Women spend between $5 and $15 trillion a year on consumer goods in the U.S., so it’s no wonder brands and marketers are obsessed with figuring out what it is women want.
But while advertising is huge when it comes to attracting customers, gaining a loyal following as a women-focused brand requires more than a well-shot ad, particularly today when what it means to be a women-focused brand is fundamentally shifting.
Having more women leaders running such brands is certainly accelerating their success, says Sonya Brown, general partner at Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Norwest Venture Partners. For many of them, a few fundamental qualities stand out across the board.
When Kendra Scott opened her first retail store in 2010, eight years after she launched her jewelry line, Kendra Scott Design, she was shocked to see a line of women out the door waiting to get in. “Who are these people?” she couldn’t help thinking.
Since launching her brand in 2008, she promised herself that when someone called asking if she’d support a charitable event or cause, she wouldn’t turn them down. Scott gave away jewelry and hosted parties where 20% of the proceeds for the night went to whatever organization was involved.
She didn’t have a long-term sales strategy in mind, but when her store opened and troves of loyal customers were lined up to get in, she realized how powerful philanthropy had been for the brand.
Much of marketing to women is very grassroots, says Brown. “That’s underestimated sometimes,” she says. In Kendra Scott’s case, grassroots marketing was a major factor in the company’s growth. By supporting the charitable organizations women cared about, Scott grew a loyal following. “It’s not just lip service,” she says. “That’s one of the mistakes that some brands make. They use philanthropy in a way that’s not really genuine.”
Since founding the hair color company Madison Reed in 2013, Amy Errett has made technology a focus of the overall consumer experience. “The use of technology has dramatically changed the whole notion of a women-focused brand,” she says. Madison Reed for example has a “tech-enabled” app that’s voice-controlled so that users can use it hands-free while putting on their hair color. “The role of technology is really about convenience,” she says.
Other women-focused brands like Birchbox, Stella & Dot, and Thirty-One Gifts that focus on selling consumer goods to women both online and in person have found ways to use technology not just for convenience, but as a way to connect with customers directly–another key component in developing a strong following as a women-focused brand.
Maintaining constant contact with customers is important no matter who your key market is, but for brands targeting women specifically, it’s important that that communication go both ways. “Women actually want to have contact that’s meaningful,” says Errett, who makes sure to run regular focus groups with women both in person and online. “If you don’t create opportunities for some personal contact, that’s a mistake.”
Similarly, Scott’s phone is constantly lighting up with her company’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds, where she can keep an eye on what customers are saying. “We are talking to our customer every single day,” says Scott. “When you are looking at women-focused brands, the most important thing is to really be able to know your customer. … That has really propelled our growth moving forward.”
Increasingly, we are seeing women’s brands move away from hyper-sexualize or idealized imaging to giving women something they can connect with directly. “Women actually want to see themselves in the brand,” says Errett. “They are less interested in imagery of things that are not achievable to them.”