Stressed Out: How Women and Men React to Stress Differently

Marketing to Women Requires a “Tend and Befriend” Approach to Stress-Relief

Marketing to Stressed-out Women

Stress. It’s an ubiquitous aspect of modern life. Just as prolific are brands and marketing campaigns promising stress-relief—but it’s likely these marketing strategies are failing to attract women.

You see, women feel stress differently from men. And marketing to women requires a different approach to stress. Let’s take a brief look at the science behind women’s stress.

It had long been established that in times of stress, the human body triggers a surge of adrenaline that preps the body for the classic “fight or flight” options. But a couple of women researchers at UCLA, Dr. Laura Klein and Dr. Shelley Taylor, were musing one day that when they feel under stress, their natural reaction was quite different: talk to a girlfriend.

When they looked a little more deeply into the studies that “established” the adrenaline response, they were amused to see that 90% of the respondents were men, and only 10% were women.

So they did their own study, this time with women only. What they learned was that, in women, stress triggers the production of oxytocin, the hormone produced during childbirth that stimulates the emotions of nurturing and closeness to another person. So instead of a “fight or flight” reaction, women experience what these researchers named the “tend and befriend” response.

If you want to talk about calling on girlfriends to help cope with a stressful time… not long ago, I read a story about six 40-year-old Dallas women getting together for a mammogram party! No one wanted to go alone, so these creative ladies decided to have a Girls’ Day Out at the doctor and go as a group. Now their mammogram appointments are annual “Girlfriends” parties, and the typical trepidation of this unpleasant medical occasion is turned into, well, a party. As one woman said, “You’re taking instant support with you.”

The “mammogram party” example gives an idea of how brands should think about marketing to women in stressful situations (like medical care) and in marketing stress-relief products and services (like insurance or spa days). Encourage friendship and community, while avoiding isolation or aggressiveness. Women instinctively “tend and befriend” under stress—not “fight or flight.”

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