Educated, Engaged and Excited: The Power of the Black Female Consumer

October 4, 2012  |  

Black women spend a lot of money and companies should be vying for their business with quality products and marketing that’s crafted to appeal to them. Goes without saying right? Wrong.

Early last week, we reported on new findings from The National Newspaper Publishers Association (aka Black Press of America) and Nielsen predicting that black buying power will total $1.1 trillion in 2015. Today, Advertising Week hosted a panel, “She’s Gonna Have It: Black Women, Their Money, Their Mindset, And Their Motivators” that dealt with the reality of the black female consumer and what companies should be doing to win her over.

The discussion opened with a few facts and figures about the black female market. Among them:

-Between 1991 and 2000, the number of black women getting a college degree rose 172 percent. It rose another 50-plus percent through 2011. “These women are poised to make a lot of money,” said panelist Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, VP of multicultural marketing for the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.

-Despite the high levels of unemployment in the black community brought on by The Great Recession, incomes are still rising.

-Thirty-eight percent of black households are led by women.

-“Social media is the game changer when you talk about black women. They are early adopters,” said Alisha Joseph, VP of diverse segments for Wells Fargo.

“Black women need to be marketed to differently because the composition of their households are different,” added Perkins-Roberts. Or, to use a quote that Camille Leak, senior consultant at The Futures Company, posted on the video screens, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.” (That comes from Tom Burrell, founder of Burrell Communications, BTW, and was met with cheers from the largely female though diverse audience.)

It has always been the case that when you’re reaching diverse markets, you have to use diverse tactics. But that hasn’t always been the practice at companies and brands. Oftentimes, advertising for the black community is same thing used for the mainstream market with a black actor cast to play the lead role. The message is still irrelevant.

Just yesterday, Pamela El, State Farm’s VP of marketing and one of the most influential marketing execs in the industry (as determined by Ad Age) called the way that she’s pitched by the ad agencies seeking her business “infuriating.”

“”It’s so irritating when agencies walk in the door and they feel that they have to bring a black person — and we all know that they don’t have any — so they bring in the intern to present to me,” Business Insider quotes El.

Now that the spending power of black women is being recognized, brands are seeing the value of having a better understanding of this consumer group.

“There needs to be more people of color in the board rooms and companies need to push the insights,” said Perkins-Roberts. “There’s a push now even in the black community to tell the story from a business rationale.”

Those insights acknowledge the unique qualities of black women, something, Leak points out, companies may have been nervous about for fear of being offensive. Because of that, they’re missing out on chances to move product. “A lot of large companies left a lot of money on the table by not getting on the natural hair movement early on,” said Marcia Cole, CEO of Ivy Digital, a digital marketing company.

At the same time, our moderator, Essence and New York Times journalist Lola Ogunnaike, asked whether stereotypes are getting in the way of effectively interacting with black women. In other words, when companies do reach out to black female consumers, they’re going in with the idea that, for instance, black women are “sad” or “lonely.” Actually, they’re quite the opposite. Other info compiled by Leak shows that black women are optimistic, want to enjoy life, look for ways to engage with their communities, seek to show their individuality, and, overall, want to be excited.

The buying power of black women is forcing companies to pay attention to the needs and desires of this community. Those that don’t will get left behind.

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