Only 3% of creative directors are women. That’s a surprisingly low percentage, isn’t it? Male dominance in the field may explain some of the poor-quality marketing to women efforts I’ve seen.
We can’t go from 3% to 50% representation overnight. So the question is: can men develop good marketing strategies and advertising executions that appeal to women? Short answer: Yes, they can!
Well, it’s a little more complicated than a simple yes. Male creatives doing a great job of marketing to women can be done– and has been. Here’s what it takes.
How Men Can Become Marketing to Women Experts
He has to be sophisticated enough communicator that he can work easily and comfortably in the world of women’s verbal and visual subtleties and emotional richness.
He needs in-depth briefings on the specific principles of female gender culture, how women respond differently to the marketing disciplines he’s working with, and how this particular target segment of women thinks and feels about this particular product.
He needs to be open to feedback on his work from women that may not “feel right” to him, at least until he becomes familiar with the new culture he’s working in.
In her work for First Union as senior vice president and director of Women’s Financial Advisory Services, Debra Nichols developed an enormously important approach to developing creative that targets women. When starting a new marketing to women program, marketers should allow a longer creative development lead time to build in a three-round learning curve.
In her experience, the first draft comes out “too pink,” with the positioning a little trite, the models too idealized and the copy too sparse. Maybe something like this:
The second round, after coaching about marketing to women, comes out “too beige,” with information overload and still little that is really engaging. For instance:
This third round, fortunately, brings things back into balance, often hitting the mark, tapping into the meanings and motivations that will connect with the brand’s women customers. Here we go, that’s good:
This three-round dynamic makes it essential to set up a male/female advisory group (the women to comment, the men to learn) to look at the creative and identify any red flags before spending money on production and media. Give yourself time when developing marketing to women creative and you can avoid being too stereotypical or too insipid. You’ll take your marketing creative to the next level and be just right.
With politically correct outlooks, the buzz surrounding micro-aggressions and our generally sensitive culture, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that women have a great sense of humor. It’s just different from men’s.
Men’s humor grows out of men’s culture. Humor is another way to connect through the one-up/put-down mechanism, and the punch line to a joke usually plays on how some poor guy gets his comeuppance. Not surprisingly, women’s humor grows out of female gender culture. It operates on the dynamic of identifying with the person in the funny situation– the delighted recognition of a similarity you didn’t notice before: “OMG, that is exactly the way I am!” or “You’re kidding, your husband does that too?”
Young creative geniuses are always pushing clients to dare to be “edgy.” Forget edgy. Edgy means someone gets cut, and women don’t like to see anyone get hurt, even for a good cause. I’m reminded of a Lipitor commercial from a few years ago that shows a beautiful, Boomer woman walking down the red carpet. She’s glamorous until she trips and falls on her face. The message is, “High cholesterol doesn’t care who you are.”
Women do not find this ad funny. They’re worried about the fallen women and hope she’s OK, and that distracts them from even knowing what this commercial is about.
So, avoid male humor in your advertising, but please do make her laugh! Humorous marketing to women campaigns can have a huge impact for your brand, beyond one commercial spot. Women love to share the laughs, and no marketing effort is more likely to gain word-of-mouth exposure than something women find truly giggle-worthy.
The usual practice in executing advertising targeted to Boomer women is to depict them as part of an older couple. There’s nothing wrong with this approach except that it’s virtually the only context in which Boomer women are shown. The Ad Age Insights cover to the right uses a perfectly lovely picture (that’s perfectly forgettable).
In actual fact, in pursuit of “my time,” Boomer women are going to be spending a fair amount of time pursuing their own interests, perhaps in a classroom. Or hanging out with their girlfriends. Another context in which they’ll want to spend more time is the extended family, with kids and grandkids.
Avoid the “couple” cliché and consider some of these photos of Boomer women for marketing inspiration:
Also, Will You Please Make this New Year’s Resolution about Marketing to Boomer Women?
Let’s all pledge to this New Year’s resolution. Could we please retire the overdone “classic” images of retirement when marketing to boomer women? Enough already with those sunset beaches and Adirondack chairs and people playing golf! Remember that Boomer women are often still working– and most don’t plan to retire completely. Their “sunset” years are going to be filled with jobs, travel, sports, grandkids, volunteering, classes and lots of activities. If you’re showing “retirement,” you’re shutting yourself out of most of the Boomer market.
Understand what interests your Boomer women customers to create memorable, motivating settings for your marketing messages.
Amazon Fire TV is a product that connects to your HDTV and streams content networks like Netflix, Hulu and (of course) Amazon Video. It’s a nifty little product that appeals to the growing market of TV viewers unsubscribing from cable and satellite.
But what Amazon Fire TV might have in product features, it lacks in marketing to women appeal. The product’s new #showhole campaign promotes:
“When the final credits roll and you fall into that void. What do you do? Don’t despair, Amazon Fire TV is here to pull you out of your #showhole.”
One marketing execution features a woman in loungewear, pale from lack of sunlight as she feeds her addiction to her favorite TV show. Then, horror of horrors, the last season is over, and she can only be comforted by… finding another show to watch.
What’s Wrong with this Marketing to Women Campaign?
Besides being somewhat creepy (Knitting a full-body straight jacket? The vague ickiness of the word showhole?), here are three reasons why this marketing campaign won’t appeal to women:
Women are Ensemble Players. A lone woman, eating Chinese take-out isn’t aspirational to women. Women want to hang out with friends and would be more motivated by ‘viewing party’ imagery.
Women are Driven by Empathy. Watching this commercial is more likely to make a woman want to befriend the actress and take her out shopping than make her want to buy the product.
Women Love to Talk. Sitting silently in front of the TV is not most women’s idea of fun. She’d much rather chat with her girlfriends about the plot than become a recluse.
Women would probably love this product. Its on-demand flexibility fits into her schedule, and browsing thousands of options will help her feel she’s arrived at the Perfect Answer for what to watch during Girls Night In. But if her only exposure to Amazon Fire TV is this ad, she’s likely to think, “How strange. That’s not for me,” and move on.
Different Gender Cultures Speak Different Languages
There are distinct gender cultures, and they don’t always speak the same language– even if men and women share the same broader culture.
When my client New York Life wanted to recruit more female insurance agents, it started out by asking both male and female agents what they saw as the primary benefits of choosing an insurance career. As the first priority, both women and men said “money.” Men elucidated that as “the ability to earn a lot of money,” while women thought of it as “the ability to get paid what I’m worth.” In this example, both genders used the same word but with different meanings.
The second priority agents expressed was identified by men as “independence,” while women said “flexibility.” If you think about it, they’re really saying the same thing, but their word choice frames their meaning in a completely different context. This example is the mirror image of the one above– a case where different words were used to express the same meaning.
To create marketing communications that women will respond to, you have to be in close touch with women’s meanings and word choices. You can’t strain them through male perception and assume you’ll emerge with the right meaning. It’s not realistic to assume that what “makes sense” to men is going to resonate with women in the same way.
Women might think you’re an advertising bully if you’ve ever pitted one group against another, even in a seemingly innocuous manner.
Marketing to Women Approaches Must Avoid Put-Downs
Comparative scenarios with one party at a disadvantage or portrayed as inferior make women uncomfortable, and they react surprisingly strongly. Even indirect language can trigger this reaction.
When my client Wachovia was developing a campaign addressed to women business owners, one of the ads we tested included the statistic Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. Would you believe that not one woman, but several women, immediately rejected that language on the grounds that it was putting down men? We changed the statement to read Women are starting 70% of all new businesses, and it tested much more positively.
Similarly, when my Allstate client tested a copy claim that stated Women drivers have 15% fewer accidents than male drivers. To women drivers everywhere, we say THANK YOU, a number of women in focus groups saw that as male bashing, objecting, “That’s just as bad as they’ve always been about us.”
In marketing to women, no people put-downs are allowed. That means men, competitors, other women– anyone. While fact-based product superiority claims are probably OK, if they’re not too heavy-handed, user-based superiority claims are definitely not. Keep it positive or show self-deprecating “me too!” moments that are very relatable to your customers’ life experiences.
For women consumers, a single purchase is just one piece of the puzzle. If your marketing strategies can help her find the missing pieces, she’ll reward you with purchases, loyalty and referrals.
When she buys a pair of dress pants, for instance, it’s usually just one part of a new outfit intended for a particular purpose, say, a job interview. Marketing professionals should remember that women look forward to and emphasize milestones in their lives. Women usually organize purchases around those milestones, as well.
Department stores already do a good job of grouping multiple items that go together. Whereas men’s apparel is usually organized by type (shirts, jackets, slacks, etc.), women’s apparel is usually organized by outfits. Women who come in intending to buy a new pair of slacks generally leave with a coordinating blouse, sweater, and perhaps, a jacket as well.
Websites and catalogs are able to take this a step further and integrate the belt, shoes and jewelry into the outfit. Popular retailer Anthropologie is masterful at marketing to women in this way. Their regular emails usually highlight an appealing “look” and offer all the pieces for purchase, right on one page. Here’s an example of an outfit suggestion:
The brand also provides “Look Book” suggestions of how to coordinate different products for a beautiful style. Just check out this cool and breezy living room:
Lots of other retailers can take this marketing approach, both online and in-store. Home improvement stores have started with kitchen and bath “collections.” Banks could implement more milestone-related marketing, and even restaurants could group meal components together instead of the traditional organization of “Appetizer, Entrée, Drinks.”
I challenge marketing to women professionals to think creatively about how they organize their products and services for sale—what makes the most sense for your warehouse might not be ideal for women consumers.
It’s become clear to me that the world of marketing to women could use some refresher tips on how to portray women in advertising and other marketing messaging. Include some of these “Lucky 7” elements, and watch women flock to your brand.
Beyond ‘Respect’ to ‘Understanding’
Articles about communicating with women cite countless studies, surveys and anecdotes, which reveal that women feel marketers and salespeople don’t view them or treat them with respect. While that may be true, the term “respect” is so over-used and under-defined that is it generic and meaningless. What women mean by “respect” is more akin to being understood. She wants to be listened to and accorded as much response as if the communication were coming from a man: a man who speaks up for what he wants and matter-of-factly expects to get it.
Better Real than Ideal
Women want to identify with your advertising. Female culture is all about commonality and empathy, not differentiation and aspiration. She’s looking for that flash of recognition that sparks a connection between her and the real people, real situations, real product usage and real reactions that tell her you get who she is.
Coping with Chaos
Today’s woman copes cheerfully with chaos (usually). She has to. She normally has a full-time job, primary responsibility for managing her household, and plenty of church, school and community activities to amuse her in her “spare time.” The aspect many marketing to women campaigns neglect to portray is that women no longer feel torn with guilt at not being supermom. Their houses aren’t spotless. Their kids are sometimes mouthy. They have the occasional bad hair day. And that’s okay; they’re fine with it. It’s advertisers who apparently live on Planet Perfect, and when women visit there, they don’t recognize a soul.
Cast More Women Who Aren’t 20-Year-Old Glamour Goddesses
A classic marketing to women study by Grey Advertising showed that 82% of women wish advertisers would recognize that they don’t wantto look 18 forever. Forget the latest ditz-of-the-moment pop star and consider the attractive, normal-looking women of shows like Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and the new X-Files episodes that are scheduled (Gillian Anderson has never looked better!).
Choose Your Spokeswoman Wisely
When choosing a spokesperson for your brand, keep in mind that women value empathy over envy in their role models. Women seem to like a role model better if she (or he) isn’t perfect. Oprah is one of the most widely admired women in America, and one of the things women like about her is that she struggles with a lot of the same things they do. In other words, go for less Miss America and more for Miss Real.
Reflect the New Definition of Beauty
Advertisers are very conscientious about including ethnic diversity in their marketing communications, but only a pioneer few are even beginning to show the age diversity and size diversity women are looking for. One of the cornerstones of female gender culture is inclusion, and women resent the rigidity of one standard of attractiveness. It’s time to let go of the “blondes have more fun” (and better looks, more money, higher status and better men) approach to beauty.
Tap into the ‘Girlfriend Factor’
The depth and meaning of a woman’s friendships are among the most treasured elements in her life. According to the Grey Advertising study cited above, 74% of women would like to see advertising show more women doing things together with their girlfriends, sisters and moms. Personal disclosure, constant contact and emotional expressiveness make up the core of the girlfriend factor, and each creates opportunities for emotional association with your brand.
When marketing to women, your campaigns must catch her eye, engage her imagination, make her smile or win her heart (and if you can accomplish more than one of these, you’ve got a winner!).
Tap into women’s orientation toward people as the most important and interesting element in life. Show people in the visuals and let us hear their stories in their own words. Talk about how your brand benefits people by making life easier, lovelier or more fun. Especially in some categories, where many products are difficult to differentiate without exhaustive explanations, and everybody’s ads look alike, this is a great way to break out of the pack and boost your sales by a few million bucks.
Warmer Wins over Winner
Autonomy and winning don’t have the same pull for women as for men. Not that she doesn’t like her “flexibility” and sense of personal achievement, but the warmth and interaction of “belonging” are more important to her than to a man. To her ear, “solo” can have kind of a sad sound to it.
Helping someone else, which isn’t mission critical for most men, is a plus for women. This isn’t necessarily in a mushy, nurturing way; it’s more that it makes her feel useful, appreciated and powerful. She wants to help others personally, and she likes the brands she buys from to help make the world a better place.
Consider TOMS, once a mere brand of shoes, and now a marketplace of goods, all offering “One for One” – giving the gift of shoes, sight, water or safe birth with every purchase. TOMS never would have been so successful in marketing to women without its focus on helping others.
Think Peer Group, Not Pyramid
Use characters, spokespeople, environments and situations that emphasize affinity instead of status. Brand images should reinforce “so much in common” and “she’s like me” rather than “I wish I were like her.” How many women do you think buy GoDaddy web services based on Danica Patrick’s sponsorship?
Dig for the Differentiator
Women have a longer list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, and sometimes the detail that makes the difference is pretty far down the list. Ford has honed in on this marketing tactic with it’s foot-activated lift gate advertising campaign– certainly a small but differentiating detail if ever there was one. Here’s an example of an ad:
For your products and brand, make sure you find out what details women value. Even if your primary communication stays focused on the “headline criterion,” make sure the differentiator gets through somewhere– even if it’s just a picture or note in the corner. Women pick up on details, but you have to give them something to go on.
I’ve given you these five aspects to consider in crafting marketing to women messages– put a couple of them into practice, and watch your marketing effectiveness take off!