Taking CEOs Back to School

Our girl-branding columnists suggest six New Year's resolutions that executives should adopt if they want to create hit products

Happy 2007 to all national brands and retailers!

We believe that girls, as a market demographic, have never been more dynamic and powerful than now, and that our market clout creates bountiful growth opportunities for the brands that serve us. But before we charge ahead into 2007, we have a bit of unfinished business to clean up from last year.

In 2006, we sadly watched countless respectable brands lose out on all sorts of opportunities to increase profits (while making girls happy at the same time). Missing were those "OMG—you have to see this" branding Web videos. Scarce were those new products that instantly topped our must-have lists. Few were the print ads worth cutting out for our walls, or the promos that sent us charging to the store.

To help brands and retailers perform better in 2007, we decided to play chief executive officer for a day and draw up a list of girl-style strategic resolutions—the things we would institute if we were running the show. Follow these resolutions and your company will be scoring higher in the girl market.

Ditch the old girl-marketing methods; modern girls are an advanced species.

Whether you are a new brand or an old brand trying to remain popular, you have to market to the new millennium's girls as if they were new creatures altogether. Too many female and youth brands feel dated. Their branding messages are inspired by metaphors, aspirations, insecurities and social habits that are no longer meaningful. The ads are either generic, disingenuous, or over-processed. The packaging, hang tags, and instructions shout "Made for Mom" or, even worse, "Made by Dad," instead of "Made for Me."

Girls who grew up on the Internet are a new species of customer, different from even our sisters who are just a few years older. We shop, socialize, and spend our time differently. Across the board, from products, political news, to worldwide culture, the breadth of our exposure, awareness, and access expanded phenomenally.

Through activities like Myspace, Flickr, and YouTube, girls' creative freedom and the outlets for self-expression have grown rapidly. Girls today are culturally enriched and socially enabled. We require a higher level of intelligence, aesthetic design, and entertainment quality to be impressed and satisfied. To win over modern girls, you've got to up the ante.

Remember that boys and girls are different, and that products, services, and marketing messages developed for one won't work for the other.

Girls today do not believe they have to emulate boys in order to be successful or have self-respect. They are confident in their girlhood. Now is the time to rethink products and marketing communication standards across everyday life categories, from technology to transportation to bank accounts. Examining how girls and boys differ—in needs, aesthetic styles and priorities—can lead to groundbreaking innovation.

They socialize, play and communicate differently. How would an interface change if it were female? How do boys and girls eat differently and what does that say about fast food? Do athletic companies market a competitive intensity that is more interesting to boys than girls? With such differences, does it make sense for a Web site to have multiple sales and service interfaces? Should ads for things like autos be crafted for each gender? Want to lead the market with strong girl-sales? Then explore and integrate gender differences in product development and marketing communication.

For the love of God, do not copy, do not copy, do not copy.

Copying isn't good for you and it makes our world drab. In all that you do for your brand, strive to be unique. Don't keep up with the neighbors. Don't borrow their product idea, packaging, ad campaign, promotion deals, or even their color and typography. In a world of increasing options and unlimited choice, strong authentic brands rule.

Get stronger ideas and innovations through girl-relevant insights.

Many "new" products and marketing concepts don't feel so exciting or newsworthy.

Their contributions aren't memorable. Why? Most ideas aren't based on deep girl insights. For example, it's common to make an everyday product like a phone or backpack pink to feminize it. But what would be truly innovative would be to change the backpack's shape to fit a girl's body structure or redesign the phone's interface so it supports a girl's calling habits.

To lead the girl market, plumb much deeper during your search for truths. Differentiate between consumer observations that the industry considers novel, and insights that enable a girl to revolutionize her world or world view. These type of insights give rise to new products, lasting wit, and communications that are exciting. In this era of change, meaningful insights are plentiful. Your insights could be social-cultural communications, such how text messaging changes friendships.

Girls are more mobile—how does this affect accessories, or the beverage industry? Girls worry about the environment—does your brand? Girls are as intelligent and curious as they are playful. Ideas based on deep thought will let you win her mind and her heart.

Invest in well-branded products that sell themselves.

Shift some of your resources from advertising old products that should really be retired to creating new ones so desirable that they sell themselves. There are many products and services that girls are just waiting for someone to make.

Imagine backpacks that are useful but not ugly; phone-service programs designed for college kids; athletic wear that feels pretty; packaged long johns that don't come up to our ribcage and are attractive under miniskirts; drugstore cosmetics that are as beautiful to own as those Sephora carries; or cute-and-affordable school supplies at office-supply chains.

The better the product, the more grounded it is in the real needs and cultural shifts, the more the product will sell itself. Products that meet a girl's unspoken needs, products that surprise and delight, are products that don't even need flashy advertising. Not only do these grab us as we walk by the shelf, but happy girl customers are naturally inclined to boast and promote.

Say no to gimmicks or quick fixes.

Marketers always seem to be in pursuit of the next surefire marketing power maneuver. Do X, and the kids will think you're hip! Ideas enter the industry and than spread throughout the market like a plague. But here's the irony: Most of these ideas are far more exciting to the companies that use them than to the girl customers they are suppose to turn on. Brands are complex, and strong brands are built on rigor, discipline and profound creativity, not on tricks.

Before you invest in the next big thing, make sure that it both interests girls and relates to your brand. In the last few years, too many trends and gimmicks have emerged: celebrity endorsements, user-generated advertising, ideas based on reality shows, contests, putting your brand in virtual worlds, having a brand page on MySpace. These ideas might look interesting on the surface, but to girls they are just an obstacle to good products that meet real needs and strong marketing that clearly articulates the benefits.

The girl market is getting more exciting by the year, and the climate is ripe for new leaders. Win us over when we are young and you could keep our loyalty forever after.

With that, you can have your desk back. And here's to a great year.

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