Sure, the Rolling Stones would have painted it black. But I’m not a rock star (damn it!), and I’m not talking about doors … because doors could get a little boring. I’m talking about the women’s market for life insurance. We just can’t seem to get this one right as an industry — perhaps even as a society at large, but let’s stick with our own sandbox for now. The other conversation just gets way too crazy.

A few years ago, I sat in a product training class conducted by a third-party rep. As was common, I was the only chick in the room. The speaker liked to use stories and analogies, and every time one of his anecdotes was related to cooking, the hairdresser, children and general domestic activities, he would turn to me and say something like, “Isn’t that right Mindy?”

After about the seventh time, my patience was wearing. After the eighth time, a colleague interjected with, “John, she just looks like a girl. You’re way off.”

Thank God for the socially aware.

I was reminded of this story when I recently came across an article from Harvard Business Review, “The Female Economy.” We’re not the only industry struggling with the female vote, and the article had several fantastic points. I believe its information is best summarized by this sentence: “Companies that can offer tailored products and services — going beyond ‘make it pink’ — will be positioned to win when the economy begins to recover.”

One of the article’s best examples was a failed attempt by Dell Computers:

“Consider Dell’s short-lived effort to market laptops specifically to women. The company fell into the classic ‘make it pink’ mindset with the May 2009 launch of its Della website. The site emphasized colors, computer accessories and tips for counting calories and finding recipes. It created an uproar among women, who described it as ‘slick but disconcerting’ and ‘condescending.’ The blogosphere reacted quickly to the company’s ‘very special site for women.’ Austin Modine of the online tech publication The Register responded acidly, ‘If you thought computer shopping was a gender-neutral affair, then you’ve obviously been struck down by an acute case of female hysteria. (Nine out of ten Victorian-age doctors agree).’”

The article continues to say that the greatest potential lies in six industries. As two industries with which women have made their dissatisfaction clear, financial services and health care are included among those six, with financial services “winning the prize as the industry least sympathetic to women.” And HBR’s survey respondents had some pretty interesting comments:

“I hate being stereotyped because of my gender and age, and I don’t like being treated like an infant.”

“Financial service reps talk down to women as if we cannot understand more than just the basics.”

And while I really want to stick up for my industry and say we’re just misunderstood (you know, like the Beta fish who’s really just shy), I can think of more than a few examples I’ve heard throughout my career.

“What, you didn’t want to become a nurse?”

“What you women are doing is ruining society.”

And one of my all time faves:

“Don’t worry, one day you’ll find the right guy, and none of this work stuff will matter.”

Cute, no? I think we have some work to do. And it doesn’t involve the color pink or “girl groups.” It involves listening and getting beyond categorical marketing that does nothing to serve this market. HBR also states this market controls $20 trillion in annual spending worldwide. I’m pretty sure that’s worth some time, energy and money spent to do it right.

Last one to the meeting is a rotten egg.

Excerpts taken from Silverstein, Michael J. and Sayre, Kate. “The Female Economy” Harvard Business Review, September 2009.

 

For more from Mindy Lamont, see:

Fast, slick, rich life insurance?

Death of a (life insurance) salesman?