Categorized | the branding notebook

Who are the gamma women?

Do they exist? And should you care?

For many of us marketers, entrepreneurs, and harried small businesspeople, we often directly or tangentially mosey across this or that demographic, since correctly targetting a specific audience with our products or services is key to our promotional success. Some of these demographics we know — or think we know — like Gen Y or Baby Boomers. Some are simple, like kids under 12. Some demographics look like something we know — like alpha women — but we’re really at sea. Some demographics take a bit of digging to understand, like “beta women.”

And now, there’s a new “demographic” you see here and there, now and then out of the corner of your eye: “gamma” women, a new, previously undiscovered group of American consumers, like some lost tribe on a South Pacific island. Only this lost tribe numbers some 55 million people, so it’s more like someone has discovered a whole new continent previously hidden from view right here in the good old U.S.A. If you’re in the business of marketing to women (and most of us are), how seriously should you take this new demographic? Who are they? Should you concentrate your product development and promotional resources on this demographic? Do they even exist, really?

How do you “discover” 55 million Americans?

It’s easy, really.

For those who haven’t dipped their toes into the wonderful, wacky world of marketing demographics, it may seem odd for anyone to claim that they’ve “discovered” or “defined” a new population of Americans with 55 million members. But marketing demographics is the closest thing we marketing macaroons have to an adult version of Lego’s. You can instantly create entirely new populations of the United States by cleverly and convincingly combining different blocks together.

There are 304 million people residing in the U.S. Standard marketing demographics focus on just a few demographic “blocks” or population descriptors, such as age, sex, income level, geographical location, race, ethnicity, education, religion, home ownership, income level, employment, and so on. In general, marketers rely mainly on the first five, but all these blocks can be combined to build any target population you want.

And just to make things really interesting, we can add behavioral and psychographic blocks to our population number-crunching Lego’s set, like Internet usage, purchasing behaviors, brand loyalty (behaviors), or personality, attitudes, and political views (psychographic variables). And just in case you thought three statistics Lego’s sets is plenty to slice, dice, cut, chop, mix, and match to end up with our best prospects and customers, we can also trot out firmographic data, such as where people work, what industry they’re in, and where they sit on the organizational pyramid (one of the primary definers of “alpha” groups, for instance).

For instance, I have just completed work on critiquing a horror movie script for a small production company. As part of that work, I put together a “target” demographic for the movie based on the most highly profitable horror movies with similar-sized budgets (most horror movie profits come from DVD rentals and sales rather than box office — for instance, the original Saw made twice as much money in DVD release than it did in boxoffice — as a result, we have access to some astonishingly precise demographic data). The target audience were white males, ages 14-21, suburban, high school or college attendees. We put together a good picture of the magazines they read, the music they listen to, their attitudes towards parents, friends, sex, the opposite sex, religion, and so on (we want, after all, the film to really speak to these folks).

We can even give this demographic a name, like, “the horror movie dudes.” Or, if we want to be fancy and falutin’, so that people will take us seriously and open their wallets, we can call them something like “omega men.” And, trust me, folks like New Line Cinema and Dimension really — and by really, I mean really, really, really — understand this demographic. Both these companies are, to say the least, in the business of entertaining “the horror movie guys.”

All kidding aside, this demographic really does exist. There really is a “type” of horror movie consumer — both theatrical release and DVD rental — that fits a certain pattern of age, education, race, ethnicity, purchasing habits, religion, and attitudes. And some creative people, like Eli Roth, are intuitively attuned to this population. And the suits that greenlight their movies have the demographic research to prove they’ve made the right decision . . . and to help them get an audience.

(Both Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are textbook perfect scripts for this demographic, which is why they made so many people so wealthy.)

So, no, it’s not impossible to “find” 55 million people you never knew existed when the definition of “people” is easily shifted. I religiously use the Prizm demographics put together by Nielsen Claritas in my consulting and promotions — and have been doing so since 2006. All of their categories (which you used to be able to look at for free, but no more) are “found” U.S. populations, but “found” by mixing and matching demographic, behavioral, firmographic, and psychographic data — along with millions of tons of purchasing and viewing data that Nielsen sucks into itself like one big statistics black hole.

So who “discovered” gamma women?

Before we define the “gamma” woman, it’s useful to focus on who actually discovered this gigantic population of previously underappreciated Americans.

Meredith Corporation, the publishers of the magazines More, Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, Fitness, Parents, Mujer, Baby, Quilting, and so on, is the one bright shining star in a whole firmament of failing magazine properties. While the entire magazine and newspaper industry gulps water as it slowly drowns — I’m reminded of Stevie Smith’s memorable line, “I wasn’t waving, I was drowning” . . . Meredith has been happily racking up readers, revenues, and profits steadily from year to year. Here’s a spectacular interview with Jack Griffin, Meredith’s CEO, on Fox Business News that just aired today:


These were the folks that “found” gamma women, a group that, by some hastily coincidental alignment of the stars, perfectly corresponds to their reader base. For all practical purposes, then, “gamma women” are the readers of Ladies Home Journal, More, Quilting, Parents, Family Circle, Easy Family Food, Midwest Living, and the whole lot of Meredith magazines.

Gamma women are the demographic that Meredith is selling to its advertisers. And if you listen carefully to Jack Griffin, you’ll see that he’s not just selling magazines, but social networks, integrated advertising campaigns with a single point of contact, and that he sees his company as not just “creating,” but “curating,” that is, bringing the consumer into the discussion. He is also marketing content related to women’s life events and emotional lives — content that never becomes obsolete.

So, if you don’t already know who gamma women are by now, then read on. But don’t expect to be surprised.

So who are gamma women?

“Gamma women” is a demographic category invented by Meredith to describe the readership of their “content” across all its traditional and digital properties including social networks.

The primary characteristic of gamma women are . . . they are online and use social networks.

They have a network, share experiences, and laterally influence the brand, purchasing, and lifestyle choices of the people in that network.

(You should have been able to guess that five paragraphs ago.)

But Meredith defines gammas distinctly from the classical “alpha women” category, for whom career, professional status, wealth, and material possessions are important, and the less traditional “beta women” category, as originally defined by Thomas Stanley in his Millionaire Women Next Door, who are also equally focused on career, status, wealth, and material possessions. For alphas and betas, material possessions are important messages to the rest of us about their success and status. Non-alphas and non-betas are often marketed to as “alpha envious,” that is, seeking to buy brands that display some kind of social status. Just because you can’t afford a pair of Gucci shoes is no obstacle to, well, buying a pair of Gucci shoes. Most downmarket brands, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, market to alpha-envious females of all ages (males, too, are marketed to as alpha-envious).

The gamma woman, however, is not interested in social status or material possessions as significant of social status, but rather focused on life events, sharing, and emotions (again, you should have been able to guess this aspect of the gamma woman about four minutes into the interview with Jack Griffin). Or, as it says on Meredith’s Gamma Women Web site, gamma women are

  • Collaborative and inclusive
  • Feel empowered by information
  • Value relationships of all kinds
  • Define success for themselves.

    Again, simply scanning the list of Meredith’s print and online media would have naturally led you to this place.

    In the simplest possible terms, gamma women are those with strong, relatively non-hierarchical networks, both online and offline, based on friendship and shared interests, in which influence flows strongly in, among, and between the members of this network.

    Surprise! Gamma women are the female half of the social network, “word of mouth” market that folks like Seth Godin have been selling us on lo these many years. So when it comes to actually reaching out to this demographic as a unique demographic, Meredith pretty much repeats all the standard mantras of word-of-mouth and social networking brand building:

  • Pull her in to interact with your brand.
  • Inspire her with real stories and distinctive characters.
  • Be authentic.
  • Ask her to share her opinions, needs, and wants.
  • Spark her creativity. Invite her to participate in creating your brand’s story.
  • Use multiple media and marketing techniques.
  • Show her your values.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks or make course corrections.
  • Tap into interest groups and influential individual voices.
  • Create adventures and unique experiences.
  • Help her edit the wide array of choices.

    All of this is right out of the WOM, social networking, and online marketing playbooks.

    Do gamma women really exist?


    When you remove all the feel-good frills and furbelows, gamma women are a valid demographic category. They are women of all ages who use the Web and social networks with significant frequency.

    Should you care?

    Discovering “populations” hidden away in the tangle of demographic statistics is only valuable when it provides insights to target and talk to those populations in a different and more effective way. Are the insights gained by dividing out social networking women from social networking men valuable? If the only “difference” is that you should approach social networking women the same way you approach social networking men (which is pretty much where most of the gamma women material leads), then not really.

    But there’s some real value in there if you extend it out to the typical Meredith reader type. When you start including the importance of life events, of emotional life, of focusing on the things that the person can control, such as family, rather than the things they can’t control, such as the value of their 401K’s, then you’ve gained some immensely valuable insight.

    We know from extensive research that women use social networking in vastly different ways than men, that they exercise greater influence over the attitudes and behaviors of their network, and that they invest their networking with life events and emotions.

    Let me stress that the whole line about material possessions and status is not entirely accurate. If it were, then the conundrum posed by at least one (rightfully) outraged feminist would be true:

    But the internalized belief that material possessions equal status has not changed and it is pretty much a given that any break from the norm that “gamma” women possess will be re-focused on creating perfect feminine consumers through strategic marketing.

    Trying to “sell” a brand to a bunch of people who have cast away all that branding nonsense seems Pyrrhic at best and devilish at worst. But the reality is this: the gamma woman, as conceived by Meredith sans all the smoke and mirrors about “life is important rather than material possessions” astrology stuff, is just as complex as the rest of us and, yes, cares about status, brands, material possessions, and the social status that material possessions symbolize. It’s entirely possible to focus your life on relationships, life events, and emotions and still, at other times, lust after a Coach bag or an Armani watch.

    The profound insight is the very one that Jack Griffin offers about the typical Meredith reader: they’re focused on emotions, process, and life events. That means a very different kind of product, a different kind of brand, and a very different kind of conversation with the consumer, different from marketing the brand as a lifestyle in and of itself and different, I should add, than marketing to social networking males.

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