IQ News: It’s A Woman’s Web




The numbers are in: Women are the Net’s next wave.
It may have taken Proctor & Gamble to wake up mass-marketers to the Web’s potential with its FAST Summit, but nimbler companies have already smelled the coffee–and the diapers, cars and financial services–already being bought enthusiastically by the growing number of females using the Web. Call it, if not the Internet year, the Internet minute of the woman.
And it’s not just the inevitable expansion of Internet access that is making it happen. “It’s the time crunch that’s driving women online,” explains Bernadette Tracy, president of New York City-based NetSmart-Research, a company that surveys Web usage and consults on Web marketing strategy. “Women are using the Internet as a time-saving household appliance, just like a washer or dryer.” According to Tracy’s “What Makes Women Click?” report, 88 percent of women go online because it saves them time, while 90 percent cited the convenience of 24-hour shopping. Since women make up an estimated 43 percent of Internet users, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Media Research and the electronic commerce consortium CommerceNet, that’s an opportunity for a lot of brand building and e-commerce. Tracy bases her numbers on 500 half-hour telephone interviews with women across the nation who are online at least an hour a week, excluding email. The figures represent a dramatic shift from the days, not so long ago, when the Internet was a male-dominated virtual world.
Early-bird interactive advertisers were, perhaps surprisingly, not traditional “women’s” products. In November of 1997, BabyCenter, a San Francisco-based site offering information and online retailing for expectant and new parents, launched with the unisex General Motors and wing tip-friendly Charles Schwab as charter advertisers. The first four sponsors on iVillage, which launched in January of 1996, were Polaroid, Nissan, Toyota and MGM. Besides the financial services firms and automakers, now consumer packaged goods companies are clamoring to join the tea party.
“The women’s audience has ramped so quickly,” observes Wenda Harris Millard, executive vice president, marketing and sales at New York-based DoubleClick. “When you put the numbers together, it’s a compelling story.” She estimates there are 15 female-skewed sites in DoubleClick’s network, including Modern Bride, TV Food Network, Top Secret and Essence, offering close to 30 million impressions a month. To help sell them, Millard has designated one of the company’s four new business development directors to concentrate on adding more women’s content to the network.
San Francisco-based Flycast reports that its Women’s category of over 50 sites is its second largest, after Entertainment. “Advertisers are really trying to reach professional women,” says Lyn Chitow Oakes, vice president of marketing. The kinds of ads which appeal to them are “contextual things, a safe environment, and offers and opportunities that don’t come on too strong.”
Fortunately for banner-weary online advertisers, this has often led to diverse ad forms: sponsorships of content areas, chats and interactive tools to help women get things done.
Women-oriented Web content includes, but is certainly not limited to, the frilly stuff. Successful sites leverage the Web’s capacity for deep, current and customizable content, no matter what the topic.
The woman online is a different breed, according to Ellen Pack, founder and CEO of Women.com, a network of women’s sites. She describes her market as “solvent and savvy. They’re interested in everything men are and in some other topics too.”
Many sites are taking advantage of the difference. “You can customize our site to the age of your child so that all the different departments are populated with pieces relevant to you,” explains Amy Barr, editor of the 2-year-old site ParentTime, a part of Time Warner’s Pathfinder network that is partially financed by Procter & Gamble. Users can also post questions to bulletin boards or attend one of eight monthly chats.
The klatch factor, the ability of users to talk back, and to each other via chat or forums, promotes “community,” the current interactive advertisers’ Holy Grail. Becoming part of the community is a fine way to sell products online, as sponsors of iVillage have found. The New York-based service repositioned itself as a woman-oriented site in July of 1997, and today has around 500,000 subscribers plus 2.8 million newsletter subscribers, an 88 percent increase since January 1998.
Advertisers are finally getting it, says co-founder and CEO Candace Carpenter. “We’ve been saying all along, ‘Let’s not do banners, let’s form a partnership, let’s figure out how to use this medium to provide a service for consumers.’ Now advertisers contact us because they want to do something significant, not based on a single brand or a single impression.”
Home Network’s director of the Interactive Advertising Group, Susan Bratton, said she has had great success lining up mainstream advertisers like Pantene and Levi Strauss & Co. because of the service’s ability to deliver new ad models. For example, a clickable Pantene pop-up ad launches a full-screen promo showing models with different hairstyles. Viewers can find out what products to use for a style or get styling tips. “I can drive the ad the way I want the experience to be. It’s not a linear experience, it’s not print, it’s multimedia,” Bratton said.
Now that advertisers have realized they can find women online, they, and online publishers, are taking the next step: segmenting the market. A year-old site produced by Third Age Media of San Francisco has succeeded by serving people 45 to 64 years old, 60 percent of them women. Offering features, news and forums on such topics as health, money, romance and technology–with plenty of electronic shopping thrown in–the site can identify subgroups and offer great relationship marketing opportunities.
“Advertisers who have a product for women at a particular lifestage will find them online,” predicts Third Age CEO Mary Furlong.
Another hot women’s segment is what the San Francisco-based webzine Maxi calls “post-college, pre-commitment women,” aged 18 to 34. Rosemary Pepper, Molly Steenson, Heather Irwin and Janelle Brown founded Maxi in 1997 because, Brown said, “We were tired of reading magazines that talked down to us.” Maxi started taking advertising in June and has attracted clothing, music and book marketers; Brown hopes to increase sales by signing with an ad network. “You don’t reach [this market] with magazines like Seventeen or Vogue.”
“Men have plateaued,” NetSmart’s Tracy says. “Women are going to dominate the Internet.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that the feminized Web will seem much different from its testosterone-driven beginnings. But you can count on even more e-shopping.