Today’s post is from Barbara Bellman, an author, lecturer, consultant and marketing coach who has made it her business over 30 years to take the pulse of women. Her work in that arena has resulted in two leading reference books on gender-specific marketing: Reaching Women: The Way to Go in Marketing Health Services and Hitting the Right Nerve. She is also the author of Flirting After Fifty: Lessons for Grown-up Women on How to Find Love Again.
Today, she hosts informal focus groups of women across the U.S. to gather their candid assessments of lifestyle, medical, sexual, caregiving/senior, financial, existential and career issues. This work is sponsored by Pace Advertising, a wholly owned subsidiary of the worldwide WPP Group.
I’ve become a professional eavesdropper – crisscrossing the country to listen in on conversations among women. Why? Because there’s so much to be learned about how they think and feel from their candid conversations with other women. I admit to enticing them to join their peers in conversation with champagne and chocolates and a congenial setting. But, in truth, they don’t need much provocation to take on a host of burning issues for women, from healthcare and finances to romance and care-giving.
Most recently, I hosted a group of women in their forties in Southern California, where we discussed the subject of healthcare and specifically, mammograms. These were college-educated, middle-class women. 15 percent were unmarried; 85 percent were married with children. They were healthy and surprisingly nonchalant about the risks of breast cancer, regardless of whether other female members of their family had been afflicted or even died of the disease.
Even more surprising, most were willing to forego getting mammograms and other screenings if it meant sacrificing the purchase of something that made them look and feel good now. Why get a mammogram (both potentially an unpleasant expense and experience) when you can buy a pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos that add five inches to your height and show off your calves? Why submit to a sonogram with no immediately visible benefits when a Botox treatment can erase those creases in your forehead? This brings into play the age-old issue of want versus need, and desire versus fear. The women want to look better, younger and more attractive, rather than know if there is a medcial problem.
It’s hard to understand that any woman could be cavalier about her health. Perhaps the medical community and advocacy groups have done too good a job of assuring us that breast cancer is a “treatable disease.” They’ve successfully allayed the fears of the women in my group. Or perhaps this is simply a day and age (thanks to the Great Recession and the rapid succession of natural and man-made disasters around the world) when life feels precarious enough without the threat of medical problems. The quest for relief, it seems, is paramount – the kind best satisfied by a little retail and cosmetic therapy.