It’s no secret that some marketers deliberately target women: Unilever allocate approximately 70% of their Facebook ads budget to campaigns targeting female-only audiences (source: Pathmatics) and Nike frequently make headlines for the broadcast of award-winning ads aimed at encouraging women to participate in various sports (source: The Drum).
But it's not just global fashion or makeup brands that focus on female audiences. Research shows that even local, Scottish, brands in traditionally masculine industries are starting to target women – with AdExchanger reporting that The Glenlivet spent a whopping 52% of its marketing budget on campaigns designed to engage female consumers in 2019. (Source: AdExchanger)
Surprised? We were too, but the team over at The Glenlivet aren't alone. Diving into budget reports, meeting minutes and marketing strategies reveals that a significant number of small and house-name brands are shifting towards a model that prioritises female audiences.
We’re not talking about obvious brands like Boohoo, Mac or L'Oréal either: Lynx body spray targets women (source: Pathmatics), presumably because their eponymous deodorants are often bought as gifts for partners, friends or family members.
Porche also spend a surprising amount of money targeting women; enlisting tennis star Maria Sharapova to help them break into new markets and reach beyond their typical, male-dominated audiance (source: Sports Illustrated).
And then there's the Royal Bank Of Canada, who spend approximately 95% of their advertising budget targeting females in Canada and the US (source: Media Radar) with ads like the one below, which mixes influencer-style native advertising with messaging designed to really ham up the brand's ability to be a force for positive change.
The question is, why do marketers target women – and is it a sensible strategy? If you’re a marketing manager, a CMO or a CTO working for a B2B or B2C brand, you probably feel some pressure to jump on the bandwagon, and start pointing a significant percentage of your advertising budget at female audiences.
If Porche, Unilever and The Royal Bank of Canada are at it, there must be a good reason.
But it’s important to look before you leap. Ask yourself why big brands are focusing on women, and take the time to understand whether it’s a good fit for your business.
Why Target Women?
In simple terms, it’s because marketers think women are making most buying decisions. Research cited by Forbes suggests that women drive 70-80% of consumer purchasing decisions (source: Forbes), and more detailed research by Girl Power Marketing shows that this influence isn’t limited to the clichéd trifecta of household goods, cosmetics and clothes that modern media has taught us to associate with female shopping behaviour. (Source: Girlpower Marketing).In fact, marketing research shows that women are involved in buying decisions for:
- 91% of new homes
- 66% of PCs and consumer electronics
- 92% of vacations
- 65% of new cars
And if that wasn’t enough, studies show that women control approximately 80% of all additional spending – including the money spent on grocery shopping, buying luxuries and weighing in on the purchase of big-ticket items like smartphones, house insurance, business software subscriptions or new furniture.
In total, experts think that women control over $31.8 trillion of worldwide spending. (Source: Catalyst). And when you look at statistics like that, it's easy to see how a lot of marketers fall into the trap of assuming that they'll meet success if they start targeting women.
Indeed, looking at these stats in isolate; devoid of important context about the type of women involved in these decisions; their motivations, interests and pain points, it seems almost stupid to ignore the opportunity. But that doesn’t mean that you should race off and start pointing your ads at female-only audiences. Not just yet anyway.
While there is some truth to the idea that women are household managers and the key decision makers in many business organisations, there's also an equally strong body of research to show that they are much more discerning than their male counterparts when it comes to engaging with digital marketing material.
In fact, if you sift through the mire of sexist dreck about hedonistic impulse purchasing, there's a growing body of evidence to support the idea that female purchase journeys are generally much more arduous and complex than male ones.
The experts tell us that women like to gather a lot of information before they buy; researching, analysing and comparing various products and/or services before they move towards a purchase decision. We're (apparently) holistic in our approach and prefer to spiral in on the perfect solution instead of rushing straight from consideration to process (source: Forbes).
All in all, our buyer journeys are closer to the long, multi-stage B2B purchase journeys that inspired the rise of inbound marketing and half-baked and/or patronising messaging just doesn't cut it where women are involved.
Read This Before You Start Targeting Women
It’s important to remember that ‘female’ is a very broad descriptor, and that women are not a homogeneous group of like-minded individuals.We shouldn’t have to say it, but they’re as complex as their male counterparts, and they make purchasing decisions based on a multiplicity of complex and interdependent factors like their level of income; their country of residence, their occupation or their hobbies.
Marketers get into a lot of trouble when they start to oversimplify complex problems, and treating ‘women’ as a monolithic audience is a perfect example.
If you are marketing to women (and you know that this is the right decision), try to further refine your targeting by thinking about more specific attributes. Things like age and income, interests, job title, area of residence or level of education.
Targeting specific demographics gives you the opportunity to create ads that really resonate with your target audience. It also reduces your chances of dropping a clanger like Chick Beer’s infamous attempt to sell beer to women in pink boxes – with a little black dress logo and a calorie count at the centre of every label:
Yes, we hate it too. This particular stunt cost Chick Beer a lot of good will. It's all-too-obvious attempt at 'girl power' marketing left a lot of women feeling alienated and annoyed with the brand (source: Eater) and the brand lost a lot of traction in the fallout.
More to the point, they missed an opportunity to actually reach a relatively under-served demographic (women aged 21-65 who enjoy drinking beer) and failed to build buzz around a product that could have made a real splash.
Taking the time to scope out a list of desirable attributes gives you space to think about who you really want to reach with your hard-earned advertising budget and 9 times out of 10, that isn’t going to be all women, irrespective of income, hobbies or job title.
But if you do run through a list of secondary attributes and you still think your product or service is a good fit for women generally, make sure that your ads and assets are up to the job! And on that note...
Should I Target Women With My Marketing?
Assuming that you're considering a new campaign that targets women, there's really only one way to answer this question: Doing detailed and data-driven audiance research. We've talked about creating personas at length before, but it bears repeating here.Every effective marketing campaign targets a very specific group of people – honing in on their preferences and habits, motivations, pain points and pet peeves to create collateral that resonates with your potential buyer. Failing to zero in on the things that sets your target market apart can - and will - result in generic/bland marketing material that fails to garner a reaction.
So if you're thinking of indiscriminately targeting women, ask yourself whether your product/service is genuinely going to be of interest to 'all women'. Chances are, it's not. Even products that seem like they should have broad, gender-based appeal like running shoes or health insurance are actually going to appeal to a specific sub-set of women (women interested in wellness/fitness, for instance).
And research from The Swiss Re Institute shows that women shopping for health insurance have a very specific set of behavioural preferences that guide them when shopping online – seeking out businesses that appear to be honest, community minded and altruistic (source: Swiss Re Institute).
Inevitably, consumer research will no doubt reveal that the women shopping for cars, holidays or mortgages have similar but slightly different considerations and the devil really is in the details, which is why it's (normally) better to focus on specifics.
Drilling down and identifying unique sub-categories of shopper - based on things like their interests, motivations or habits - will allow you to create much more specific and compelling advertising material (or marketing campaigns) that have a much higher chance of converting your ideal prospect.
If You Do Target Women, Do It Properly
Decided to ignore our advice, copy Unilever and target women indiscriminately? Let’s make sure you get it right, because the consequences for screwing up can be dire – and you will alienate people if you fall short of creating something genuinely engaging, motivational or memorable. Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign won a Shorty award because it was sensitive, inspiring and touched on something that resonated with the majority of women. (Source: Shorty Awards) HelloFlo’s First Moon Party video is also widely lauded for being sympathetic, hilarious and relatable. Lampooning a lot of stereotypes and speaking directly about a subject that’s typically avoided in mainstream media adverts. (Source: CNN).
Studies suggest that these empowering and carefully-targeted campaigns do resonate with their target audience. In fact, 71% of women polled saying that Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign had made them feel more attractive or confident. (Source: ReferralCandy)
But examples of relatable ‘girl only’ adverts are few and far between. In our experience, most gender-specific and targeted advertising misses the mark completely; relying on cheap clichés to 'connect' with their audiance or speaking down to the people their trying to reach. IBM’s cringe-inducing “hack a hairdryer” campaign is a great example.
This campaign was launched to "reengineer perceptions of women in tech' by asking female engineers and scientists to hack a hairdryer and share their work with the IBM social team. As you might expect, it ended up receiving tonnes of backlash for being sexist and patronising (source: BBC).
A similar campaign featuring patronising pink power tools also caused a veritable storm on social media back in 2020, alienating huge swathes of Pink Power's target audience and sending would-be customers running straight into the arms of their competition. (Source: Forbes)
And it's worth noting that even seemingly-innocuous attempts to market to women using “girl boss” language, with People Per Hour's recent attempt to differentiate themselves by appealing to entrepreneurial women falling on deaf ears. (Source: Marketing Week)
There is a very real cost to these mistakes. Studies show that poorly-received advertising can really hurt a brand's bottom line (source: Penji), and research from Statista suggests that 52% of women automatically distrust gender-specific advertising – calling it inappropriate and raising concerns over the misuse of personal data. (Source: Statista)
So if you’re not sure that you can produce authentic, sensitive and resonant marketing assets that appeal to the majority of women, it might be better to stick with gender-neutral ads.
Need Help Defining or Refining Your Target Audience?
We’re here to help. If you’ve read all this and you’re still not sure how to target women, whether you should be targeting women, or whether you really understand your target audience at all, you'll find plenty of useful resources in our blog, including a detailed write-up on creating detailed customer personas. We're also (more than) happy to roll up our sleeves and muck in. Our in-house marketing department can help you profile your ideal customer, and create targeted marketing campaigns that drive tangible results.
No painful missteps or cringe-inducing ads in sight. With 20+ years of real-world marketing experience, we're also well-placed to help you refine your messaging for specific sub-sets of a gendered audiance.
In 2022, targeting female engineers, doctors, researchers or marketing managers isn't challenging. You just need a decent marketing strategy, a good team and the willingness to continually refine your messaging as a campaign rolls out.