Forget spare rib. Think profits

If marketers can forget political correctness and see the world through women’s eyes, they will win over the most valuable market on earth, says Philippa Roberts.

Women are often used as brand icons, the faces of ad campaigns, but their role in advertising goes far beyond this: they are the most important target market on earth. They make 80% of all consumer goods purchasing decisions; by 2025, they will be richer than men and own 60% of the UK’s personal wealth. Women contribute more than 40% of the developed world’s GDP.

Although women represent a huge opportunity for business, recent research reveals that much of the money spent attracting them might be wasted. Half of women “do not think manufacturers understand women in the real world”. The same proportion say manufacturers “try to sell them things by making them feel bad about themselves”, and 68% say they “can’t identify with women used in ads” – the current furore surrounding zero-size models springs to mind. The money might also be wasted because it is spent in the wrong places. Women represent a huge growth opportunity in many markets, yet 71% of them believe that manufacturers only consider them to be “interested in beauty and stuff for the home” (YouGov 2006). Despite the importance of women as a market and the long-established presence of women in the workplace, winning over the female audience remains the short suit of marketing. Luckily, help has arrived in the unlikely shape of scientists and a new breed of feminists.

Advances in neuroscience and evolutionary theory – about the fundamental differences in masculine and feminine thinking – should change female marketing irreversibly. We know that men and women process information differently. We understand their different motivations and world views: men are driven by an impulse to achieve, compete and win, while women are driven by an impulse to create a harmonious, safe and happy environment.

We can define their different innate interests and mental preferences: from an early age, males are attracted to “things” such as trainsets, cars, technology; females are attracted to dolls, stories, time with friends. Men like to systemise, while women empathise. These differences have huge implications for the way we market to women. Marketers exposed to these findings and their implications feel they have to change the way they market to women. Failing to do so would be woefully negligent.

The second development concerns a shift in feminist beliefs. Historically, in most businesses, talking bluntly about the differences between men and women could be tricky. The 1970s feminist notion of “equality meaning sameness” led people to ignore differences for the sake of political correctness. This era is over. The new feminists believe recognising difference is good, and that the contribution women can make because of their differences is a powerful resource for business, and beneficial to society.

Unshackled by political correctness, the opportunity for marketing is to take these facts about female difference, and put them to good use. Knowing what makes women tick – and acting on it – will reverse the negative feelings we know they have about the marketing that targets them.

It will increase the relevance of products, brands and ads to women, and create a new way to differentiate. Marketing applies much the same thinking and processes to every opportunity. Often this is masculine in character, unsurprisingly, as men are the authors of modern marketing, and still occupy most of the influential positions in business. However, looking at the world through a uniquely female lens, and letting that guide ideas and thinking, will make it easier to pull away from competitors who – bar a few nuances – are using the same marketing tools. Looking through that lens means you will probably never see the world in quite the same way again.

So, a coincidence of events – the emergence of women as the most valuable market on earth, a wealth of new information about how women think and feel, and the lifting of the taboo on male and female difference – presents a new and lucrative opportunity for any business. Those who use uniquely feminine thinking, approaches and processes when trying to take advantage of, or solve, uniquely female issues are the ones who will win the loyal female heart.

• Philippa Roberts is co-author with Jane Cunningham of “Inside Her Pretty Little Head”, and founder of the Prettylittlehead marketing consultancy

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