06/20/2014 05:23 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2014

Practicing 'Just in Time' Marketing to Women by Focusing on Her Subjects of Interest Rather Than Her as an Object

Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

A course I enjoy teaching is strategic brand management. There is a section in the text I use on how to revitalize a brand and the author (Kevin Keller) offers two solutions -- revitalize a brand through innovation (think Apple and its frequent introduction of new and revolutionary products from iPod to iPad to Mac to iPhone to Apple TV) or revitalize a brand through user imagery (think Buick refreshing its image as it changes from e.g., Tiger Woods to Payton Manning).

But as I think about marketing to women, I realize just how complicated the issue of user imagery is. One of the challenges when marketing to women is that there are multiple roles to target -- e.g., partner, parent and paid employer, and the boundaries between these roles are both ambiguous and fluid: Women move between many roles based on context and time.

For example, we know that married women do the majority of household tasks, women are still the primary caregivers of children and the majority of women are now in paid employment. As a women, this then begs the question of "who am I" when you market to me? For example, I might be in a meeting at work when one of my children texts me to say he is sick and needs to be picked up from school and asks who will come to get him -- mom or dad. All three roles, all at once.

How can marketers possibly know then who I am, and consequently, what is important to me at the exact time you communicate with me?

I am not sure there is a clear-cut solution to this complicated problem of user imagery -- or should I say, knowing which image to pick. One option is to practice what I call "just in time marketing." If you recall, just in time means to eliminate waste (usually in manufacturing). From the Toyota website: "Make only what is needed, when it is needed and in the amount needed" so as to "eliminate waste, inconsistencies and unreasonable requirements."

Eliminating waste by adopting just in time marketing means to avoid portraying women in different roles "just in case" she is in that role at the time you market to her. What this means is that instead of focusing on women as the object, focus on the subjects of her interest -- her children, her partner, her colleagues. A consequence of this is that when we look to revitalize a brand through user imagery, we need to take into account a broader set of options to include her subjects of interest as well.