The women who make markets

The Australian and global economies are slowing and as businesses seek productivity gains they must tap an often over-looked but incredibly powerful demographic.

Step by step we are waking up to the fact that the momentum in both the world and Australian economies is slowing.

On the local economy side, according to Westpac’s Bill Evans, unemployment would be around 5.75 per cent (rather than 5.2 per cent) if people had not given up looking for jobs (WEEKEND ECONOMIST: Doves of May, April 6).

The government-imposed restraint in China is working and the economy is slowing. Europe’s downturn is on track to produce widespread recessions while the US economy is at best fragile, and looks like slowing. Whether it be in Europe, the US or Australia governments are cutting back on expenditure.

We might be surprised on the downside (if Europe explodes) or on the upside if China does better than we expect. The local sharemarket senses this, which is why it has not experienced a major rise. The Australian dollar is sliding.

This is an environment where management and employees are going to be tested, in a way that we have not seen for a long time. Our series on productivity is designed to spark interest among organisations large and small in doing things better.

As a prelude to today’s productivity idea-starter, I pose the question that many organisations do not ask: What is the largest consumer market in Australia? If you looked at the stuff many advertisers produce you would think it was teenagers or people in their 20s or 30s.

That’s because a large number of people in advertising agencies and marketing departments are in these age brackets and the client thinks things the 'experts’ know best.

It so happens that the biggest consumer group is women aged between 40 and 50. For the most part these women have a fair idea about where they are headed in life and are setting about pursuing their objectives. (Of course there will be good and bad surprises.)

Part of improving corporate productivity is recruiting people who know how tap this enormous market if that is where your future sales lie.

And so we find that Stockland has discovered they need to recruit women in that age bracket to market to people in the 40-50 age bracket. A short video on the topic, introduced by Alan Kohler, is a fascinating way to look at new markets.

And if you are trying to sell a dwelling in outer suburbia with limited infrastructure to a 40- to 50-year-old woman who understands what long travel means to both herself and/or her spouse or partner you will need smart thinking. A modern house will need the very best internet connections so work at home is possible and travelling to shopping centres is reduced – if that’s what the person wants.

My retail friends tell me that women in their 40s and 50s can be the very best employees because they are often engaged in the organisation and have loyalty – that’s if they like the people around them.

In a non-mining economy that is going to be slow and where governments are cutting back, enterprises are going to simply have to be smarter and work out where their markets are and how to get to them.