Why Marketing to Women Doesn't Work
A Conversation with Jenny Darroch, author of Why Marketing to Women Doesn't Work
Women are now seen as the largest, most lucrative and most active market of all, and are increasingly being targeted. What are some of the most common mistakes you have seen businesses make when they are trying to target a female audience?
To me, there are four common mistakes organizations make when trying to target a female audience.
#1: Gender Washing. Marketers often treat women as if they are the same, and this results in the use of stereotypes that can push customers away from a brand. This is a spillover from the second wave of feminism of the 1970s, which focused on differences between men and women, instead of differences between women (which characterizes the third wave of feminism).
#2: Multiple and blurring roles. As marketers try and address differences between women, the challenge then becomes "Who Am I" when you market to me. What I mean by this is that women increasingly take on multiple roles – 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.
#3: Gender Convergence, and the blurring of gender boundaries. Not only are women more likely to be found in the non-traditional role of paid employment, but women increasingly take on jobs that were once seen as the sole domain of men, just as men are increasingly undertaking roles that were traditionally seen as the sole domain of women. Furthermore, men want to spend more time with their children and, in a growing number of households, it makes economic sense for men to do more around the home and with the children because many women out-earn men.
#4: Do not forget the task she is trying to do. Against a backdrop of gender washing, blurring of gender roles, and gender convergence, whenever we focus in on gender, we are forgetting the principles of market segmentation. A market segment is a group of people who have the same need and "hire" a product to do the same task. The unit of analysis, therefore, should be the task the customer wants to get done, not the customers themselves.
What often happens is that many managers realize women are economically important and/or influence purchase decision making, perhaps run data and see that their customer profile underrepresents women or simply question whether they are doing a good enough job of reaching women as customers. And then managers panic and fall into the pitfalls of focusing on gender first, needs second,
My overarching message is really quite simple: By doing a better job of marketing to women, the organization will not only do a better job of marketing to men but marketing practice will improve overall.
You discuss the concept of 'Gender Washing' in your book. Can you explain what this is in more detail, and why business should take note?
Gender washing has two defining characteristics: (1) a failure to acknowledge women’s distinct needs, and/or (2) a belief that marketing to women simply means offering the “shrink it and pink it ” version of men’s products.
To avoid the mistake of gender washing and, more importantly, to know how to better recalibrate marketing practice, means to understand the different stages that define contemporary feminism. In most countries, giving women the vote and allowing property rights were early attempts to seek gender equality. But it is the second and third wave of feminism that should be of interest to marketers. The second wave of feminism (circa 1970s) focused on differences between men and women – for example, physical differences such as “women bear children”, or psychological differences such as “men are good at competition and autonomy and bad at relationships and emotion. Women excel in relationships and emotion and are bad at competition and autonomy” (Hekman, Susan (2013). “Feminism”. In Malpas, S. and Wake, P. The Routledge Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory).
There are many criticisms of the second wave of feminism. One criticism is that women continue to assume a subordinate status because they are defined as being less rational, more emotional, more dependent and closer to nature. A second criticism is that feminism, as practiced around the 1970s, was the prevue of white middle class women and did not embrace the context of other women, such as women of color – that is, feminism treated all women as the same.
The third wave of feminism, therefore, emerged to focus on the differences between women with an emphasis on differences based on race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
What does this mean for marketing practice today? First, I believe that much marketing practice still reflects the feminist views of the 1970s. My recommendation then is for marketing practice to become more current and properly embrace the third wave of feminism by accepting that there are many differences between women. But I would add a twist to this recommendation. Current third wave writers acknowledge that there is “no one answer to the question of how to live as a feminist. Rather each women must confront the unique problems of her particular life.”1 With this in mind, instead of focusing on demographic differences between women, such as race and ethnicity, marketers should first focus on a woman’s needs by identifying the problems women are trying to solve for which the organization’s product could be a solution. Customer needs then become a more appropriate method to distinguish between women.
Can you share examples of businesses that have been targeting women effectively? What is it that they are doing that others aren't?
Brands that target women more effectively either: (1) avoid gender stereotypes; or (2) adopt a more feminine position. One example of an advertisement I saw recently was that of McDonald’s. Instead of focusing on a mother taking her children to McDonald’s the advertisement focused more on the child. This is what I mean by focusing on the object of her interest rather than her as a subject so as to avoid gender stereotypes. An example of a brand that adopts a more feminine position is that of IKEA in that it shows both men and women working together to make decisions on home décor.
How has the role of technology affected how business reach women audiences?
Technology is always a source of fascination and it has had quite an interesting impact on women as customers. Research shows that women are more likely than men to adopt and use the types of new technologies that enable customer engagement. For example, women use the Web more than men, use QR codes more than men and now own 58% of all smartphones. Women talk on the phone, text and use the social features of phones more than men. Forty-six percent of all women check their smartphones when they first wake in the morning and 63% of women do not go an hour without checking their phone. Women outnumber men for their use of social media products such as Facebook and Pinterest.
Not only are women more likely to adopt technologies and applications that enable customer engagement but research shows that women feel it is their responsibility to help friends and family make smart purchase decisions. For example, in a recent study, 92% of women pass along information about deals to others and 76% want to be part of a special panel or group. Even in the workplace, women ask more questions and gather more information than their male counterparts, preferring to collaborate with colleagues than unilaterally arrive at conclusions. Women self-disclose more than men and so willingly share stories of success and failure, including good and bad brand experiences.
What this means is that women engage with brands differently than men. It doesn’t mean that women are more brand engaged, it simply means that women use technology to stay in touch with the brand, recommend brands to family, friends and colleagues, maintain relationships, and share stories of success and failure (often including references to brands).
Your book is published this month. What were some of the challenges you faced writing Why Marketing to Women Doesn't Work?
When I am passionate about the topic and can “see” the book and its contents ahead of me, then I find the writing process relatively straightforward. This was the case with Why Marketing to Women Doesn’t Work – a lot of events came together and I had clarity about what I wanted to say.
One of my greatest concerns, however, as I wrote the book is that I am a white middle-aged woman living in the United States, who was originally from New Zealand. This is the lens I use when I assess marketing practice. I am mindful that my data is biased toward the US, although income and education levels and workforce participation for women in the US are similar to those in other western developed countries. But the issues I speak of, for example, work-life balance may not be something women who have less income even contemplates.
Now that the book is finished, the next challenge is to condense it down into smaller chunks for different audiences.
Jenny Darroch is a Professor of Marketing at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, USA and the founder of Mollior (Mollior.com), a consulting firm that specializes in market segmentation, with an emphasis on marketing to women. Why Marketing to Women Doesn't Work is Jenny's third book. It is inspired by consulting work she does, her signature course called Transforming and Creating Markets to Generate Growth, and academic research she has published on creating organizational growth through market creation. See JennyDarroch.com