The 80% factor

Judging by what's currently in the works at Ford, Chrysler, Saturn and especially Volvo, it seems that some of Canada's automobile manufacturers are finally making good on their longstanding promise to get serious about marketing to women.

Judging by what’s currently in the works at Ford, Chrysler, Saturn and especially Volvo, it seems that some of Canada’s automobile manufacturers are finally making good on their longstanding promise to get serious about marketing to women.

Doing so seems like a no-brainer, given that economic data clearly indicates women are not only buying more and more cars for themselves these days, they are also influencing a whopping 80% of overall car purchases. Logic suggests that leveraging this reality to establish a differentiator would be a great way to combat both competition and increasingly tight budgets.

But, says Joanne Thomas Yaccato, author of an upcoming marketing book called The 80% Minority, corporate Canada often ‘has to be thwacked on the back of its collective head’ before it pays attention to the lucrative opportunities female consumers represent.

‘It was like pulling teeth to get the car industry to recognize either women’s purchase influence or their direct buying power,’ says Sunni Boot, president of Toronto’s Optimedia Canada. ‘Now, though, I would say the automotive category is almost leading [the pack]‘ in pursuing opportunities that formerly were being missed.

Boot says her client, Kia Canada, for example, is all ears when she recommends media buys – especially for the Rio entry-level model – in fashion and shelter books as well as female-focused general interest publications like Chatelaine and Canadian Living.

But the big news is that Volvo Cars of Canada may pull way ahead of its competitors in this regard with next month’s rollout of its first SUV, the XC90. It is the first vehicle ever to be designed specifically for the needs and tastes of the primary family caregiver, according to Toronto-based national marketing manager Larry Futurs. ‘And that most often means mothers.’

Female focus groups contributed input from the drawing-board stage onward throughout the development of the XC90. And that historic distinction will likely permeate the portion of the advertising campaign that breaks in January on the TV channels and programs that attract the greatest number of female viewers.

Futurs declined to disclose detailed marketing plans just yet. But he says a dramatic kick-start for the XC90 occurred a couple of weeks ago, when Barbara Walters and the other hosts on The View – an ABC talk show that airs on Canadian television twice every week day – voted the XC90 the best choice for women.

Saturn’s upcoming 2003 Ion compact sedan wasn’t specifically designed with women in mind. But Toronto-based Eric LeBlanc, advertising and promotions manager for Saturn, Saab and Isuzu, says the branding campaign, which breaks at the end of January, will include Internet and outdoor advertising but ‘skew more towards television, with a mixture of both conventional and specialty channels – definitely including W.’

Chrysler’s commitment to impressing female consumers was signaled by the U.S.-based Chrysler Group’s recently-forged partnership with superstar Celine Dion and Sony Music Entertainment. The three-year, multimillion-dollar deal includes advertising, cross-promotions and the creation of a ‘Chrysler song.’

While Dion warbles for its American counterpart, DaimlerChrysler Canada’s official songbird will continue to be Diana Krall, who recently signed on for the 2003 market year. Media buys will encompass a mix similar to this year’s, says Chrysler spokeswoman Lou Ann Barrette. She adds that both Krall and Dion are meant to ‘epitomize the drop-dead-gorgeous personality of our brand’ and prompt customers to ‘have love affairs with their cars.’

Ford Canada is another frontrunner in going after women’s dollars. It is also one of the companies that owe a debt of gratitude to women-oriented media that are refusing to wait around like passive wallflowers. Instead, they are aggressively pursuing potential car advertisers, wooing them with solid facts about the advisability of peddling their wares in the media venues to which women are most loyal.

With nearly six million female viewers per week, the Toronto-based W channel (formerly Women’s Television Network) is a prime case in point, says general manager Wendy Herman. Her sales team targeted key players in the auto sector this summer and delivered a one-two-three punch.

Herman says they began by sending these influential decision-makers map holders festooned with W’s logo that opened up to reveal some pretty persuasive data on female purchasers. The second step was following up with an attention-catching orange air freshener plus even more facts. And the final phase involved one-on-one meetings to drive home the message that not only does it make good sense to market to women generally, but that fully 35% of W’s female viewers are likely to make car purchases within a year’s time.

W’s team then put a novel proposal on the table. ‘It’s an opportunity for auto manufacturers to deepen their connection with women by sponsoring an integrated marketing idea we came up with,’ Herman explains. ‘This would include 60-second vignettes [running on W and on its Web site] providing women with information on topics such as what to consider when buying a car, maintenance, safety and so forth.’

So far there are no takers, but Herman says she’s not disappointed because ‘this is a long-term proposition. Besides, we’re definitely seeing an influx of auto advertisers on our channel’ including GM, Subaru, Ford and Suzuki.

In Ford Canada’s case, it was top-selling Chatelaine magazine and its publishing group that offered not just access to its huge female readership, but also sophisticated Internet savvy. The result, says Toronto-based Paula Gignac, general manager of Rogers Media’s Women and Parenting Web site, was the establishment of the ford4women@chatelaine.com sub-site, which went online in late 1999 and now includes nearly 500 pages of content in both English and French.

‘We helped Ford create an environment in which to build its relationship with female customers and potential customers,’ says Gignac. ‘They want to foster brand loyalty, primarily by providing the type of educational information [about car ownership and maintenance] that research shows women typically want.’

Ford also wants to boost both awareness and feedback on things they’re implementing in the dealerships, such as hiring more female sales staff, plus design changes to better accommodate women.

Gignac applauds the ‘asking-not-just-telling strategy of listening to the women who know what women want and then creating a two-way dialogue’ with female consumers.

One of the most popular and frequently used elements of the ford4women Web site, says Sandra McInnis, VP of Rogers Media, is Car Smarts For Women. Its purpose is to drive women to dealerships across Canada for entertaining and educational seminars, with the opportunity to forge relationships with female sales staff. For the first time, Car Smarts will run weekend seminars at the Toronto Auto Show in February, with extensive multi-platform promotion for the event.

Sponsoring women-oriented promotional events is another technique that’s on the rise among car companies. Fashionistas were catered to at BMW Canada’s female-celebrity-studded September event at Holt Renfrew’s Toronto flagship store. The ‘Girls Only BMW Driver Training’ night was co-hosted by Estée Lauder Canada and touted in local newspapers.

To promote its comeback in the small car segment, which generally skews female, Dodge Canada leveraged the name of its new SX 2.0 for the October press reveal with a ‘SX in the City’ fashion event at the downtown Toronto Kool Haus nightclub. Dodge brand manager John H. MacDonald says that two TV spots, one featuring young women drivers, broke in late October on CTV, CBC, Global and Citytv. A female-targeted print ad for the SX 2.0 is running in such women’s magazines as Chatelaine and Elm Street as well as in entertainment publications including Tribute. Newspaper ads recently began offering movie passes at Famous Players cinemas for test-driving the SX 2.0.

Meanwhile, print ads for Dodge’s Caravan mini-van, which MacDonald says is the number-one best-selling vehicle in Canada, are running in Elm Street and other women- and family-oriented publications.

As for Volkswagen Canada, J.J. Hochrein, VW account director at Toronto’s Vickers & Benson Arnold, says that virtually all marketing efforts are unisex because most VW models skew 50/50 male and female. It’s believed that the Beetle convertible, which arrives early next year, may skew slightly more female, he says, but all promotion plans are still under wraps for English-speaking consumers.

In Quebec, however, Norman Chiasson, VW account director at Montreal’s Palm Publicité, says there’s a little more emphasis on female Beetle fans, with media buys in such fashion and lifestyle magazines as Elle Quebec and Decormag, as well as the news (not the sports) sections of newspapers including La Presse. ‘Volkswagen buyers are not heavy television users, so we’re very picky about our TV media buying…and [overall] we rely more on lifestyle psychographics than on demographic factors.’

Volkswagen Quebec’s strategic partnership with San Francisco-headquartered Les Ailes includes advertising in every issue of that fashion chain’s magazine. Additionally, two VW Beetles are currently on display near the cosmetics sections of the Les Ailes flagship store in downtown Montreal, and the new convertible model will likely be sneak-peeked there in advance of the dealership rollout.

Even without taking extraordinary measures to court automobile manufacturers, female-oriented magazines such as Elm Street and Family are attracting their advertising quite well these days, according to Lilia Lozinski, senior VP and group publisher for Toronto’s Multi-Vision Publishing. She says both of those magazines are enjoying ‘a significant level’ of advertising from Subaru, Dodge Caravan, Audi, GM, Chrysler, Acura, Honda, Toyota and Volvo.

Lozinski believes there’s ‘a direct correlation’ between increased advertising in women’s media ‘and the fact that the car companies are recognizing that more women are making their own money in professional positions today. It’s obviously a huge market for them.’

W’s Herman couldn’t agree more. But she says she’s puzzled by the failure of any one of the major car manufacturers to spot the logical next step.

‘No one is getting excited about that 80% influence by women on car purchases. Nobody is saying ‘I’m going to stake out that ground and really focus on deepening my connection with women,’ and establishing that as their differentiator. If they did that, they could instantly own a giant chunk of the automobile market.’

Getting to know the female car buyer

To tailor their media buys more effectively, the logical first step for Canadian automobile marketers should be understanding who female car buyers are and what they want in their vehicles.

For starters, of course, there’s the widely accepted consensus that women influence at least 80% of all car purchases. In Canada, according to the Automobile Protection Association, there are approximately 1.1 million vehicles sold annually. Upshot? Women have a say in at least 880,000 car purchase decisions per year.

Some other salient stats:

* 46.4% of Canada’s labour force is female (source: Labour Branch of Human Resources Development Canada)

* women make up 52.7% of professionals (source: as above)

* working women and women entrepreneurs are the primary decision-makers in Canadian households, influencing 95% of purchasing decisions (Centre for Women’s Research)

* 36% of Canadian women (18+) own or lease the household vehicle (Print Measurement Bureau)

* 43% of Canadian women are the most frequent driver of the household vehicle (PMB)

* 12% of Canadian women have a household vehicle valued at $20,000 (compared to 14% of men) (PMB)

* 15% have a household vehicle valued at $20,000 – $29,000 (compared to 19% of men) (PMB)

* 5% have a household vehicle valued at $30,000 – $39,000 (compared to 6% of men) (PMB)

* 1% have a household vehicle valued at $40,000 – $49,000 (compared to 2% of men) (PMB)

* 1% have a household vehicle valued at $50,000+ (compared to 1% of men) (PMB)

* the majority of women say their main concern is occupant safety, with price and monthly payments ranking second, and quality and exterior styling ranking third and fourth respectively (CNW Marketing Research)

* women purchase: 65% of all Volvos; 54% of all Toyotas, Cadillacs, Chrysler and Dodge cars; 50% of all Buicks, Nissan and Pontiac cars; 11% of all Porsches (American numbers from J.D. Powers and Associates)

As a final thought, Faith Popcorn, arguably the leading prognosticator of future trends, predicts that by 2010, women will make 90% of all consumer purchases. The term she coined for this is ‘Eve-olution.’