Is your target a man’s man? Then reach out to women

It used to be that if you visited your local Canadian Tire store on a Saturday, it'd be filled with men fidgeting with the latest power tools. Maybe the odd guy had a couple of kids in tow, but not many of their wives made the trip.

It used to be that if you visited your local Canadian Tire store on a Saturday, it’d be filled with men fidgeting with the latest power tools. Maybe the odd guy had a couple of kids in tow, but not many of their wives made the trip.

Today, there are just as many female shoppers trolling the aisles of the iconic Canadian retailer, and it’s not because they’ve all suddenly developed a thing for boys’ toys. Rather, Canadian Tire, as well as other brands in traditionally male-skewing categories, from electronics and financial services to video games (see sidebar), have made a play for the fair sex. As a result, they’ve been able to swell their customer base, and thus, their profits, and in many cases, they are even charming men in the process. (Hear that, beer brands?)

‘Definitely the thing we’re seeing in 2005 is kind of a tipping point in a number of industries [traditionally targeting men], such as electronics,’ says Martha Barletta, CEO of Illinois-based marketing consultancy TrendSight Group and author of Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the World’s Largest Market Segment.

‘Philips especially has [introduced] advertising that’s much more female friendly. Then there’s Home Depot, and financial services. Up to about four years ago, financial services advertising was all about facts and figures; [lately] strategies have focused on human [connections].’

‘Over the last two years, the shift has gone from what I call companies throwing ‘shut up’ marketing at it, to looking at it strategically,’ adds Joanne Thomas Yaccato, president of Toronto-based The Thomas Yaccato Group and author of The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers. ‘Nobody is where they need to be to get it right, but some are beginning to take the notion seriously.’

Part of the reason companies are still considered to be dragging their Jimmy Choos is because of the Herculean effort it takes to truly win women over. It’s not just about revamping Web sites, stores or TV spots. It’s all of the above and more. ‘Women are holistic consumers, they [notice everything] from the state of the washroom to the attitude of the salespeople and the [look of] the displays,’ says Thomas Yaccato. ‘If they walk into your store after seeing a great ad and the experience doesn’t live up to the marketing, you’ve set yourself up for double failure.’

When it comes to male-skewing companies, Thomas Yaccato’s recent survey of 500 female thought and opinion leaders in Canada suggest there’s a lot of progress to be made. (See gist box.) But one category stands out with the largest share of the vote – home improvement and in particular Home Depot, with 46% of participants giving the retailer the nod for meeting their needs. Canadian Tire lagged behind at 14%.

That’s a number Toronto-based Canadian Tire is hoping to improve on, beginning with its new 63,000-sq.-ft. flagship in downtown Vancouver, which was designed in large part with the female consumer in mind. According to spokesperson Lisa Gibson, the chain’s customer base is equally split between female and male shoppers, yet women account for only 30% of sales. The goal is to get them to reach into their purses more often, by taking the retailer’s Concept 20/20 store – so named because it includes 20% more floor space than a traditional location – to the next level.

‘There are a couple of areas we’re looking at,’ says Gibson, ‘number one, the products and the brands themselves, and number two, how we merchandise to appeal to the

female consumer.’

To address the former, Canadian Tire launched its Debbie Travis line just over a year ago, and the flagship includes a broader selection of merch, particularly in home décor.

Meanwhile, when it comes to displays, ‘our female customers told us in research that they want to be inspired,’ says Gibson. ‘Before, not all of our décor items were merchandised in the exact same area, but you’ll notice in our Concept 20/20 and especially moving forward, that everything is merchandised together and that there are lifestyle vignettes in most areas.’

Last year Canadian Tire opened 10 Concept 20/20 stores, which first launched in 2003 to help the chain appeal to women, for a total of 35. They are planning to add eight more and retrofit 10 others in Q4, and to retrofit in excess of 160 locations by 2009.

If performance so far is any indication, Canadian Tire may be on to something. The company says its comparable store sales increased by 2% for Q3, supported in large part by the success of Concept 20/20. And the format has seen both higher average sales per transaction, as well as higher sales increases than traditional shops. For the 12 months ended Oct. 1, for example, new-format stores rung up $15.8 million in sales, versus $8.1 million for older stores.

Advertising too, has done its part, says Gibson, who points to more ‘female friendly’ creative, such as TV commercials featuring Facelift star Debbie Travis, and more design-inspired print ads in pubs like Wish, Style at Home, and Canadian House & Home.

That’s the way to go, says Barletta. ‘With women you want to make a connection right away. If all you have in your ads is facts and features, most women will gloss right over it.’

Home Depot Canada certainly thinks so. Director of marketing Pat Wilkinson says the retailer has shifted its marketing and merchandising strategies over the last few years to attract more females. ‘One of the biggest differences is that women look at the whole project, not individual pieces,’ she says. ‘They start with: ‘What’s my dream?”

So the Toronto-based retailer’s aptly titled DreamBook catalogue, which comes out twice a year, focuses not on details, but on aspirational living spaces, while the chain’s TV spots, produced by Dallas agency The Richards Group, speak of helpful customer service. And in store, showrooms also put together all the elements for women. Explains Wilkinson: ‘It’s about identifying huge market opportunities. Much of it is related to the softer side – and it’s women who are driving that. [The shift] was mostly about ensuring our brand was relevant to the market.’

So how’s it working? Wilkinson points out that female shoppers now account for over 50% of transactions and that the Canadian retail chain continues to outperform the U.S., where recent third-quarter results saw the average ticket increase 6.1% to US$58.92.

‘I think that if we had not adapted our merchandising and marketing strategies to be relevant to a changing marketplace, growth would be slower,’ admits Wilkinson.

Of course, there’s always a caveat: Marketers in male-oriented industries don’t want to risk alienating their core target.

The answer, says Barletta, is to avoid ‘painting the brand pink,’ which would alienate women as much as men anyway. ‘We almost never recommend having any advertising that overtly says: ‘We’re advertising to women,’ because men don’t like girly stuff and women feel they’re being talked down to,’ she explains.

In any case, the benefits of marketing to women seem plentiful: Pundits say that if you address women’s needs, chances are you’ll impress the guys as well. Indeed, that’s what the Home Depot found. Both qualitative

and quantitative studies indicate that shopping experiences have improved for both genders, says Wilkinson, who adds that even the ‘pros tell us they can get in and out of our stores faster.’

It happens because women are much more demanding consumers, as per Barletta. ‘It’s much harder to sell a woman, but once you’ve done it, you’ve more than sold a man.’


Video games were once the domain of pimply teenage boys who’d lock themselves in the basement for hours on end trying to get to the next level of Doom. No longer, says Jason Anderson, head of marketing for Mississauga, Ont.-based Xbox Canada. In fact, females represent 30% of video gamers right now, and to boot, they’re actually the fastest-growing segment.

So how important is it to be inclusive of the fair sex? ‘From an importance-to-our-business perspective, it’s critical,’ says Anderson. ‘There are 22 million Xboxes around the world right now, and it’s pretty clear that one of the key ways we’ll move to market leadership is by expanding interest [among mass consumers] – and females represent a big part of that.’

The company’s strategy for widening the appeal of its new Xbox 360 is twofold. First, the product is sleeker and more approachable – because you ‘gotta build a product that’s relevant to the consumer you’re trying to target,’ says Anderson. ‘The old Xbox looked pretty menacing. Xbox 360 has a more refined and sculpted look…. It’s much easier to pick up a controller [without being] intimidated by the number of buttons on it.’

Added to that, he says, is the fact that Xbox Live allows users to track down players of similar skill levels. Then there are new mainstream games, such as Kameo, starring an elf who moves through a mystical world. Says Anderson: ‘You can’t just shift your marketing and expect to sell a product that only appeals to guys.’

But once you have the product right, you can address the marketing. Which brings us to a pair of TV spots from McCann Erickson that take a ‘brand umbrella approach where we’re not even talking about games, we’re not talking about online, we’re not talking about anything other than really having a fun experience,’ he says. ‘If we’re going to broaden, it’s very critical to step back and explain that Xbox 360 is fun.’ To that end, one ad shows folks jumping rope in NYC, while a second follows a massive balloon fight in South America. The tagline: ‘Jump in with Xbox.’ Meanwhile, below-the-line activities in Canada now include the Much Unleashed Tour, which travels to events across the country each summer.

The overall marketing message is that the console is ‘ultimately about coming together with your friends and having fun – and that’s something that appeals to everyone.’

* * *

Who makes the grade when it comes to giving women what they want? Sadly, not many brands in traditionally ‘male’ categories. In June, The Thomas Yaccato Group’s third annual online survey, dubbed ‘Canada’s Gender Intelligent Companies Report Card,’ asked 500 Canadian women thought and opinion leaders to consider 15 industries and name which companies made the best effort to meet the needs of female consumers. Below, a snapshot.


Honda: 12%

Toyota: 11%

Volvo: 11%

Volkswagen: 9%

General Motors: 6%

Ford: 5%

BMW: 5%

I don’t know: 13%


Royal Bank Financial Group: 16%

TD Canada Trust: 15%

Scotiabank: 13%

Bank of Montreal: 10%

CIBC: 9%

I don’t know: 15%


Dell: 29%

Apple: 14%

Hewlett-Packard: 9%

RIM (BlackBerry): 8%

IBM: 8%

Toshiba: 4%

I don’t know: 20%

Home Improvement

Home Depot: 45%

Canadian Tire: 14%

Rona: 13%

Home Hardware: 6%

Sears: 3%

I don’t know: 9%