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Tired advertising needs to refocus on multi-faceted women

Anyone trying to get their message across to women should stop and think about whether they are up to date with women's changing lives and priorities, writes Nicola Armstrong, director of Iris Female.

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In the run-up to the General Election, it has been declared open season on winning the women's vote. Each of the political parties has realised, not too soon, that the black hole that represents the no-shows at election time is made up mainly of women.

Well, at least the missing group has been identified. But the question remains whether political parties, or anyone in fact who is trying to get their message across to women, is getting the message right.

Iris Female has conducted a major piece of research, What Women Want, and the results show that politicians are not alone in missing the point. Few brands and advertisers really know how to communicate effectively with women. Women no longer respond to advertising that tells them they are not thin enough, or young enough, or their houses are not clean enough. And yet that is exactly how millions of advertising pounds are still being spent.

Part of the problem for anyone wanting to communicate effectively with women is the shifting nature of women's lives and priorities. Our research shows that, against a backdrop of changing social structures, women's lives and identities are more multi-faceted than ever before.

The research identifies a number of new lifestages. For example, the early 20s are experiencing a "quarterlife crisis" – they are young, free and single but feel penalised for being so. They are struggling to pay student/credit card debts and financial stability seems a long way off.

For other women, the idea of staying in a traditional partnership for the rest of their lives is no longer a reality. The concept of "Living Apart Together" has emerged as a lifestyle that women feel more drawn to. They are happy to contemplate a "life apart" from their partners. Whether this means separate bedrooms or separate homes, it has huge financial implications for women in terms of managing their money, mortgages and working lives.

Another consequence of the breakdown of traditional families and communities is the fact that women are increasingly turning to each other for support and, significantly for marketers and advertisers, information and advice. Mini communities are springing up all over based on common themes: single women; single mothers; expectant mothers; divorcees.

These communities are not limited to gatherings in the park or restaurant; the massive popularity of online communities and chat rooms run by young mothers, who exchange information and details about their everyday experiences, proves that women are exploring all avenues of personal communication.

The nature of women's relationships defines the way women buy products and services. Women often may respond to word-of-mouth recommendation rather than other forms of marketing. Women will spend money on the basis of what their close circle of friends say. The recent announcement that cosmetic company Avon plans to diversify into financial services proves this point. Women will buy life insurance, motor cover and even credit cards from another woman.

All this makes it sound as if it is incredibly difficult communicating with women. It's not -- but it is more complicated and sophisticated than the stereotypes that have tended to be thrown up in the past. There are many more factors to take into consideration now -- and that's the key. Women are not one amorphous mass; to complicate things even further, individual women have different needs and need different messages at different times of the day.

The point is, when it comes to women, you can't assume anything any more.

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