The secret to engaging with women? There's no secret at all

For brands seeking to engage with women, the secret is that there really is no secret; the key is simply to know your audience and what it wants, writes Mhairi McEwan.

Given that good marketing involves segmentation and targeting, at its worst, it sometimes also becomes about caricature and stereotyping. Nowhere is that more evident than when brands try to engage with women.

A lot of this marketing is about pigeonholing: the housewife (recently referred to as "chief household officers") or "soccer mom", the urban professional and so on. But more than ever, women don't fit into those neat little niches.

Avoid the tendency in female targeting to pigeonhole people - 'young professional', 'beauty-obsessed' - as people rarely fit neat labels.

Just look at technology. For years it was assumed that being a tech geek was a guy thing, but 65% of women now buy online, and women like Meg Whitman lead huge tech companies such as HP and eBay. Women are becoming what Carol Bekkedahl, senior vice-president, digital sales, at Meredith National Media, calls "the biggest tech geeks out there".

In an interview with WARC, Bekkedahl - who publishes the titles Better Homes & Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal - noted: "All of the new innovation happening in technology today is supercharged by women's activity. Look at the rise of Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat: all fuelled predominantly by women's activity."

So what are the lessons marketers need to learn about female consumers?

Don't fall for the caricature

See them as a whole person. Avoid the tendency in female targeting to pigeonhole people - "young professional", "beauty-obsessed" - as people rarely fit neat labels. As with any marketing, you need to have a deep understanding of your audience; spend quality time with them and understand their lives. Don't assume you can target women with a tablet computer or car just by making it pink - the same applies to pens, as Bic discovered when its launch of the "Cristal for Her" line was met with outrage from Amazon reviewers.

Be honest

In the past, a lot of marketing to women has been about painting a glossed-over picture. Now, however, we are seeing how insight allows marketers to know when and how to be confident and honest in their communication, leading to some great results. Just look at Dove, for one. Similarly, John Frieda blazed a trail by talking openly about hair "frizz" and Olay no longer avoids the word "wrinkles".

Women are social creatures

Whether in online or offline social networks, they both influence and are influenced in turn. Know the neuroscience behind how women think and what drives their behaviour, and understand how to get into those networks of influence. For example, research shows that women remember more than, and in different ways from, men; marketers need to connect to both women's emotional and rational sides, and be very aware of their strong attention to detail.

You don't need to be radical

It's about the right creative and media choices. Fiat's "Motherhood rap" spread virally online and seems to have rung true with many.

Inform, don't patronise

There are products and services that women undoubtedly will need - for example, a garage or car-dealership network could target single and newly divorced women with a free vehicle-maintenance service - but don't be sexist or patronising.

Women have a lot of money to spend and can be a brand's most loyal and engaged customers, if they are targeted appropriately and relevantly. As with any audience, the key is to know who they really are and what they really want.

Mhairi McEwan is chief executive and co-founder of Brand Learning.

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