Affluent Women: Getting Their Attention

by Dan Kennedy | March 6, 2011

It is no secret that, as the old saying goes, "women control the purse strings." That once meant that the men brought home the paychecks and their wives spent the money. No longer. Many affluent households are wealthy thanks to both spouses' careers providing excellent incomes. Consequently, women have control over spending and investments based not only on the marriage but on equal -or in some cases- greater financial contribution to it. This has erased old, traditional divisions and delegation of spending.

Surveys from the financial services industry from the 1970's, for example, showed that the married women in more than 80% of affluent households had nominal or no involvement in the investment decisions. Similar surveys from 2000 and later indicate the 80% has moved all the way down to 40%. In mass-affluent households, women are even more likely to be actively involved in investment decisions. In the 1960s, husbands picked out the family car. In the 1980s, couples picked out the car together. Today, the woman of the mass-affluent household most likely has her own car and chose it herself. Marketing just about anything to the affluent married household now involves the woman at least as much as the man.

In the television show Mad Men, about the advertising world in the 1950s, we see young women going to work for the express purpose of finding a man and getting married- they the unlucky ones who weren't able to go directly to marriage without a tour around the game board. That was then. This is now. The institution of marriage itself has fallen on hard times and disrepute. As a career goal, out the window. The year 2007 marked the first time there were as many single women as married women in the United States, with no sign of that trend reversing. In 2005, single women were the second-largest group of home buyers, right behind married couples. They do not stay in apartments until they find husbands and get married. They bought nearly 1.5 million homes in 2005, more than twice as many as single men. Yet, when have you seen any real estate advertising specifically aimed at single women? Comparable examples can be found in numerous oilier product and service categories, where marketers and marketing have not caught up with and are ignoring opportunities in current reality.

Some single women are single for the traditional reason, not yet (or ever) finding the right man. But there is a growing population of what demographic analysts call the "willfully unmarried," who consciously and deliberately choose to stay single..

Among the willfully unmarried women are two groups of special interest to us: the particularly affluent single women and the affluent boomer single women. In these two groups, and particularly in a group composed of overlap from the two, we find untold spending power, controlled by women who are buying their own homes, doing their own investing, planning and funding their own retirements, planning their own vacations, and so on--for life. These women are permanent heads of households, and can and should be marketed to as such, and hardly anybody is. In fact, my files are lacking any good examples of advertising or marketing specific to this to show you!

Late-in-Life Divorce as a Spending Event

The majority of the divorces that occur after 20 to 25 years of marriage are instigated by the wives, not the husbands. Far from grieving quietly, many of these women quickly re-enter the dating and next-husband-hunting game, find it highly competitive, populated by an insufficient quantity of men, and full of older men seeking younger women.

Consequently, a number of self improvement investments occur within 6 to 12 months of divorce: cosmetic surgery, cosmetic dentistry, weight loss products, new and younger-looking wardrobe, new and younger-looking car.

I have several clients who deliberately market to this timing sweet spot, using information compiled from public records combined with other, commercially available, rented mailing lists. In short, affluent women age 45 through 60, divorcing after long marriages, tend to go on personal spending binges and be exceptionally susceptible to certain kinds of product and service offers about four to six months post-divorce.

Those identified as affluent or, in a way, newly affluent based on their own income no longer shared, alimony, or having secured the principal residence in the divorce, are the biggest spenders.

The Growing Population of "Cougars"

The older man with the much younger trophy wife has been reversed. According to AARP statistics, at least one in three women between ages 40 and 70 is dating a younger man. About one-fourth of those men are ten or more years younger. reported a doubling of older women seeking younger men between 2002 and 2005. The proof there's a trend is that the phenomenon is earning its own name. Older women expressing preference for and hunting younger men are now familiarly called Cougars. Celebrities do it: Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, Madonna. TV shows deal with it: In 2005, Fran Drescher's show Living with Fran dealt with a mother of two in love with a man half her age. VH1 aired a reality show with 20-year-old men competing to date Mick Jagger's 50-year-old ex-wife.

A not yet explicitly tracked majority of these Cougars are affluent women. The theory advanced in MicroTrends (a must read marketing book by Mark Penn) is that the rise of the affluent Cougar reflects "the natural instinct for people with success to trade that success for sexual attractiveness. And what was once achievable only by older men with money is now within reach of women with power and accomplishment (and money)." The phrase "the natural instinct for" is, I think, an extremely important one. There is, in fact, a natural instinct to attempt leveraging success and prosperity into youth, sex, longevity, even immortality.

Some affluent people are even prepaying to be cryogenically frozen upon death in the hope of being later thawed out and resurrected when a medical cure for what ails them is found-and laugh if you like, but companies in this field are doing quite nicely. Men are catching up to women in terms of willingness to spend money to try to buy youth and attractiveness, but this is certainly a prime area of opportunity when marketing to affluent women.

Stigmas Gone

Cosmetic surgery -derogatively called plastic surgery for years- was once almost exclusively for affluent women, or actresses and models. And it was not openly discussed. Today, its popularity spans age ranges from shockingly young to surprisingly old, and from mass-affluent to ultra-affluent. And not only is it openly discussed, but it is something of a status symbol, and discussed in ways that might make many people blush. For example, according to a study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 81% of breast surgery patients and 68% of other body surgery patients reported improvements in sexual satisfaction. More than 50% of these patients said they were able to achieve orgasm more easily following their surgery. And 56% also noted increases in their partners' sexual interest and satisfaction following the surgery. You may rest assured that the profession is using this information in its marketing.

This change in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery is representative of comparable changes in attitudes about just about everything, including but not limited to sexuality.

Men, take a stroll through the Self-Help, Psychology, Health, and Relationship aisles at your nearest major bookstore (where most men never tread) or pick up and read copies of Cosmopolitan as well as the historically more staid Redbook. You'll probably be very surprised to discover the discussions going on.

What's most important about all this, from a marketing standpoint, is the willingness of women to confront every imaginable health, beauty, aging, and lifestyle issue head-on, and the willingness of affluent women to spend almost without limitation on themselves, their physical and emotional well-being.

Legal Discrimination

You cannot design a business to be exclusively for men anymore. But you can design any business you like to be exclusively for women. Since discrimination is one of the most powerful of all marketing strategies, this is an opportunity that shouldn't be overlooked.

The same, incidentally, is true for race. The Black Entertainment Television (BET) network and its awards, Black Enterprise magazine, and the NAACP are accepted and respected. Start the White Entertainment Network, White Enterprise magazine, or the National Association for Advancement of White Folk, and see how things go. I don't begrudge this, by the way; I merely point it out as double standard and, more importantly, as opportunity.

Smart marketers targeting women are all about discrimination. While women tend to be liberal and socially conscious, and decry discrimination in general, they respond very favorably to for-women-only products, services, media, and messages.

Ladies' nights still exist and still work, and that says a lot. It's a 1960's device alive and well 40-plus years later. Designing and presenting businesses, products, and services as "for affluent women only-no men invited" is one of the great growth opportunities of the coming ten years.

It Isn't Simple

Gender difference matters. There are words and phrases like women with balls-that instantly set many women's teeth on edge and make them deaf to everything else said or written by that person. I do a lot of advertising and copywriting in weight loss, alternative health, and beauty categories, and I have to exercise extreme caution about "sounding male" or using instant-turn-off language. However, Quinn is right when she recoils at ad approaches or language that feels "condescending" to her.

Women, especially career women, are hypersensitive to being talked down to, to not being given credit for their intelligence, knowledge, and experience. While the militant feminist of the '60's and '70's seems to be a marginalized minority, there is still a profound difference in the way women respond to language, and the way different women respond to the same language.

Consider the main characters in the Sex and the City HBO series and follow-up movie. Some women aspire to be like one or all of these characters. Other women are amused and entertained by them, but do not find them at all inspirational. Other women find them shocking. Ridiculous. Embarrassing. These different reactions link to age, geography, career status and experience, education, and affluence. Of course, a TV series like this has to cast a relatively wide net and try for mass appeal-thus its four different characters, including Samantha, older but also more libertine than the others and, in one long plot line in the series, a Cougar.

Marketers, however, need not cast such a broad net. We can segment and isolate different types and groups of affluent and mass-affluent women and approach each segmented group very differently than the others.
Dan S. Kennedy is the provocative, truth-telling author of thirteen business books; a serial, multi-millionaire entrepreneur; trusted marketing advisor, consultant and coach to hundreds of private clients running businesses from $1-million to $1-billion in size; and he influences well over 1-million independent business owners annually through his newsletters, tele-coaching programs, local Chapters and Kennedy Study Groups meeting in over 100 cities.

Glazer-Kenndey Insiders Circle, owned and operated by internationally known marketing personalities Dan Kennedy and Bill Glazer, is THE place where truly smart, progressive, aggressive entrepreneurs with a love for marketing, a sincere desire to get rich and richer (with no apologies for doing so), and an optimistic, forward-looking attitude, gather' to exchange and share timely information and "what's working today" strategies and examples. Get Bill Glazer's #1 Bestselling Book, "Outrageous Advertising" for FREE. Click here.

Chia-Li Chien, CFP®, CRPC, PMP; helps entrepreneurs to creating business value that transforms their world.  She is the author of Show Me The Money and columnist for & Fox Business online.   She is available for consulting, speaking engagements and workshops.  She can be reached at or


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