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Marketing to Women: How To Get It Right

Surely in the 21st century we don’t need a post about how to market to women, do we? 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 are dominant content creators – according to The Conversation Index Report by bazaarvoice women produced 60% of user generated content in Q2 of 2011 and, interestingly, are generally more positive than men. 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 all going wrong and, more importantly, which companies are getting it right?

1. Think outside your existing lines

While coffee outlets such as Starbucks saw a decrease in profits during the recent recession, McDonalds were able to build on their inexpensive image and add the McCafe outlets, offering up-market coffee, to their existing stores. Their advertising focused on fashionable, urban women, who had previously shunned their traditional reputation for unhealthy fast food. By adding salads and healthy options, and sponsoring events such as Fashion Week, McDonalds were able to entice a whole new demographic and actually increase worldwide sales by 7% during the economic downturn.

2. Don’t stereotype women

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

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 are a great example of a successful brand who have universal appeal; the beauty of their designs, their color options, ease of use and intuitive features appeal to women without alienating men. Their advertising reflects their 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 grooming products initially.

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

Until fairly recently, Nike had an high-testosterone image (Just Do It) and their 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 changed its focus, communicating with women to understand how they relate to sport and performance, and the decisions they take in purchasing sportswear. The result was advertising that emphasized how sport fitted in with their active lifestyles and showed regular women taking part in sport. Previously, Nike’s shoes for women were modeled on smaller versions of their men’s shoes, but new designs catered for 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 in 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.

If brands are going to look to increase their market share into the 21st century, they 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.

Originally published in Fast Company

Join The Conversation

  • Ahad Ammar's picture
    Sep 7 Posted 3 years ago Ahad Ammar

    I understand the relationship with making and spending money. As a new business owner I need to market to a broad range of consumers.

  • Sheila Carmody's picture
    Sep 5 Posted 3 years ago Sheila Carmody

    Actually, I think the whole thing is a stereotype. Stop labeling people -- there's a brand for you. 

  • Sep 5 Posted 3 years ago Mary Anne Bowie

    When I shop, I consider it to be an expansive experience that provides me with a visual expression of current culture. So, for me, shopping is stimulating and that is why I shop in many diverse places, where efforts are made to present products in well designed, unique and pleasing environments.  Simply stated, I see shops as modern museums, displaying our culture's current creative efforts. I am a woman, but I would imagine that a man might be similarily engaged if he is interested in a particular cultural segment.

  • Sep 4 Posted 3 years ago Dan Jones

    Very good article highlighting the do's and don'ts of good brand marketing toward women, and even though the article focuses on consumer brands the points taken apply to commercial markets as well.

    Five years ago we were creating an advertisement for Samsung office printers. They had a new product line that was esthetically pleasing as well as functional. Their retail partners wanted an ad targeting women as their research recognized the majority of office managers and those responsible for most office purchases were women. Our ad was a hit as we did exactly as this article explains in points 3 and 4. We understood who the customers were and focused on the beautiful design and practicality of the equipment. 

    So just speak to the needs of your audience, no matter what their gender.

  • Sep 4 Posted 3 years ago Wendy Seals

    I love the hunt in shopping to get my best deal ;and I define the best deal. I shop and understand the relationship with making and spending money. As a new business owner I need to market to a broad range of consumers. I am a real woman so I understand marketing to real woman easily. I do instruct my family how to shop and teach what to shop for and make it fun.  

  • Belinda Summers's picture
    Sep 4 Posted 3 years ago Belinda Summers

    Maybe what triggers women to buy the mcCafe is it's affordability compared to Starbucks which implies that women today are wiser and more concern to the benefits the product could give.:)

  • Sep 3 Posted 3 years ago Susanne Moore

    Sushant, it is to simple to say that "women love to shop", that is a stereotype. Many women, like me, don't like to shop it's just that women have been socialised into thinking that shopping defines them. Traditionally women have been at home (certainly historically when men were the 'breadwinners'), and a lack of refrigeration meant the women had to shop for provisions every day, but that doesn't mean that we love to shop. As women become educated, many became boarded staying at home and shooing introduced a diversion but this has now been exploited by advertisers to the point that most women just believe the ideas that 'they love to shop', but it is a social construct aimed at keeping women as consumers instead of helping them to understand other options, like making money instead of spending it. 

  • treptalks's picture
    Sep 2 Posted 3 years ago treptalks

    A few things that come to mind:

    1. Women love to shop. If you are not marketing to women you are losing a big chunk of the market. And women shop for their male counterparts as well.

    2. McDonalds coffee is good.

    3. Good design is gender neutral.

    4. Real women are very beautiful.


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