As shoppers cut back on purchases, factories receive fewer orders and the national economy stumbles into recession, Cindy Maude is sharpening a new marketing tool to help lift the fortunes of astute companies.
Her new Lawrence-based brand consultancy, called Prerogative, is designed to help businesses connect with the strongest pool of buying power in the land: women.
"Those companies that do the best jobs of reaching the female customer are going to dominate every product and service in their categories," said Maude, owner and chief executive officer of Prerogative and its parent company, Callahan Creek Inc.
It isn't difficult to see why.
Despite an advertising world that is set up to appeal to men, Maude said, female consumers wield overpowering influence in buying decisions:
Women are responsible for more than 83 percent of all purchases.
More than 90 percent of all homes, home furnishings and vacations are purchased or influenced by women.
Women account for half of the $30.2 billion hardware industry, buy 68 percent of all new cars and purchase 70 percent of all NFL-licensed merchandise.
To help businesses take advantage of such power, Prerogative is delving into demographic details. It is working with Ethnographic Research Inc., of Kansas City, Mo., and Yankelovich Partners in New York to come up with a realistic and useful picture of what women want, why they want it and where they'll buy it.
The goal, Maude said, is to help businesses understand women "in context" where they've been, where they are now and where they're going so that the companies stand the best chance of gaining their business.
Prerogative's research includes traditional focus groups and telephone interviews but goes beyond with in-depth interactions. Research for a gardening company would mean observing a number of women as they get home from work, head into the garden and prune plants.
Observers also would go to the nursery, to see what the women look for in displays, colors, brands and more.
An e-mail panel of 250 women also feeds information to the Prerogative team, which consists of Jackie Bunnell, director of research and planning, and Helen Thompson, managing director.
They know they're onto something. The team is working to build a list of clients among an increasingly receptive field of prospects; Thompson last month traveled to New York to meet with Merrill Lynch, a firm drawn by women's growing influence on financial decisions.
"What worked yesterday will not work today," said Thompson, who helped build market programs for Hallmark Cards and Sprint before coming to Callahan Creek. "Women today are stronger, more independent and more educated than ever before. They're also a professional, a mother, a gardener, a cook, a wife, a daughter and a sister.
"They want to work with a company that gets it."
Maude certainly does.
The woman who founded Callahan Creek 19 years ago is working on plans for Prerogative offices in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta. She already has 56 employees at Callahan Creek, which does marketing, advertising, public relations, design and promotion work at 805 N.H.
Callahan Creek had billings of $35 million last year, with clients including Hill's Pet Nutrition, Sprint and the Kansas Department of Commerce & Housing. The company moved from Topeka to Lawrence in 1999, when it has billings of $23 million.