What Women Want

How do you market to women? You could start by treating them as individuals

If a sizeable proportion of your target market couldn’t think of any advertising they found relevant, you’d worry about your strategy, wouldn’t you? And if that proportion controlled 85% of all consumer spending, the alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear.

As you’ve probably figured, we’re describing women. A study by research agency Harbinger discovered that 40% of women couldn’t think of any advertising they found relevant and 59% felt misunderstood by food marketers.

So what do women want? Here’s a clue. It’s probably not your standard product in a fetching shade of pink. Comedian Bridget Christie skewered that one with her award-winning stand-up show, ‘A Bic for Her’. The object of her scorn was the range of ‘Bic for Her’ ball pens in pastel shades with pretty patterns. How on earth, she wondered, did the Brontë sisters ever write their literary masterpieces without one?

Gender stereotypes can be dangerous; they limit self-expectations. UK grassroots campaign ‘Let Toys be Toys’ recently objected to a Gap campaign that depicted a boy as a ‘Little Scholar’ and a girl as ‘Social Butterfly’, prompting the retailer to pull the campaign. And the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority is getting tough on ads that perpetuate sexist stereotypes, from men bungling housework to girls being less academic than boys.

Some marketers are getting the message. In a recent film for Comfort by Ogilvie and Mather, ‘The Day I Visited my Son’, two women are shown discussing their sons. We see the sons, too. One is serving a four-year jail sentence, the other is a NASA astronaut. Without spoiling the ending for you (you can watch it here on YouTube) the take-out is refreshingly different to all those simplistic ‘use this product for a sunshine-filled happy ever after’ marketing messages of the past.

How do you market to women? There’s a flaw in the question. Not all men drink beer and watch football. Some do. Not all women are homemakers and mothers. Some are. Successful products or services focus on the individual and find a like-minded audience. We’re impressed by Ban.do, the lifestyle company founded by Jen Gotch, a former photographic stylist. She and friend Jamie Coulter started out with a simple website for fifty floral crowns hand-fabricated out of vintage millinery supplies – and they sold out within days.

Today, Ban.do sell bags, clothes, makeup, jewellery and stationery with a nostalgic, feminine flair that’s especially popular with the 18-35 age group. It’s distributed in over 3,000 stores and 50 countries. What makes Ban.do succeed (and a pastel-coloured biro fail) is that it’s authentic. It’s not aimed at ‘women’ but individuals.

The decline of mass advertising media and rise of targeted digital marketing gives us a wider range of tools than ever before to address the individual. No marketing strategy in 2017 should still be targeting ‘women’ per se. The best way to ensure your marketing is sensitive to different audiences is to ensure that your own decision makers reflect the wider world. It works.  Sarah Kauss founder of the water bottle company S’well is a shining example of how to take a simple everyday product, and build a loyal customer base.