Marketing To Women: How To Get It Right

Brands looking to increase market share are going to have to look beyond superficial marketing ploys and understand that the women’s market isn’t a niche--it’s a driving force.

According to a recent report by She-conomy, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, including everything from autos to health care, and spend about $5 trillion annually, over half of the U.S. GDP. Women also dominate social sharing and online content creation; according to a report by bazaarvoice, women produced 60% of user-generated content in Q2 of 2011 and, interestingly, are generally more positive than men.

So you’d have thought marketers would appreciate the importance of the female demographic. And yet, according to the same report by She-conomy, 91% of women said that advertisers don’t understand them. So where is it going wrong and, more importantly, which companies are getting it right, and how? 

1. Think outside your existing market. 

While coffee outlets such as Starbucks saw a decrease in profits during the recent recession, McDonald's added some gloss to its inexpensive image by opening McCafe outlets, offering up-market coffee to appeal to a wider demographic. Their advertising particularly focused on fashionable, urban women, as well as hip, trend-setting customers, who had previously shunned their traditional outlets. By adding salads and healthy options, and sponsoring events such as New York Fashion Week, McDonald's was able to entice a whole new demographic, which played a part in actually increasing worldwide sales by 7% during the economic downturn.

2. Don’t stereotype. 

Companies who think that marketing to women involves designing with pastel colors and pink bows are going to alienate the majority of their markets. Women respond to advertising that uses positive female role models and that portrays them in a strong and powerful way.

The 2010 Kia Soul commercial featured professional golfer Michelle Wie beating the men at their own game at the golf club, looking cool and confident. This was just one of several marketing campaigns, but Kia’s monthly sales rose 44% in 2011 compared to 2010. 

3. Focus on design and practicality. 

You don’t need to have separate marketing for men and women if you focus on good design and usability. Apple is a great example of a successful brand that has universal appeal; the beauty of its designs, color options, ease of use, and intuitive features appeal to women without alienating men. Its advertising reflects a gender-neutral, non age-specific appeal, with emphasis on the usability and adaptability of the products.

4. Know who is buying your product. 

Realizing that women are the primary purchasers of household items, Nivea For Men targeted women in a campaign to persuade them of the benefits of buying male grooming products for their partners. This was only one strand of their marketing, but it was hugely successful in introducing men to Nivea's grooming products. The company organized a six-month campaign targeting over 42,000 women with the purpose of educating them about their partners' skincare habits and handing out samples. Results? 55% purchased at least one Nivea For Men product, and 20% purchased two or more products. 58% of men recommended the product to their friends and family. 

5. Understand the differences between men and women, without being patronizing. 

Until fairly recently, Nike had a high-testosterone image (Just Do It), and its advertising featured top male athletes shown in winning scenarios. They had 50% of the market share of the men’s fitness market, but only 20% of Nike’s revenue came from women’s products. Nike shifted its focus, communicating with women to understand how they relate to sports and performance, and the decisions they make when purchasing sportswear. The result was advertising that emphasized how sports fit in with their active lifestyles and showed regular women taking part in sports. Previously, Nike’s shoes for women were essentially smaller versions of their men’s shoes, but new designs catered to women’s different body shapes and movements, with more lines emphasizing a fashionable look.

6. Recognize real women. 

The default argument used by advertisers for not only featuring women who are unattainably thin and representative of the narrowest standards of beauty, but then Photoshopping them beyond all recognition, is that "real" women don’t sell beauty products.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign (begun in 2004) changed the face of the beauty advertising industry. With award-winning short films such as The Evolution of Beauty, and commercials featuring older or standard-sized women, Dove sought to show that "real" women are in fact beautiful, as beauty is not to be found in perfection. What was even more startling (to the beauty industry) was that Dove’s sales skyrocketed: Women could relate to the images and the message of positive self-esteem. 

Brands looking to increase market share are going to have to look beyond superficial marketing ploys and understand that the women’s market isn’t a niche--it’s a driving force.

--Author Ekaterina Walter is a social media strategist for Intel.

[Image: Flickr user David Blackwell]

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2 Comments

  • Leo

    I think its fair to say this is one of the stupidest concepts for an article I've ever seen. It's only 50% as stupid as one entitled 'Marketing to humans: How to get it right'

  • Debra Gaynor

    Great article and I agree with all your points except #6.  While the Dove campaign was successful, beautiful women DO sell beauty products.  No matter what the size, shape or looks of women, they still hold on to some hope that using Doir will somehow make them look a little like Charlize Theron.  Does this mean there shouldn't be more "real women" in beauty campaigns?  Absolutely not.  But few if any campaigns have been able to duplicate Dove's success,   While more campaigns like Dove's should be implemented, it will be interesting to see who decides to be next.