Women account for more than 50 per cent of the global population yet, in the world of marketing, they remain underrepresented in the boardroom and on the drawing board.
Estimated to be worth some 28 trillion of a 35 trillion dollar global consumer economy, it’s undeniable that women, as a demographic, hold the pursestrings when it comes to the consumer economy.
In fact, women are so powerful as a consumer group that they could easily bring the world’s most powerful companies to their knees, says marketing to women pioneer, Bec Brideson. “As a collective group, women are really powerful consumers and absolutely worth more than 50% of the economy. Therefore, they need to be considered in a more insightful and empathetic way to make sure that we’re connecting the right messages with them,” she adds.
“I believe that marketing needs to catch up with the social evolution that women are influencers and that we prefer to be connected to in a different way than we’ve all been taught to market, so marketing has to evolve in the same way that women have evolved.”
Listen in to this episode of The CMO Show as Brideson shares insights from her professional experience in marketing, shedding light on the huge gender gaps in the marketing industry – both in terms of career opportunities and campaign creation.
- A man-made film for women: Nike’s da da ding
- Open arms win open minds
- The rehabilitation of the pale, stale, male
The CMO Show production team
Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee
Design Manager – Daniel Marr
Graphic Designer – Mitchell Marr
Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Mark Jones (MJ)
Bec Brideson (BB)
Mark: Thanks for joining us.
Bec: Hello, thanks for having me.
JV: Bec, can you tell us a little bit about the focus, I guess, of your career and when you started looking at marketing to women as a specific segment, what is it that particularly interests you about this field?
Bec: Well, because I have been in advertising for nearly 25 years and I was in the creative department of advertising, I was one of the 3% of females to actually make it to the position of a creative director and most of my career I was the exception, in terms of my gender, rather than the rule. So most creative departments are made up of at least 75% males and 25% females and what became apparent to me over my career was that women were the ones who were in charge of the purchasing decision and yet there were a bunch of blokes sitting around coming up for the ideas when it came to communicating to them and creating advertising directed at women. And for me, it felt like a real disconnect between the work that was going out there and the audience that was receiving it.
Mark: Was there a situation, a moment in time where you sort of woke up one day and said right, that’s it, I’m going to do something about this?
Bec: Totally. So it was in 2003 and I’d simply had enough of the gender diversity battle and the way women were regarded and treated within agencies. I’d had enough of fighting the wrong battles, what I wanted to fight for was better communication with our target audience, not a better culture within the agency system. So I thought I can either keep chasing for the dream agency role where things might be different or I can create that agency for myself, and that’s when I decided to go out alone and start Venus Comms back in 2004.
Mark: So tell us about the reception you had from marketers when you started your own agency.
Bec: So there were a lot of marketers that were really interested with what looked like a new model agency and I think there was a growing frustration that there are not enough women in the creative departments. So there was a great deal of interest in that, but I think that there was a failure from the advertising industry to consider this to be a discipline and a specialisation that the industry needed to have happen. And a lot of the clients assumed that we would be good with fashion or cosmetics or you know, female things rather than see that the absolute potential was in understanding that the segmentation of audiences and of gender can really add bottom line growth and value. And that is what I’m focusing on at the moment is helping to educate marketers that understanding gender segmentation can be really powerful and that should be one of the first positions when you’re going into tackle an audience with any projects that are on the horizon.
[0:04:25] JV: Bec, could you just unpack that a little bit because marketing to women, I guess, as a phrase sounds like you’re segmenting for 50% of the population, which is kind of scary when it comes to demographic terms. What does it actually mean to market to women and how do you manage that segmentation to actually make it really effective?
[0:04:46] Bec: So the first part of that question is yes, we’re 50% or 51% of the population, but in terms of our economic clout as a group, as females, and globally, we’re worth estimated to be 28 trillion of a 35 trillion global consumer economy. Or other figures going that are often cited are women are responsible for 9 out of 10 purchasing decisions. So we’re actually a very, very powerful audience. You know, if men decided that they no longer wanted to shop at Coles, they would see a little bit of a blip and they would hurt a little, but if women decided we’re not going to shop at Coles, we could bring them to their knees. As a collective group, women are really powerful consumers and absolutely worth more than 50% of the economy and therefore, need to be considered in a more insightful and empathetic way to make sure that we’re connecting the right messages with them.
[0:05:55] Mark: So obviously, to think about some examples, and you mentioned the supermarkets, I wonder if you can help us get a better idea of some examples that would illustrate your point and maybe to kind of give you a bit of insight into what I’m thinking is that we often see women pictured in, for example, supermarkets and advertising related to various home purchasing decisions. Are you suggesting perhaps that they’re not being represented in a significant way that, you know, taps into that spending power? Like is there, and I guess I’m sort of leaning here on stereotypes, I have to say, but it’s you know, the concept of the mum shopper or just the way that we’re presenting women because they’ve been effectively campaigns driven by men, are you saying that we’re missing something here?
[0:06:50] Bec: Yeah, so I think if you look at the women’s economic development, you know, 300 years ago women were the property of their husband’s when they got married and it was just about survival and then they became independent as more women went into the workforce en masse, but now given those numbers that I shared with you before we’re actually influencers. So if a brand is looking to connect with its core customer, it’s highly likely and highly probable that that is going to be a woman. So I believe that marketing needs to catch up with the social evolution that women are influencers and that we prefer to be connected to, in a different way than we’ve all been taught to market, so marketing has to evolve in the same way that women have evolved.
Bec: And if you think about the language of marketing, it’s all very, it’s strategic, it’s masculine. It is hierarchical. It’s where you’re the best or the fastest or the cheapest.
So with the example of supermarkets, yeah, I think they could do such a better job at connecting with their core audience as women and I’m not just talking about their advertising. I’m talking their whole offering. You know, the experience in store. The way they market, the way they innovate with shopping, you know, online. There’s just so much. Women are spending the money. What does it look like and what do they want?
JV: Bec, could you unpack that a little bit because I think it’s a fascinating concept that perhaps socially we’ve moved forward, but we’ve got an entire industry that’s taking its time to catch up to that social innovation. Now, what is it that, that I guess male dominated advertising teams get wrong? Is it about their understanding? Is it about the creation of personas? Is there something that they get fundamentally wrong on the campaign level as well?
Bec: Yes, yes, absolutely, it really starts at the beginning with the brand and with the marketing team and so the advertising agency is just an extension of that.
Bec: We need to make sure that we’re providing meaningful hooks and a differentiation with your brand from other brands and you’re creating community because women want to belong to a community with a brand and that we’re not pinking and shrinking things and that happens an awful lot when you talk about marketing to women. You know, there’s the Bic pen example where they made it pink or where it was a desire to get more women into tech, I think it was IBM, put out a competition to hack a hairdryer. And that’s just pinking and shrinking and that isn’t actually understanding the motivations or the place to connect with women.
JV: Now, a brand that immediately sort of comes to mind is one that does this particularly well is Dove and it’s now had a series of campaigns that really tap into a sense of community and a sense of connectedness in the underlying essence of the brand. Are there any others that you can think of that are really getting it right?
Bec: Yeah, so I think Dove is definitely the pin-up case study for this and it’s you know, 2004 it started and it’s still a platform that serves them really well. There’s, closer to home, in Australia, there’d be ANZ. They have spent a couple of years really understanding the female market and not only communicating that to their customers, but changing the way they’re behaving internally and from their own cultural perspective around women. There’s quite a couple of great examples of feminine hygiene brands that have done that. There’s the “like a girl” ad, which has been, you know, a phenomenal success and it’s working on a platform of asking… Albeit, they have a female audience, but of questioning what it means to run like a girl.
JV: And it’s really subverting there what has been an attack. I mean, I love that phrase and I love the way that campaign has captured the phrase “like a girl” and just turned it from something that was really an aggressive put down into an empowerment statement.
Mark: Yes, it’s a classic example of…
Mark: …taking a negative and spinning it positively.
I wondered, Bec, what are some other categories of products where the women hold, if you like, a greater purchasing power than men that have been… You know, that you see some change happening?
Bec: So financial services have been an issue for a long time and women are very active in those decisions, whether it’s which bank or which superannuation account. And so things like superannuation where women are behind because they’re paid less and they spend more time out of the workforce they’re really becoming issues that are being discussed more openly. There are forms happening on these. It’s on the agenda of financial institutions. So I see some shift happening there.
Automotive, I think there’s been some great shift around not only making sure that dealerships are enlightened and understand that very often there’ll be, you know, I think it’s 80% is the figure women are making new car purchase decisions. So it’s about understanding that dynamic on the floor, but also understanding that when you’re talking to women in a mass media way that you’re connecting with them. And I don’t think anyone’s done that really well yet.
Mark: Another one that comes to mind for me would be home electronics.
Just as a quick personal story, I was given permission to go shopping for a TV and my wife said I don’t mind if you get a slightly bigger one. That’s like you know to a bloke, it’s you know, it’s a licence to buy the biggest thing you can possibly find.
Bec: Yep, yep.
Mark: And of course, when I brought it home, it was this gigantic thing filling up the… She’s like, “What have you done?” [Laugh] I’m like, “but it was on sale!” [Laughter] You know, I think what’s fascinating to me about the way that you’re approaching this from a, if you like, a consulting perspective is to say hey, there is a different mindset that we need to bake into the understanding of how consumers engage with a brand and a product. The fascinating thing about how we understand the role of women in purchasing decisions, you know, as you’ve been explaining it and I think from a consulting perspective is that you were saying how there’s how, if you like, a male mindset and it’s competitive-oriented.
And as I understand how you’ve described it, it’s perhaps more – a personal and a community or a family or a relational aspect to if you like the mindset of women and how they engage in products. I’m interested in how you think marketing could change and what does that look like? And I’m kind of wondering what’s the end game here because you were alluding earlier to sort of a broader sense in society that we’re heading towards a female outlook, if you like, on marketing and I wonder where the balance is?
Bec: Well I agree. I think in an ideal world you would absolutely segment by gender and you’re probably hearing now, I’ve said it a few times. But if you think about magazines, they have male titles and female titles. And speaking generally, but there’s action thrillers and there’s comedy romance and we know which ones men and women prefer to go to.
So, if we know that women have, and men have different preferences for entertainment, then it makes sense to cater to each of those audiences in the language and with the insight that appeals to each audience. So ultimately, I think we will go to this more granular approach to segmenting.
The Boston Consulting Group did a global survey about women in 2009, 12,000 women from 20 countries, and they found that women are really wanting marketers to connect with them to really understand their needs, to really look at doing things differently.
Mark: There’s also some life lessons in here as well, but I guess I’m going to get in trouble if I…
JV: [Laughs] You’re going to get in so much trouble if we go down that path.
Mark: Yeah, that’s right.
Bec: I was going to say it’s really interesting that you say that and that, Mark, that you feel like you need to mind your Ps and Qs because I think one of the things I keep coming up against with this subject is am I talking about gender diversity and we know that gender diversity really matters and that companies who have a higher female workforce, or you know, closer to male workforce, do a lot better.
Bec: So when you take these three factors of, you know, the power of the female economy, the fact that we need a more diverse workforce, and the fact that we’ve sort of been running things from a construct that was built by men originally, all of these factors are coming into play and it’s very difficult not to see this as a battle of the sexes discussion or not as gender politics, but it’s really not about those things, if you can see what I mean, because it’s actually about… Factually, it’s about women having more influence in the marketing space than they’ve ever had before.
JV: And then they’re currently being given credit for… I mean, you mentioned a cou ple of products that we would have I guess assumed had more of a male bias to them than a female bias when it comes to purchasing decisions. How do you, as a brand, identify whether your product has this male or female bias and then how can you use that information?
Bec: Well, you’d think that if you just go to your sales and have a look and see, you know, let’s carve our audience and see what percentage is actually a female audience and then do the math and what are they worth? And then think, well, okay. If we haven’t been focusing on women and we’ve been focusing on a gender neutral audience and not really, you know, unpacking the insights that we could have with women, what would it look like if we did and what would just 10% of growth look like? So let’s say all of this effort equated in a 10% growth for our bottom line. What would that look like? And then you’d have to you know, do the math and ask yourself well, is it going to be worth it? And I think in most cases you’ll find, you know, brands will find that, (a) women are their dominant consumer, and (b) it would be very much worthwhile experimenting. Saying, well let’s see what happens when we do it.
JV: Mm-hm, and restructuring.
Bec: I think Nike is a great, Nike globally, you know, they tried to go after the female market 30 years ago, but they were applying the same male filter and masculine marketing principles to attract a female audience and it wasn’t working. And they’ve, you know, it’s been an iterative process and that’s what I would stress, that it definitely is something that is a try it and learn from it and keep trying. It was only recently that Nike stopped making shoes for women from a male footprint.
It took them that long, even though they’ve been doing this for 30 years. It took them that long to go hang on, maybe we should take our mould of our, you know, fabulous shoes from a female’s foot if we want to sell to females? And maybe we need to use real women’s bodies and not models’ bodies. So there’s – you know, there’s learnings the whole way through and maybe we need to review how we’re communicating with our advertising rather than having, you know, a typical male ad where it’s a highlights reel of male athleticism. That’s not the way you’re going to sell Nike to women.
Mark: Run like a woman? I don’t know. Just an idea.
Mark: I’m trying to be subversive again. Yeah. But, you know, it does boggle the mind, doesn’t it? We have run out of time almost, but I do want to thank you for some fabulous insights and it will be definitely a watching brief for us, I think it’s fair to say, is to see how this evolves and changes. Before we let you go, we would like to introduce you…
Mark: …to a fun thing that we do with our guests and maybe you’ve heard this already, but it’s the 21 questions. Do you reckon you’re up for it?
Bec: Yes, absolutely.
JV: Excellent. Now you do have a couple of passes.
Mark: You get two passes, yeah.
Bec: All right.
Mark: So what are you grateful for?
Bec: Health, happiness, and my children.
JV: Do you like rain?
Bec: I love rain.
Mark: In the movie of your life, who would play you?
Bec: Geena Davis or someone that thinks there aren’t enough good roles for women.
JV: What’s your greatest career fail?
Bec: I would say staying quiet when I should have spoken up, so when I really believed that we weren’t connecting to the audience in the right way and I put up and shut up.
Mark: Beach or mountain?
JV: Best ever career advice?
Bec: If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
Mark: Summer or winter?
JV: Who is your hero?
Bec: I take lots of things I admire from lots of different heroes, but I did break my collarbone pretending I was Wonder Woman, so maybe Wonder Woman.
Mark: If you weren’t a marketer, you’d be a..?
Bec: I’d be a startup founder or an entrepreneur.
JV: Chocolate or strawberry?
Bec: Strawberries dipped in chocolate.
Mark: What did you have for breakfast?
JV: What would you rather have had?
Bec: Sorry I… Coffee. I don’t do breakfast. I know it’s wrong, but I don’t do it.
Mark: No judgment. What was the last conversation you had with your parents?
Bec: Can you please pick up the kids?
JV: Scrunch or fold?
Bec: Fold, absolutely. Yeah, I’ve got OCD. It has to be folded.
Mark: If you could change one thing about the marketing industry, what would it be? He says open question to an answer that we know.
Bec: Yes, exactly. That you know, this change matters. We need to focus on female audience.
JV: Can you ride a bike?
Bec: Stationary bikes.
Mark: What’s your greatest frustration?
Bec: Pale, male, and stale.
JV: Awesome. Touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell. Which would you sacrifice to save the rest?
Mark: Dogs or cats?
JV: Favourite book?
Bec: I’ve got many, but currently I’m reading Steven Pressfield’s War of Art.
Mark: And if you had to change your name, for our last question, what would you change it to?
JV: That’s a very pretty name.
Mark: Okay. I just want to say for the record I think that that was a slightly female oriented question because growing up it was always my sisters that had like, you know,
Wanted to change their names. Boys are like what? I don’t even…
JV: No, no, no. See, my kids have very unusual names, so that when – my little boy’s called Galileo. So when he plays a game, he chooses the most bog standard, boring name you could possibly come up with.
Like he turns his name into Fred.
Mark: Yeah, Bob.
JV: I’m going to be Frank. Hey, I’m super Frank.
Bec: I love it.
Mark: There you go. Well, hey, Bec Brideson, thank you once again for joining us on the CMO show. Fantastic to get your insights. All the best with your career and the mission to get us to think in different ways about marketing to women within the broader context of marketing and we will talk to you again some time.
Bec: Thank you. It’s been great.