Guest Opinion: Marketing to Women Requires Cultural Change
Why aren’t more credit unions developing marketing programs directly speaking to women? Why don’t they get it?
I know the answer.
A majority of the industry’s leadership, and that includes credit union boards, are still primarily male in their compositions. And most males are unable to transfer facts to actions when challenged to focus their attention on the growing power of women, both in the marketplace as well as the workplace. It’s not a matter of fault, blame or even doing the right thing, it’s just reality.
So, even though there’s a solid business case for it, there are a lot of easier opportunities for credit unions to pursue than targeting women. Unless the right men in an organization’s leadership and board get on-board, the marketing to women opportunity is a mammoth task.
This challenge was dramatically described in a Credit Union Times On-Air program a year ago about marketing to women. The program featured Shari Storm, senior vice president at Verity Credit Union, and creator of Verity Mom. Verity Mom is not a one-time campaign. It’s an on-going program that’s dedicated to connecting with moms. But Verity is one of only two credit unions who have committed to a continual marketing program that specifically engages women. The other is Mountain America’s Women’s Financial Services Network, championed by then-Senior Vice President Annette Zimmerman (now CEO of Primeway FCU in Houston).
When asked if her program could be easily replicated at other credit unions, Storm said, “I think the hardest part is to have the fortitude to carry this through.”
So the disconnect by men in reference to this opportunity is not the only reason why these initiatives fail to get off the ground. Many women leaders lack the fortitude to take on this challenge.
But why does this happen with the male leadership? Why, with the overwhelming evidence that women are the primary decision makers for financial services (as discovered in research for the hugely successful iBELONG program), are there only two credit unions with ongoing, formal marketing programs for women.
I believe the answer is best stated by another male advocate for this issue. Jeffery Tobias Halter, president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company that focuses on helping men and women to understand and leverage the power of women, both in organizations as well as the marketplace, is the leading male expert to help organizations understand women. He has also written the book, Selling to Men...Selling to Women.
Halter contends that the problem and the solution rest with male leaders. It’s his contention that there are generally three reactions that most male leaders (in any industry) have but would never express openly when this “women’s thing” is put forth.
They don’t understand why things have to change. They are pretty comfortable with the way things are and, quite frankly, they don’t really get this women’s thing.
To address this predictable scenario, Halter has three suggestions to make the path easier for women advocates.
• Build a very strong business case for focusing on women. Women are the market for all financial services products. If they are not the ultimate decision maker, then they are the primary influencer.
• At the same time, male leaders need to choose to address their own cultural incompetency. Jokes are often made about the differences of men and women, but the differences are in fact real. Science now has proven that to be true. Women want relational connections with the businesses they choose. Women are open to multiple solutions and, as such, must be served via a new model of service that is female driven. If women make 80% of financial decisions, then men have two options: think like a women, or as Tom Peters advocates, “fire all your male customer service reps.”
• Identify and cultivate male champions in the organization. The role of a leader is to ask tough questions and hold others accountable. Rather than firing all the men, find men who get it, who understand the business case and will advocate for change.
So is this a hopeless situation? It better not be, because the power of women in the marketplace and workplace is increasing every year. And eventually, women will occupy more C-suite positions in all businesses.
Women will continue to increase their presence and power, no matter what leadership does. And credit unions, and indeed every business to consumer organization, will eventually have to deal with this reality.
But why wait? Credit unions have a chance to make this a competitive advantage right now.
Roger Conant is marketing manager for CUponDeals.
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