most of the entire time and even laughed out loud quite a few times (it’s a witty, funny book).  So why all the controversy, and why are so many women so pissed off?  Sheryl may think it’s because success and likability are negatively correlated for women, by both women and men.  She has a chapter on this with great research no one can negate.  But I think there is more….I believe there are two main reasons at the core of the controversy and mixed responses by women about this important message:

First, many women don’t face these internal barriers, depending on cultural and family backgrounds, but face complex external barriers that hold them back.  It’s important to read this book without reaching any conclusions, because her argument does not negate external barriers, but pushes everyone to get rid of internal barriers critical to gaining power and success.  She poses this as the ultimate chicken-and-egg situation.  The chicken: women will tear down the external institutional barriers once we achieve leadership roles and make sure we level the playing field (one can shoot holes all over this with research too.)  The egg: we need to eliminate the external institutional barrier to get women into those roles in the first place.  Both valid, she encourages women that instead of debating over which comes first, to focus on the chicken and our own internal barriers.  It’s a brave move and rarely discussed.  Problem is, without reading the book, some think she is attacking the victim.  That is not true at all, but perhaps her marketing team have not done a good job balancing her promotional/media messages to include both, as she has done in her book, without alienating those women who truly know how to “lean in” but face institutional barriers.  Even those women can really benefit from her message of unconscious gender bias and stereotypes that women face ourselves, and against one another.

Second, and more importantly, I think people in general (men and women) have a harder time relating to those who have not been through similar experiences and hardships.  Overcoming severe adversities is a common thread among greatest leaders….one that entices people to listen, relate, learn and follow.  And Sheryl has not been through much other than difficult child labor and long work hours.  No one should ever hold that against her and the important message she is sending out to The New World Marketplace.  But this lack of common wo/man relatability goes far beyond a correlation analysis of success and likability.  We all love–regardless of gender, age and culture–hero/eins who rise from ashes like the Phoenix, overcoming adversities and helping others.

With all that said, I give “Lean In” a big thumbs up.  But I’d only re-write Time’s headline, “don’t hate her because she is successful,” and say, read this book regardless of how relatively easy success came to the writer, because the message is excellent, prevalent and important for all women and men cross-generationally.  Bravo Sheryl.

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