“Women buy the vast bulk of goods,” Silverstein said. “They totally dominate the purchases of food, clothing, housing, vacations, cars. They are smart shoppers who think carefully about every dollar they spend. They are looking for goods and services that deliver technical, functional and emotional benefits.”
He added: “I would say women in general are not served well in many segments. A few drug companies target black women, but it is largely a missed market.
“The financial services companies are run by men and serve men best. They do not have sales forces that concentrate energy on women. There are no cars designed with the ergonomics of women in mind, or with places for pocketbooks.”
Cosmetics companies, however, have discovered the black female market.
Lattimer singled out Cover Girl as for its effective targeting of black women. “They’re doing just a great job utilizing Queen Latifah to promote Cover Girl products. African-American women get it – and they like it.”
She added: “The health care industry needs to do a better job of educating women on what it is that they need to do to remain healthy, because in many instances, African-Americans think of their bodies differently than white women do. Curves are a sign of beauty in the black community. We may be a little heavier but we don’t necessarily think of that as being unhealthy. And how do we begin to educate mothers so that they understand the importance of health care and become role models for their families?”
Part of the reason why women are not targeted with tailored messages may well be because only 3% of creative directors at ad agencies are women, according to Stephanie Holland, executive creative director of Holland + Holland Advertising.
Lattimer added that there are also few female strategists, brand planners, and media people employed by agencies, and that agencies and advertisers “don’t go the extra step or hire the people who know the [female] segment. A lot of general market agencies think that their general market work will work in the African-American community, and very often it does not,” she said.
Marketing to African-Americans is an industry in itself. Many independent black market research, advertising and communications firms – among them the Hunter-Miller Group, based in Chicago, and Lattimer Communications, located in Atlanta – are trying to school major corporations on how to reach black consumers. Extensive research has been done on marketing to women, but with the possible exception of the cosmetics industry, marketing to black women is a nascent field, in part because African-American women are misunderstood.
“Black women are definitely among the more undervalued consumer groups,” said Pepper Miller, president of the Hunter-Miller Group, a market research and consulting firm. “Marketers tend to want to lump all women together and in doing so they are misunderstanding the value and the cultural differences that black women can bring to the marketplace, and the opportunities for their brands to connect with them in a more relevant way.”
Miller said that marketers’ single-message-for-all syndrome simply boils down to a failure to perceive black women in a cultural context.
“Culture is important, and when many marketers have this one-message-that-reaches-all-people strategy, they miss a major opportunity to connect with people in a deeply rooted fashion,” Miller said. “I think that’s what’s happening with black women in terms of being underserved.”
To reach black women, companies must be able to beyond negative stereotypes of black women. Lattimer said she undertook her black female consumer study “because I wanted to show there are lots of Michelle Obamas in the African-American community.”
The study, “A Profile of Today’s Black Woman,” was not your typical demographic survey, she said. It resulted in six profiles of black female consumers: the Achiever (consisting of 23% of black women), who is characterized as a confident, capable caretaker; the Cynic (21%), described as the skeptical, complacent internalizer; the Traditionalist (20%), who is spiritual, frugal, respectful; the Tag-a-long (15%), who is insecure, risk-averse and a follower; the Self-Sufficient (14%), who is independent, wired, and loves to shop; and the Fledgling (7%), a young black woman just starting out, baggage-free and job-focused.
Black female buying power only begins with dollar statistics. Influence is crucial. Some 45% of black women are heads of households. “More African American women are single, and if they are not making the buying decision, they’re influencing it,” said Lattimer.
Black women are also making gains in establishing businesses. Black women started business at three to five times the rate of all other new businesses between 2006 and 2009. In 2008, there were 1.9 million firms owned by women of color – blacks, Asians, or Hispanics, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research. They employed 1.2 million workers and brought in $165 billion.
At top of the “black she-conomy” are female billionaires – including Oprah Winfrey, considered among the nation’s most powerful and influential women. Her product endorsements are a veritable ladder to industry success. The much-sought-after “Oprah Effect” has been known to increase sales exponentially – and she endorses the products or services of many women-owned firms.