From Rumble to Roar: The Emerging Economic Force of Women
Why marketing is never enough
By Traci Sym
If women’s voices have gotten louder these days, then their buying power is an absolute shout out to the future.
Ignore us at your peril.
We’re challenging social constructs, speaking out against outdated cultural constraints, and, even more powerfully, putting our money where our mouths are as an emerging economic force.
During the next five years, women’s yearly incomes across the globe are expected to grow from $13 trillion to $18 trillion (U.S. dollars). That’s nearly twice the expected growth in GDP (gross domestic product) of China and India combined. This unprecedented growth tracks with women’s increasing awareness of their market power. We aren’t simply a “market” that corporate America should address more directly; we are the rapidly approaching future of “purchasing power.”
If companies fail to take a hard look at how their products, services, marketing strategies, and yes, even internal policies — especially internal policies — impact women, they’ll be left in the dust.
Vanquish the Typecast
The thing is when you show up with a wink and a wave, and an off-the-shelf product dipped in pink, we aren’t impressed. And for sure we’ll know you don’t get us if you try to stick us in an audience box that relies on tired stereotypes like:
• Stay-at-home mom straddled with babies and a house that needs cleaned.
• Smart woman who can’t believe how charming it is that her husband doesn’t know the easy way to get the job done.
• Sexy warrior who is bemused by men on the street’s inability to concentrate when she’s around.
• Or, perhaps, the badass girl boss who is changing the world one project at a time.
But here’s the thing: We might be one, all or none of these women at any given time. Women are not one-dimensional. And we can spot your “let’s get more women to buy our stuff” marketing strategy a mile away. You can be damn sure you’ll hear about it when you miss the mark.
Just look at the controversy stalking the new Wonder Woman movie — an unfortunate, if not prime example of what happens with such transparent efforts, or lack of effort. (Grab a protein bar and have a read here or here).
Getting Off Track on the Train
The point is we are hyper aware of the difference between being marketed to instead of being designed for. I call this heightened sensitivity the Quiet Car Effect.
It goes like this (and anyone who’s commuted between east coast cities by train should get this analogy):
On many Amtrak and commuter rails across the country there’s a special car — usually located at the fore of the train — designated as the “Quiet Car.” Here, weary travelers are promised a calm and tranquil, albeit illusory, respite from the non-stop demands of modern life. No phone chatting is allowed. No chitchat. No verbal communication of any kind. Even the conductors speak in hushed tones as the stroll through the car. It is bliss.
Except when it’s not. In my years of commuting from Washington, DC, where I worked at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to my row house in Baltimore, I came to realize that the Quiet Car is a deceptive escape.
Reality rarely squares up with the Quiet Car’s expectation of silence — nay, with its demand for it. Tourists commonly ride these trains, and they typically don’t understand the very basics of train commuting, never mind the nuanced and specialized locales of individual train cars, or the desires of fellow passengers. Then there are the seatmates who might very well enter the car with the full intention and need for peace and quiet, but quickly get sidetracked by an important call, or a hilarious video shared by a colleague. Suddenly, the social contract for quiet disembarks, and passengers become hyper aware of the quiet they are NOT getting. They grow agitated, then angry, then vocal. I’ve heard more intense verbal arguments on the so-called Quiet Car than I’ve heard on public transportation anywhere.
That’s what intense gender-specific marketing can feel like for women. We have realistic and long-fought expectations of how products and services should include us. We’re hyper aware of our exclusion. Add to that a newly emboldened desire to raise our voices because we feel safest in numbers and we want to be heard. Millions of us connect across multiple platforms and networks, sharing our experiences, our fears, our strengths and our demands.
Show, Don’t Tell
We are acutely aware of when brands only go so far in telling us what we want to hear. Like anything, we expect them to do the real work of showing us they mean it. This ask requires brand messaging that proves that we are being seen and heard. It requires companies and marketers to feel equally compelled to challenge the status quo.
To illustrate this point, let me introduce you to Jen Gurecki and her team of women co-founders at Coalition Snow, a ski and snowboard design and manufacturing company based in Lake Tahoe. They created their brand specifically for women and girls who love winter sports, but are way beyond the bunny hill. The brand is a good example of women entrepreneurs pushing boundaries and listening to their audience — in this case, female skiers who grew tired of pink graphics, and skis and snowboards designed for beginners — too short and too much flex.
Coalition Snow’s designs adjust the flex to make their skis and boards stiffer for improved performance at the intermediate and advanced level. It’s not something that big existing brands couldn’t do, says Gurecki. But women are so ignored, she says, that it took a group of women who love the mountains and the sport to bring their product to market.
This is just one example of how important it is to respond quickly to women-focused topics and trends, and how marketing is the right tool to get conversations started. But marketing efforts need be leveraged across an ecosystem of strategic development. If brands genuinely want to win over women’s business, marketers can’t be the only ones employed to solve the challenge. From the perspective of products and services, to really reach this audience (or any audience for that matter), the work needs to start much farther upstream.
The Clock is Ticking (and it’s not the one you think)
While you’re starting to engage in small conversations at market, there’s some work that you should be doing behind the scenes. Creating products and services that genuinely address both the current and future needs, and desires of women consumers requires one thing that every company on the planet is struggling with: Time.
Working for your consumer is like going to school — you need to do your homework. Often that means taking a step back and taking time to listen. Innovative products don’t come out of the ether (most of the time). They come from intently listening to an audience and anticipating how changing technologies, infrastructures, products, and lifestyles will impact and shape her experience. Depending on the product and the client, long-term strategic vision requires a dynamic mix of efforts, including R&D, prototyping, experience design, testing of experiences or pop-ups (as opposed to permanent mortar and brick), listening tours, ethnographic studies, and intuitive listening.
We Resemble That Remark
Make sure that your teams are built to serve the audience you are designing for. Teams that include women designers, women engineers, and women strategists (just to name a few needed perspectives and orientations) who exemplify a diverse makeup of cultures and professional experience enable you to see the work from broad perspectives, to anticipate messaging or design challenges, and see a way to come to market that speaks directly to the audience through their words and intentional design. Development strategies often lead to new ways of messaging and interacting with existing products.
Along the slow, intentional path of development are a multitude of opportunities to spin off quick bursts of marketing that spark new ideas, products, initiatives, language and even more. Think of it as building relationships with your consumers. Show them that you hear them, and that you’re interested in making their world better and their lives easier. Collaborate with them to find answers. Empower them to participate. Engage in their communities to open up a window into all the work you’re doing to find solutions for them. Share your interest in participating in the female economy — especially in terms of what you can provide and how you train, mentor, and promote women in leadership roles in your own organizations.
Only then are you living what you’re selling. And we can see it.
It demonstrates that you’re taking time so that we can too. It’s a marketing strategy that serves to answer our near, mid and long-term gains.
So, instead of ignoring your audience at 6 a.m. on the Quiet Car, ready your secret handshake and invite us to join you in the Bar Car where we can interact and learn more about what we can build together.