When I was a small kid, all of my friends’ parents were married and few of their mothers had jobs outside the home. After my family moved to California, a place where many divorced moms had moved to start new lives, I had an up close look at mid-1970’s shifting gender roles.
Fast-forward to 2015 — while pay gaps still loom larger than they should, (in 1970, women were paid $0.59 for every dollar men made – it’s now $0.77), the expectations for men and women have changed dramatically.
It might seem as if men and women should be, therefore, marketed to in the same ways. Men are more involved parents; most women work outside the home; and households might have two parents, one parent, or same-sex parents. Perhaps it’s passé to talk about marketing specifically to women. After all, 41% of women are primary breadwinners and 23% are co-breadwinners. And 70% of women with children age 18 and under participate in the U.S. labor force.
But these labor force changes, especially among moms, continue to affect men and women differently. In the past few years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours doing in-depth interview research for products targeted mostly to women with kids. I’ve bonded over clothes, ways to keep families healthy, beauty and budgets, and body image. For many women, traditional roles of health provider, family budgeter, and nurturer still hold, but with a twist. And businesses need to get it right: 85 percent of mothers surveyed refer to their roles in their households as either CEO or CFO, purchasing everything from cars to banking services or computers.
Here are some recommendations based upon my research:
Decide whether your product or service is ‘ours’ or ‘mine’.
Women with families prioritize money and time into those things that benefit the family as a whole first with themselves second. But these just-for-me items are then protected fiercely.
When focusing here, make sure your product is worth the fight needed to carve out time and money to capture and keep it from the rest of the family’s grasp. Items that help maintain self-images around being an adult, competent, attractive, healthy woman rise to the top. You should market your product so it’s seen as easy, perhaps serving more than one purpose, and that its value is worth the money, which is not necessarily the same as inexpensive.
Combine reality with a touch of aspirational beauty.
Plus-size model Tess Holiday was recently signed by a top UK agency, MiLK Model Management, the first happening of its kind. So fashion is catching up to the struggle women have with the gap between what they see on models and what they see in the mirror.
Women want to see images that reflect their lives, only better. They do buy products and services that show something to aspire to, but the bigger the gap, the more disillusioned they become, undermining their self-image and making them close their purses to some brands.
Don’t just sell, connect.
91% of women say that advertisers don’t understand them. Even women who look more like the pictures in magazines may not own this reality. My research has confirmed beauty is all in your head, and outer manifestations of it don’t always match inner perceptions. Women internalize the loving-but-sometimes-critical voices of their childhood and the culture around body image just as they do around basic competence. For example, despite outperforming men, female surgical students give themselves lower grades.
Marketing has traditionally presented problems, or made them up (morning breath anyone?), to encourage insecurity in consumers so they seek solutions in the marketplace. But women increasingly don’t believe that the marketplace will solve their problems. Many women I’ve spoken with feel overwhelmed and let down by traditional marketing and the increasingly unattainable perfection that’s presented. They are tired of trying to be perfect and are seeking their own definitions of beauty. Supportive language empathizes without condescending, and presents your brand as one that gets it.
Women are often the healthiest person in the household and try to encourage these habits in the rest of their family. For example, women make 80% of healthcare decisions and more moms than dads believe their families would find it difficult to manage everyday activities if they became sick (84% vs. 63%).
But mothers filter products through a raft of ‘they say’ voices in their heads. These include their parents, friends, pediatricians, celebrity doctors, magazines, news articles, and the like. With so many claims on the best way to raise a healthy family and to stay fit personally, women seek truth and are skeptical of new claims.
Be honest with women, assume they can and will research what you say, and if you put forth a quick front-of-the-package fact on your product to help it sell, make it true and relevant. Shore up your claimed benefits with facts and sources that your particular demographic values.
Respect your buyers, female or male, and your marketing will be a success.
About the Author
Jennifer Cooper is the President of BuyerSynthesis, a market research company that helps brands refine product strategies, discover new markets, and understand more about their consumers and clients.