Barletta, Marti (No. 2)

BarlettaMarti.jpgMarti Barletta, Founder/CEO of The TrendSight Group, helps companies get smart about women. Her first book, Marketing to Women: How to Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market, laid out how to improve your sales revenues, profitability, and return on investment through better marketing and selling to the person holding the purse strings. Her newest book, PrimeTime Women™: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders, focuses on the golden Boomer bulls-eye of the women's market—the healthiest and wealthiest. She has gender expertise and over 20 years of marketing experience. These things, along with her sense of humor, dynamic style, and passion for her topic, make her a popular speaker at corporations and conferences. She writes regularly for, Marketing Profs and The Boomer Project, and she’s been quoted on CBS Evening News, ABC Money Matters, and the Today Show on NBC, as well as in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and many other publications worldwide. She has served as a guest lecturer at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and at Stuart Graduate School of Business at Illinois Institute of Technology. And, as you learned here at when we interviewed the founding members of the Women Gurus Network (WGN), she counts herself among that group as well.

Erik spoke to Marti for her second solo interview and her third appearance in our Cool Friends collection.

Buy the book, PrimeTime Women™ asks ...

What's going on in the world of marketing to women, Marti?

MB: Not nearly enough. It's amazing to me that companies are still letting all that money and share sit on the table waiting for their competitors to figure it out first and scoop it up.

Why do you think that is?

MB: Well, judging by what the articles in all the marketing publications are about, marketers are letting themselves get distracted by all the shiny new technology stuff that's shown up in the last couple of years. There's a whole raft of new marketing tactics looking for a reason to exist. Right now the two newest buzzwords—text message marketing on mobile phones and social networks—are saturating the marketing press. Few people really understand either one, and no one knows where they're going, or whether they will be useful in any sort of rational marketing application. All that most marketers know is that they're worried that they're going to get left behind. There's all this artificial urgency: "If you're not doing mobile phone advertising right now, you can forget about having a business 10 years from now." That's completely and utterly bogus. I'm very skeptical about how well received advertising on mobile phones will be. I think that marketers would like to make it just like email spam. That would create a huge backlash. Nobody wants to turn on their phone and have all this advertising that they can't do anything about. It's invasive.

Social networking is going to collapse under its own weight pretty soon. There are simply too many of them. Nobody can possibly stay engaged with as many social networks as I'm contacted by every week. Right now people are experimenting. They'll settle on one and the whole thing will settle down a bit.

Even the college kids tend to pick a favorite network and stick with it. My daughter, who's a sophomore in college this year, lives on Facebook. Not to mention she sent 1,600 text messages last month.


MB: Yes. Unbelievable. Her summer job isn't netting much cash because she's spending it all on e-communications. But, I think this is a luxury of people who have a lot of time on their hands. What marketers have to keep in mind is that the 18- to 24-year-olds do not have a lot of money. If companies are looking to boost sales—and last I heard, that's what most of them live for—I'm thinkin' they might want to target people who do have money. Call me crazy.

Let's talk about your most recent book, PrimeTime Women™: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders. Who are PrimeTime Women™?

MB: PrimeTime Women™ are 50 to 70 years old. And before you doze off thinking about marketing to middle-aged ladies, let me say that most people don't have any real concept of what is meant when I say the phrase "50 to 70 years old." I call them PrimeTime Women because we really needed some new language. The only language that we've had so far to talk about these so-called "older markets," is the "mature market."

Mature. Boy, that's the kiss of death.

MB: Isn't it terrible? I'm certainly not mature. It just sounds so sedate, serene, and passive. "Middle-aged" sounds even worse, kind of frumpy. And "senior market" conjures up sad stereotypes of blue-haired old ladies and early-bird specials.

Tom calls them "boomers and geezers," but most articles and research studies tend to use the definition "the market of people 50 plus." Now, one of the first things experts in marketing to this target will tell you is that not everybody over 50 is the same, which is clearly true. They usually segment it by the young-old, the middle-old, and the old-old. I guess you could say that I'm focusing on the young-old.

So, we needed some new terminology. Marc Freedman wrote a terrific book in 1999 called Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America. Lots of studies were reporting that people in this age group feel themselves to be in the prime of their life. Contrary to popular opinion, people in their 50s and 60s universally report that these are the happiest decades of their lives. They are also a prime marketing opportunity for almost every consumer business as well as for a number of business to business industries. And the women are the ones doing all the buying.

Now, are there problems? Challenges? Of course there are. There are at every age. Nonetheless, this is not a sad and depressing time of life. We have this cultural convention that it's all downhill after 40. All of us buy into it. We all nod and say, "Yeah, I turned 50 last year and I'm getting slower and older and fatter and having these senior moments. I can't see anymore." We all reinforce the stereotype. None of it is true.

Sixty is the new 40.

MB: For example, PrimeTime Women exercise more regularly than younger women do, or than men of the same age do. Why? PrimeTime Women have the time. Mothers of young kids—before driver's license—are on call constantly. Post driver's license, mom's time frees up significantly. She's wanted to exercise regularly, but now she has the time to actually do it. We take better care of ourselves, we feel more in control.

David Wolfe talks a lot about the human development transition that a lot of people go through in terms of existential questions. What is it all about? Why am I on the planet? What is working all about? What are they going to put on my tombstone? We all go through this. And when you come into your 50s, you think, "Whew! I made it." Now you know a lot more about yourself and you figured out more about what's important to you. You feel a lot more confident in your own decisions and comfortable walking away from societal pressures.

The PrimeTime™ population is not being served. The reason I focus on PrimeTime Women is that, while they make 80 percent of the buying decisions for households on average, they make more than 80 percent of the buying decisions for people in the PrimeTime age group. They are not being served, because they are invisible and they're being stereotyped. AARP had a great campaign a few years ago. This gorgeous, silver-haired woman, maybe in her 50s, in a crimson red opera gown is sitting at the opera, and she looks absolutely spectacular. The headline says, "To most marketers, consumers die the minute they turn 50."

I can vouch for that. In my 25 years in corporate marketing, there has been only one time that I've encountered a marketing discussion that included consumers over 50. And it went all the way up to 54. I thought, "Hello? I'm sorry, let me get this straight. We're going to give all this attention to the Boomers until they reach the point where they have a lot of money and new needs that aren't being served. Then we're going to turn our backs on them and walk towards the young man, 18 to 24, who buys nothing but beer and pizza? I don't really follow the logic. There's a huge opportunity wasted."

I'm getting a lot of calls from reporters this week who are asking me about a rumor that Ann Taylor is opening a new line of stores targeting PrimeTime Women. They say, "Marti, do you think that's a good idea?" I say, "I think it's a raving good idea."

The women's apparel market overall has been declining the last several years. The only two companies that have had any major success in women's apparel over the last two years have been Chico's and Coldwater Creek. Guess what those two companies have in common? They target PrimeTime Women. Yet, as much as I love the clothes from those companies, the fact of the matter is, they sell mostly casual wear. It's not what the CIO, CFO, CMO woman wears into the office every day. PrimeTimers, people who are 50 to 70, are not retired. These are people who are at the peak of their careers. PrimeTime Women need some great professional clothes that are cut and styled differently than those that are designed for sizes two through ten.

Ann Taylor is perfectly positioned to do this if they get it right. I hope they do. The point that always gets raised in the same breath is, "Well, Gap tried to do that with Forth & Towne and they failed." They failed because they missed the mark.

What did they do wrong?

MB: In the business press, they said that they were targeting women 35 plus. That means that they didn't have their heads on straight; they were chicken. They were afraid to say, "We're going after the older woman." A 35-year-old woman has a heck of a lot more in common with a 25-year-old woman than with a 45- or 50-year-old woman. Her needs are not that different. She still thinks of herself as in the same life stage as the 25-year-old woman. But the woman who is in PrimeTime has made the adjustment. I don't know about you, Erik, but I adjust my mental age fairly infrequently.

I still think I'm 18.

MB: Do you? I went from 18, to 32, to 45, to being comfortable with 50. Somehow I've caught up, but I don't adjust it very often. I think most people are like that. People in their 40s are so dreading turning 50 that we've made it this horrific birthday in our culture.

I've known guys who had major meltdowns when they turned 50. Nothing changed in their lives, except that culturally they were supposed to dread it. But why? We're going to live to be over 100.

MB: People haven't factored that in. People also think that if you haven't "made it" by the time you're 50, your life on earth was wasted. As you said, 60 is the new 40. So, 50 is the new 30.

The Forth & Towne people didn't know what they were doing. They were too tentative. The clothes, sadly, were really boring. I was absolutely positive when I went to visit Forth & Towne that they were going to fail. It was making me so mad because I knew that people were going to say, "See, it doesn't work to market to PrimeTime Women."

An important clarification applies here in marketing to PrimeTime Women. One of the reporters said to me, "How should marketers market to older women?" I said, "First of all, they should change their mindset. They shouldn't think 'marketing to older women.' They're marketing to professional women who have a need for professional clothes that are sharp looking, expressive, well cut, and make them look terrific. Now if they would market to those women instead of thinking that they're marketing to older women, then they'd have a business proposition."

In fact, if you're a good marketer, you're never "marketing to older women." You're marketing to women who are seeking adventure and excitement. You're marketing to women who are pursing new passions and exploring new opportunities. You're marketing to women who no longer have to buy cars to car pool and can buy cars because they're fun to drive. Those are the mindsets you should be thinking about, not "marketing to older women," which is not going to get you anywhere because it doesn't give you any insight.

I particularly liked your point that when guys turn 50, they can freak out, but everything in their day-to-day lives pretty much remains the same. It's just that there aren't a bunch of kids running around the house anymore. Whereas for the woman, who had spent a lot of time taking care of the kids—feeding, laundering, doctoring, chauffeuring—she suddenly finds herself with some free time for a change, and she wants to do something with it. That's going to involve spending money on something, be it taking courses, going to the health club, traveling, whatever.

MB: Absolutely. It's like a big bonus for PrimeTime Women. It's payback for the investment in parenting chores women make during the family years. They make the investment happily—I don't believe that women suppress their real selves and what they really want while subordinating themselves to their family. Women happily focus on their family during the family years. But when that's taken care of, they get a bonus. They get to go back to being who they were before all that, and they have a chance to develop themselves beyond who they were. It's kind of too bad that men don't get the same kind of bonus. Time-use studies show that men and women work about the same number of hours per week, but men tend to concentrate their hours at their jobs, which they get paid for. Women, on average, do fewer hours of paid work, but then they put in extra hours when they get home. If you look at the time-use studies, you see that women are still spending about twice as many hours a week on home maintenance chores—cleaning and shopping—and child care as men.

Through all these cultural shifts that number hasn't changed much.

MB: Not a hell of a lot. Younger men tend to be more involved with their children. So the child care number has budged a bit, but not the chore number. That's a key difference.

So it's a time of liberation for women when they hit PrimeTime. Yet, culturally, it is not painted as a happy time. Look at the language that's used, like "empty nest."

You have a very interesting chapter that extracts data on PrimeTime Women from a study by two guys from DDB Worldwide. They said that among women in the 50- to 70-year-old age group, 59 percent believe that their greatest achievements are still ahead of them. I think that would come as a shock to everyone except the people in that group.

MB: Younger people tend to have very little idea what it’s like to be PrimeTime. I just spoke at a travel conference, and a number of the state tourism directors came up to me and said, "I have to get a copy of your presentation. I have to show it to my agency." As it happens, many of these state tourism directors are PrimeTime Women. They said, "I cannot get my advertising agency to take me seriously. It's a bunch of young guys. I'm trying to tell them that the people who spend all the money are PrimeTime Women, but they don't believe me. They think I'm only saying that because I'm a PrimeTime Woman and I'm insisting on some sort of rationalization to validate my importance."

We forget all the prejudices we had about 50-year-olds when we were younger. Boy, it's a hard sell, to convince young people otherwise.

MB: It really is. At the travel conference, somebody referred to a target audience of 25 to 49. I said, "Why 49?"

Because you die at 50.

MB: Right. [Laughter] People do it almost as a reflex. Those of us who have been marketing for a while have grown up with these truisms. We've accepted them without really questioning them. Yet there are major money reasons to question them.

There'll be an enormous shift in the next 10 years as the Boomers settle into this age group.

MB: The Boomer generation is such a huge generation. We forget what a massive impact it has. Matt Thornhill, from the Boomer Project, says that between the years 2006 to 2016, the U.S. population will grow by 23 million, of which just over 22 million will be the population over 50. That means that 96 percent of the growth for the next 10 years will be the population over 50.

Businesses and brands have to tune in. If you can't figure out how to be relevant to the population over 50, which accounts for virtually all the growth for the next 10 years, you can kiss your bottom line goodbye. End of story. If you're not relevant to the 50 plus market now, you'd better figure it out, pronto.

I'm so glad you mentioned, the site where you can make microloans, in your book. I visited the site and read about a third-grader who is a lender. How great is that? But who turned him on to it? His grandmother. Here's a PrimeTime woman having a huge influence on her grandson. She isn't giving him some stupid toy; she's turning him on to social causes.

MB: Teenagers are pretty idealistic and into social causes. We Boomers were when we were young. That was why the Peace Corps took off, because it was the right idea at the right time when there were a lot of people who were interested in it. Now we have the Experience Corps, a volunteer organization of PrimeTime people, founded by that same visionary I was telling you about before, Marc Freedman. I think it's fantastic. It's really going to take off because of this drive to give back that people develop in their PrimeTime years. I get fed up when I hear things like Boomers are going to collapse social security, they're going to be this huge drain on society, and there will be all these poor young people who will have to carry the Boomers on their shoulders.

Marc Freedman sees it very differently. He says that because Boomers are still working, they are contributing. They're still earning money, they're still spending money. They're going to be contributing an extra 400 billion dollars a year to the economy. And because of this drive to give back, they are going to increase the number of volunteer hours substantially.

Match that up with the fact that the next largest generation, the children of the Boomers, are idealistic teenagers. Both generations are primed to be very much in the give-back mode. I think it's why we are seeing this explosion of what I would call corporate halo marketing. You see the (RED) brand that was introduced by Bono. You see the new interest in sustainability. You see—finally!—a lot of rallying behind the issue of global warming. I think a lot of this stuff is driven by demographic influences. I think that there could be a big upsurge of volunteerism. I may be a little naïve, but I'm hoping.

There will be a lot of people retiring who will have time, so it makes sense. But the word "retire" is now not part of the lexicon, right?

MB: Not really. AARP and Merrill Lynch did separate studies asking Boomers about their plans to retire. People said, "After I retire, I'm going to start a business." Or, "After I retire, I'm going to work part time." So the word "retire" no longer means "not work." It means "choose my work." And "choose what I do with my time." And maybe it means "Stepping back from what I've invested my time in for the last 40 years as a career." But mostly it still involves productive activity, which is a good thing.

Is 65 the retirement age anymore? Or will it be pushed up to 67 or 70?

MB: It's being pushed up and I think that's a reasonable thing to do, to tell you the truth. I'm sure there are people who are outraged by that. But when Social Security was established in 1935, the average life expectancy was 61.

So, if you retired at 65, you were already dead for four years.

MB: There you go. The expectation for Social Security was not that you'd get to coast for 20 years on the public paycheck. Our life expectancy has extended. Moving the age of eligibility up is probably representative of what the original intention was.

Everybody says Boomers have not saved enough to retire. They say it in a scoldy way, "Those stupid Boomers, didn't they think they were going to have to save their money?" Yet, far more of the Boomers' kids are going to college than previous generations' kids. College expenses eat into retirement savings considerably. And I think Boomers think, "Well, I'm not going to retire when I'm 62 anyway. I'm going to keep working, so I have more time to save." I'm not sure that's really the savviest way to approach it, but you can understand.

Have you seen any progress in marketing to women since your first book came out in 2003?

MB: Yes. When I first launched Marketing to Women, I used to have to spend a good 10 to 15 minutes in my presentations explaining that women had money. Reporters call me up now and say, "Well, Marti, everybody knows women do most of the spending. So what's original about what you have to say?" I feel vindicated, because we have changed the world quickly. Five years ago, people did not think women had money. The only number that was really out there was that women earned 76 cents on the dollar. And now it appears to be common knowledge that women buy most of everything.

The second thing that reporters say is, "Well, Marti, everybody knows men and women are different. So what's different about what you say?" Again, I feel vindicated. Four years ago—I'm not kidding—there was a certain chill in the room when you brought up, in a business context, the differences between men and women. Men didn't want to inadvertently say something offensive, and women didn't want to have a negative impact on the 30 years of social progress they'd achieved. But now it's very common and acceptable to talk about gender differences.

On the one hand, there has been an enormous leap forward by acknowledging that women buy most of everything and that they buy differently than men. Yet, on the other hand, there has been almost no action taken to leverage that sharper insight. Most companies don't appreciate how powerful an advantage this could be for them.

Is it that it's too risky since they've no track record?

MB: There's no track record with advertising on social networks, either. And nobody knows what they're doing in the area of mobile phone marketing. Yet you don't get any resistance to trying something new technologically. Marketers say they want somebody who thinks outside the box. They don't really, unless it's about something that's on the glitz list, like the technology stuff. But when it has to do with finding the needs of your consumer and speaking to her in language that makes sense to her, that's suddenly risky.

I have a real conviction that marketers are almost completely disconnected from their customers. I don't see strategy anymore. I don't see people talking about customer groups: how to reach women, men, fathers, athletes. All I hear and see in the press are discussions of tactics: word of mouth this, event marketing that, technology the other. The death of advertising, the rise of PR; it's all tactical. Marketers don't think about their consumer, the people that they're trying to influence, at all anymore. The whole business culture has become very disconnected from buyers. How about returning to the basics? Figure out what your customer wants and give it to her.

Marti, thank you.

MB: Erik, It was a delight to talk with you.


Books: Marketing to Women
           PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business
                     of Boomer Big Spenders

            And ... coauthored with Tom: Essentials: Trends


Email: marti.barletta (at) –