Scan the aisles of just about any store and you can find similar if not identical products aimed at either the male or female buyer. These products are gendered by way of a daintier shape, a more delicate color, or sometimes it’s the exact same thing just with a message “for the ladies” on its packaging because companies assume this is the best way to market to women. But most of the time, this discrepancy is made so obvious or executed so ridiculously that it ends up turning female consumers away.
Where It Goes Wrong
Take the Bic For Her, for example, a line of Bic pens that came under fire after their 2012 release and failed epically with their strategies of marketing to women. The line of ballpoint pens, just like any other by Bic, were aimed at women with a loud and clear “For Her” noted in script under their usual Bic logo and a new purple floral printed packaging.
“Cristal For Her ballpoint pens are reserved for women and feature a diamond-engraved barrel for an elegant, unique feminine style. The tinted, hexagonal barrel is thinner for better handling for women and still keeps the ink supply visible,” described a retailer, as reported by Huffington Post’s Cavan Sieczkowski.
Yes, they really did try to say that the build and shape of the pen made them easier for women to write with. The result? The exact female demographic they were aiming for ending up leaving hundreds of sarcastic Amazon reviews on the product rather than purchasing. This blatant sexism is seen over and over again especially with toiletries like razors, shampoos and lotions being marketed toward women with floral scents, the promise to improve appearance and sometimes even heftier prices.
The Diversity of the Female Market
Caroline Parkes for TheDrum.com shared her expertise in a Feb. 2018 piece and said the absolute best way to market to women is really to not market to women specifically at all. “Females make up 50% of the world’s population (or 49.555% if you want to be precise). So treating them as a homogenous group makes no sense at all… Instead, we should be creating conversations with the myriad groups and individuals that make up ‘womankind’,” Parkes wrote.
The idea of marketing to the abstract and overarching community of “women” does no justice to the array of women that consume. This is precisely where many marketing campaigns get it wrong. Consumers like to feel engaged with their product and want to relate to it, and when companies use cliché stereotypes that seem to fit the idea of what women are, they can end up ignoring the intricacies of the female experience, and their sales fail because of it.
According to Linda Landers of SpinSucks.com, it’s necessary for companies to remember that individuals relate in more ways than just gender. “It’s important to recognize a woman’s life stage as well as her chronological age. Women who have children later in life may better relate to other women who have children the same age, rather than those in her age group,” she wrote.
And for those women that don’t have children of their own at all, products need to appeal to their unique experience as well. As Landers puts simply, “Each female sub-set has its unique interests and values that influence purchasing behaviors.”
Traditional narratives that are pushed by some products — the nuclear family, the stay at home mom, the damsel in distress — need to be altered and updated to market to women of today. Women want to relate to a product and its story without the product itself desperately vying for female attention by using outplayed stereotypes. This subtle appeal is what can draw female buyers.
Outdated Selling Strategies
Female Factor CEO and Forbes.com contributing writer, Bridget Brennan, writes about a common mistake that should be avoided: “the three P’s: Pink, Patronizing and Passive.” These common mistakes are also highlighted by what SpinSucks.com refers to as the “Shrink it and pink it” method — making every product smaller and pink to appeal to women. Think back to those pink, bedazzled pepper spray canisters or tiny, multi-colored hammers so small they can barely serve their true purpose.
These outdated strategies tend to be patronizing and completely turn off potential female buyers. “Resist using cliché images like stilettos and purses to symbolize women (unless you’re actually selling those products) and proceed with caution when using the word ‘ladies’ in your messaging,” wrote Brennan.
Enticing the female consumer can help companies get ahead, as “Women are expected to control two-thirds of private wealth in just three years,” according to MarketWatch.com in May 2017. Women also tend to express different spending behaviors, like being more likely to donate a portion of their spending to charitable causes, says SpinSucks.com, and as these differences are important to note, they shouldn’t overwhelm or distract a marketing campaign.
Of course, one of the best ways to reach this new, nuanced demographic of women is to have women in positions of power making hands-on decisions when it comes to advertising products marketed to women. The best way to market to women is to appeal to the variety of women that exist today rather than just to the traditional prototype of women that exists. Truly, the best way to get women to buy is to stop trying so hard.