By Andrea Learned co-author of Don’t Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy and How to Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market.
Marketing to women may not be dead, but it is surely primed for evolution. Current trends in male consumer behaviour, corporate diversity and frugality, among others, point to the need for a less gender-specific but more brain trait aware perspective.
Given what we have learned by studying up so well on women, it is evident that the meaning-seeking, relational right side of a human brain, rather than the linear, fact-seeking side, is now guiding the purchasing decisions of both men and women. And, therein lies the change.
What hasn’t changed is that marketers must still deliver the highest standard of service and experience to all the most demanding consumers in today’s market.
Over my years of developing an expertise in the women’s market, I have observed that a particular gender focus – even for all the right reasons – has the potential to hold marketers back from the true goal: serving all consumers to the utmost standard.
Women, as a broad consumer segment, have absolutely needed the market attention they’ve received in recent years, and certainly good intentions inspired the first female gender-focused efforts. After all, it is only since the women’s market emerged as a priority that brands awakened to the need to deliver the vastly improved customer experiences all consumers now expect.
By conducting significant women’s market research, truly listening to female consumers along the way, and refining marketing efforts (the Dove brand’s Campaign for Real Beauty being a most notable example), brands now have a much better foundation for serving the women who buy their products. My point today is that that the same solid foundation can be employed to reach men more effectively as well.
While women have long since come to expect to be well understood by brands, men are just starting to make the same brand demands. Marketers serving this next generation, in the right brain era, will need to broaden their gender perspective to include the male consumer. Here are three trends that combine to make me believe this to be true:
Trend 1 – The New Male Consumer
A new gender perspective is necessary because men have changed and western culture has slowly started to allow for them to shop in a more right brain way – taking into account brand stories, cause marketing and design, for example, as well as left brain facts and features.
Recent Datamonitor research points to the great growth in the market, finding that eight out of ten male consumers now believe that their personal appearance and health are important. In general, men are no longer so quick to leave purchasing decisions and shopping to women.
They are becoming more informed about health, beauty and fashion categories, which is likely only the start. The more men see other men caring more about such things, the more acceptable it becomes for other men to follow suit. This cultural acceptability gives male consumers a whole new level of freedom, which leads to a significant opportunity for marketers.
The good news is that serving these men need not be a pursuit separate from serving women. It’s not about marketing to men or women, per se, but about marketing to everyone’s more right brain ways of thinking – the less linear, more relational, more meaning-seeking aspects of consuming.
Trend 2 – Changes in Corporate/Marketing Department Diversity
Just as we should avoid polarizing consumers in the marketplace over gender, so should we avoid excluding half or more of the participants at the marketing decision-making table. “Feminine,” “female” or “women’s way” are all unacceptable terms for describing this next generation consumer, because it leaves out the men who may use more relational thinking already, but not want to be seen as less masculine because of it.
No matter how hip or evolved a man may imagine he is, there remains some unnamed, emasculating stigma about “women’s” anything. This “female effect” even seems to push decision-making men in business (who should know better) away from the marketing opportunities that lie within greater consumer gender awareness.
The evolution of marketing to women is also important for the human resource and corporate leadership conversations as well. Men and women in marketing, in particular, have to be able to study and converse about how people buy without having to worry about causing offence.
This tendency to think pink, or polarize women from men, may start as quickly as an initial marketing planning session. When discussion of the gender side of consumer behaviour makes half the staff at the table squirm, some re-thinking needs to occur.
Gender segmentation, though important, may not need to be the priority in those conversations. Instead, exploring consumers by way of the non-gendered, brain trait framework is an easier place to start.
Trend 3 – Increasing Consumer Frugality
In addition to the general trends in male consumer behaviour and those in corporate diversity, the economic downturn has become a global problem that will clearly affect how and why people purchase this product or that. There is no surprise that consumers have already clamped down on their spending, and are trying to become much more conscious of where their hard-earned dollars go.
Men and women both are motivated to dig deeply for pre-purchase information. As consumers, they may also be a lot more aware of sustainability (of product and of a brand’s business practices). The perception of wastefulness is a trap to avoid, rather than a representation of status
In addition, the higher prices and shrinking currency value so many people now face, has prompted a return to staying home – and all that this behaviour implies. There is less dining out, less travel, less big-ticket ski vacations and more warm, cozy, family dinner-style cooking, more “stay-cationing,” (spending holiday time at home) and more close-by, simple entertainment and adventure. And, this reassessment of values knows no gender boundaries.
Economic downturns tend to emphasize the commonalities of human beings rather than highlight the differences, gender or otherwise. The purchasing of anything, by anyone, will face a much steeper test, and that will involve a lot more right brain evaluation.
“Marketing to women” is by no means dead, but the reason for, and results of, tending to it have changed. Understanding how women buy in the twenty first century should now be considered but the launching pad for better serving the less linear, more relational, and non-gendered human being. Welcome to the next generation consumer.
Andrea Learned is a leading expert on consumer gender and culture, who co-authored "Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy - And How To Increase Your Share Of This Crucial Market" and blogs regularly at: http://learnedonwomen.com.
This article first published on Women-omics.com (http://www.women-omics.com/533-0-the-evolution-of-marketing-to-women.html )
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