Target made headlines recently for eliminating gender-based labeling in several store departments based on feedback and suggestions (read: social media backlash) from customers. This counts as one major example of brands challenging the outdated assumptions of gender-based marketing. More of them should follow.
What’s wrong with gender-based marketing?
With the wealth of consumer data available today, it is archaic to rely on one-dimensional insights like demographics to inform your positioning. And children’s consumer goods are the tip of the iceberg – people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox are helping to educate the world about other gender-based assumptions and open our eyes to important issues to consider. DeeDee Gordon, president of innovation at Sterling Brands and a leading expert on trends, points out that “products marketed explicitly by gender can put up to half of potential sales at risk.” How many potential sales are companies leaving on the table by misrepresenting their consumers?
Take GoDaddy, for example. Their longtime sexist brand aesthetic, famously featuring women in bikinis and other suggestive content, still haunts the company today as they attempt to change consumer perceptions. When some of the first GoDaddy TV spots aired, I thought, What does this company even DO? Fast forward to 2015: On the topic of promoting gender diversity, CEO Blake Irving said, “We have to move away from being in NASCAR and those ads. We have to be about technology and helping business owners. And we’re pushing pretty hard on the diversity message, and starting with gender.” Good for you, Blake.
And consumers are vocal in both their support of and opposition to brands that meet or miss the mark when it comes to gender-based marketing. Who would have thought that an ad for feminine hygiene products would have stolen the 2015 Super Bowl? Procter & Gamble’s #likeagirl campaign, which featured young adults describing their associations with the term “like a girl”, was ranked by Adobe as the top digital campaign of the Super Bowl based on volume of online and social mentions.
There’s more to the story
How can marketers move beyond gender-based marketing? It’s easier today than ever before if we actively listen to consumers and proceed with an open mind. At HackerAgency we rely on consumers’ self-reported and observed social behaviors layered onto existing CRM data for the most comprehensive view of individual consumers. With these Intelligent Profiles we’re able to identify segments and trends that would have otherwise eluded us without connecting the dots. And the data can be surprising.
Gender equality leads to profitability. Target took a stand to publicly acknowledge customer feedback. More brands will follow, and those that don’t risk missed opportunities at best and losing customers and market share at worst.
One bad mistake can take years to correct. Companies like GoDaddy that historically alienated an entire gender with outdated brand positioning are still fighting to change consumer perception much later.
Consumer advocacy is priceless. The Internet and social media provide consumers countless ways to publicly express their opinion. Harnessing their voice to build trust in a brand is as powerful as anything a marketer can promote.
What can you do? Pay attention to both the direct and unconscious gender bias that surrounds you and start a new conversation.