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What Advertisers Should Know About Marketing to Women

What do women want? Like the hapless men featured in many American sit-coms, some of today’s brands can miss the mark when it comes to engaging female consumers, falling prey to the same stereotyping that television resorts to for laughs. But resonating with women is no laughing matter because they drive nearly 80% of purchasing decisions. Yet, a whopping 91% of women say advertisers don’t understand them, and, according to AdWeek, only 61% of brands portray them in a positive light.

This disparity is why Laura McCullough, EVP, US Manufacturer Success at Nielsen, maintains that forging better relationships with female buyers is one of the biggest opportunities brands have today for driving awareness, loyalty and sales. But clearly it’s not as easy as it may seem. Here are a few tips from McCullough and others for building brands and campaigns that will resonate with women.

Consider Cause-based Marketing but Proceed Cautiously
According to the Holmes Report, American women are significantly more likely than men to show their support for a cause by purchasing products or services from companies aligned with their values. And, women are more likely to learn about causes through the brand itself and its advertisements, product packaging and in-store displays. In other words, as McCullough put it, when women see their values and priorities reflected by a brand, 85% will remain loyal customers.

There are many examples of brands taking a stand on issues that are important to women. Dove challenging beauty standards, The Female Company working to eliminate the “female tax” and Secret Deodorant’s efforts to advance equal pay, all stand out for successfully raising awareness, loyalty and profitability.

Practice What You Preach
What those ads have in common is that they aren’t just talking the talk, but truly walking the walk. Dove’s Project #ShowUs created the world’s largest image library of women and non-binary individuals available to all media and advertisers in order to foster a more inclusive vision of beauty in advertising. The Female Company packaged its tampons inside a book in order to save money for their customers and bring attention to the fact that products for females are taxed even higher than luxury goods. Secret donated half a million dollars to the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team to help close the pay gap—and increase the awareness of the pay disparity between female and male athletes.

But cause-marketing and femvertising” can be tricky to get right and ridicule rather than resonance is the result of campaigns that miss the mark. A brand has to reflect the values it’s talking about by demonstrating a genuine commitment to its causes, and do it along the whole production line because women care about the brand journey—where the product comes from, how it’s made and who it impacts.

Don’t Patronize
Resonating with women doesn’t have to mean engaging in Rosie the Riveter-type empowerment. Sure, for certain products that’s the best way to go. The Like a Girl Campaign by Always and Nike’s Dream Crazier are great examples of gender-championing. But marketing pink beer to women—and refusing to sell it to men—hardly endeared the Brewdog brand to women customers who make consumption choices on taste rather than frivolity. When brands do get it wrong, owning up to it can be helpful as Budweiser recently proved with the positive campaign focused on updating formerly sexist ads.

Ultimately, advertisers should remember that outdated, overly simplistic or stereotypical characterizations don’t do much to spark laughter or engender loyalty, and can actually do significant damage to a brand’s reputation. To effectively capitalize on the growing opportunity represented by female consumers, brands will likely be better served by creating empowering narratives (rather than those that belittle) and by portraying all people and demographics as the diverse, unique and multifaceted individuals that we actually are.