What do women really want?

There continues to be a significant gender bias in the way we perceive brands, according to the results of recent research, which leaves many brand owners still figuring out how best to meet the needs of women.

In the movie What Women Want, Mel Gibson’s chauvinistic advertising executive Nick Marshall discovers what makes women tick after being electrocuted while waxing his legs. The accident enables him to hear what women are thinking, giving him unique insight into the female mind. 

A similar – but less painful – awakening to the strength of women’s purchasing power has been taking place in the brand world. By 2030, one in four UK women will be the main earner in their household, predicts The Future Foundation.

But despite an evolution in gender roles, women are still attracted to many stereotypical brands, according to The Centre for Brand Analysis (TCBA), which has exclusively released gender breakdowns of its Superbrands 2010 data to Marketing Week.

Meanwhile, other big brands have attracted a surprisingly non-stereotypical following, according to TCBA’s other research into the UK’s most emotionally connected brands, in conjunction with consultancy Brandhouse (see Top 10, below). Both surveys involved 2,000 UK consumers. 

Female respondents, who were asked to rate Superbrands on attributes including quality, reliability and distinction, still tend to rate cosmetics, clothing and homeware brands most highly. At the top of the list of brands most attractive to women are personal electronics brand Braun, with 24% more female voters than male voters in the Superbrands poll, followed by toy maker Fisher-Price, with 23% more female voters. Cosmetics brand Bobbi Brown attracts 22% more female voters.

Life has become more complicated in terms of what men and women are expected to do, but brand gender stereotypes still exist

Stephen Cheliotis, TCBA

Other female-oriented brands that show a high gender bias in the survey’s results are Good Housekeeping magazine (19% more female voters than male voters), pushchair manufacturer Silver Cross (18% more), crayon maker Crayola (17% more) and tissue brand Kleenex (16% more). Providers of luxury experiences, such as spa Champneys, resort chain Sandals and luxury products such as Royal Doulton, Swarovski and Whittard of Chelsea also demonstrates a clear female bias.

Alcohol, sports, betting, online, electronics and fast-food brands display a high male bias. KFC, Burger King, Honda and Intel all register 13% more male voters than female voters in the Superbrands 2010 survey. Sony Vaio, Jack Daniel’s, TAG Heuer, Nintendo, William Hill, eBay and Arsenal FC all score 10% more male voters than female voters.

“Life has become more complicated in terms of what men and women are expected to do, but brand gender stereotypes still exist,” says TCBA chief executive Stephen Cheliotis.

The results reflect how men and women

differ in their views of what constitutes a Superbrand, even though they were asked to rate brands on the same factors.

Women associate quality with being premium, Cheliotis suggests, and place a strong value on ethical credentials such as Fairtrade or Carbon Trust. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to value the robustness of day-to-day brands.

The female connection
The brands that appeared in TCBA’s list of the top ten brands with emotional connections to women are a mix of traditionally female as well as non-stereotypical. The list features Google, Marks & Spencer, Heinz, Kellogg, BBC, Weetabix, Sony, Microsoft, Dulux and Nokia – many of which are not overtly female-oriented brands, but use engaging advertising to speak to women in a lively, practical way, suggests Cheliotis.

Women are more willing to be emotionally engaged with a brand, Cheliotis adds, and more willing to reward the brands they are engaged with when it is time to purchase. However, both surveys’ results give an insight into how brands are perceived by different genders. “Some brands might be focused on a specific gender and some might be gender-neutral, but these results might show that one gender is believing in or appreciates the brand more than the opposite gender,” says Cheliotis. 

Research by consultancy The Gild indicates that women want products that fit with their lifestyles and provide useful information, says The Gild consultant Lizzie Carr. “Women will look for brands that will help them make an informed decision. Boots was quoted in our survey as being a trusted editor of information,” Carr reveals.

L’Oréal, on the other hand, is named in The Gild’s survey as being misleading for using hair extensions on brand ambassador Cheryl Cole.

Despite not wanting to be marketed to in pink flowing script, women still want to see practical products that have been designed with them in mind. Carr names power tool manufacturer Bosch as a success story in marketing a smaller drill to women in a non-patronising way, while car insurance brand Sheilas’ Wheels designs policies only for women.

In a society where gender roles are blurring, it is hard to tell what images, tone and wording will speak to women effectively to develop brand and purchase loyalty. While the term “womenomics” has been bandied about since the Eighties, brands are still figuring out how to meet the needs of this powerful consumer group.

But there is no single strategy when it comes to marketing to women, meaning the answer to the question “what do women really want?” remains elusive. But there might be a new question to ask, TCBA’s Cheliotis suggests: “Don’t just ask what women want, but what do the women who purchase your product want?”

The frontline

Chris Bowden, head of marketing, Sheilas’ Wheels

From the onset, the Sheilas’ Wheels brand aimed to speak to women in a way that no other car insurer had done before. But we aren’t just a pink brand with no substance. The brand is the voice for women behind the wheel – while rewarding them for being safer drivers.

Sheilas’ Wheels offers product benefits that have been designed for women, by women – such as handbag cover of up to £300 and a female-friendly network of repairers.

Some people love our ad, while it isn’t to others’ tastes. But the key thing is to ensure that when women drivers are looking to renew their car insurance, Sheilas’ Wheels is seen as a trusted company that understands the needs of the female motorist.

Leila Martine, Windows consumer business director, Microsoft UK

Both women and men helped us infuse some core principles into Windows 7 – for the PC experience to be easier to use and to make new things possible. We sought to leverage consumer feedback in the design of the product and also the My Idea campaign. We have been hearing feedback that our approach of designing the product around customer input and using how consumers have shaped Windows 7 in our marketing does resonate with both men and women. 

Inès van Gennip, senior corporate marketing manager, Samsung Electronics

Our brand awareness, brand preference and purchase intention by women have all increased in the past year and we expect this to continue. A substantial part of our company’s growth can be attributed to the general industry trend that women are spending more on electronics products and are involved in the majority of purchase decisions.

But we are also continuously researching colours, patterns, materials and interfaces for a female market. Their input is used for developing products for a female market across all product categories. We recently launched the Samsung Diva mobile phone that targets the female demographic through its design. The campaign has sponsored various fashion-related events such as Amsterdam Fashion Week. We are looking to generate the aspiration that fashion brands enjoy, without trying to be a fashion brand.

David O’Brien, marketing director for decorative paints, Akzo Nobel UK, Ireland and South Africa

Dulux is firmly targeting women these days and there is a strong female-oriented marketing strategy. Our new paint pod product, for example, has been very successful with women because it is a device that can make the painting process easier and neater.

The new global mantra stemming from the Let’s Colour campaign is “adding colour to people’s lives”, playing on women’s love of colour and being creative. And our market research found five key “need states” for our products, two of which are firmly driven by women: the “deliver my vision” – people who use colour liberally without any inhibitions; and “let me find my style” – people who are a bit more timid and might need more hand-holding when it comes to decorative decisions. The third need state we cater to is “perfect professional result” and this is more male-oriented.

Alan Halsall, chairman, Silver Cross

While it is natural that women might be more drawn to our pushchair brand than men, if you look at our website, we are trying to portray a wholesome family experience – not just glamorous WAG-type mums.

As a result, we are seeing our male following increasing slightly. We did a webchat on our website a few months ago and 90% of the participants were women and 10% were men. So we can’t ignore this cross-section and not be a brand for families rather than a brand for women. We’ll be monitoring the interest in our brand from men. We are also launching a Silver Cross-branded website to showcase ideas of family days out to further highlight that we are a brand for families.

top10 emotionally connected brands to women

  1. Google
  2. Marks & Spencer
  3. Heinz
  4. Kellogg
  5. BBC
  6. Weetabix
  7. Sony
  8. Microsoft
  9. Dulux
  10. Nokia

Source: The Centre for Brand Analysis and Brandhouse

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