Insight March 13, 2013

Marketing to Women: Eschew the Stereotypes


Since International Women’s Day falls in March, it seems appropriate for us to examine our industry and consider if the marketing messages we convey are in step with today’s women.

Yes, we need to care, because more than $4.3 trillion a year in domestic spending is attributed to women. Another reason to care is that women who experience satisfying customer service are five to ten times more likely to relay that experience than a man. And there’s a flip side: brain imaging research shows that negative feelings resonate longer in women than in men.

So how is marketing directed at women missing the mark? If you look at a study conducted by Womankind LLC in July 2011, the answer is typecasting.

Womankind surveyed 217 women between ages 18 and 78. The survey assessed the roles with which women identified themselves. Then researchers compared those roles to the ones depicted in advertising.

What emerged was a clear disconnect between how women consumers view themselves and how advertisers portray women.

For example, advertising often paints a portrait of the woman who is “the dieter,” “the housekeeper, ” or the “happy shopper.” Not one of the women surveyed selected either “the dieter” or “the housekeeper” as one of her most important identities. Only five percent of the women surveyed indicated shopping among their top five identities.

To win the hearts and minds of today’s women, marketing must respect that women are multi-dimensional and show them in roles that reflect how they see themselves.

So if all women are different and want to see messages that reflect how they see themselves, how do you accomplish that with finite resources?

The answer is to develop messaging that keeps the most common self-identifiers in mind. Of nearly all the women surveyed, 95% self-identified with “friend.” Of these, 51% said the friendship role (which included “friend,” “best friend,” “companion,” and “confidante”) was one of the most important.

While the role was most commonly self-identified across all respondents, not one woman surveyed felt marketers addressed this role.

Outside of “friend,” the other roles most widely viewed as very important were “mother,” “sister,” “optimist,” “independent,” “wife,” “traveler,” “foodie,” and “daughter.”

The survey revealed that women see themselves as a manager. More than four-fifths (83.8%) saw themselves as independent, and 79.7% saw themselves as multi-taskers. The survey also showed that nearly seven out of ten women saw themselves as planners (68.2%) or organizers (67.2%).

In short, the vast majority of women saw themselves as busy, in control, and responsible in their time and tasks. But very little advertising concurs with that insight; instead, ads depict women as overwhelmed or ineffective.

So before you launch that next campaign to reach women, think of them as friends and capable CEOs, rather than dieters, housekeepers, and shopping fanatics.