The Duality Dilemma - Marketing to Modern Women

13 Apr 2011|Added Value

Women have been under the spotlight recently.  Whether over the dearth of female executives at the top of Britain’s companies – a phenomenon that seems all the more peculiar given the evidence that women in senior executive positions boost the performance of companies – or vocally and visibly leading the demands for democracy in the Middle East. Women are even taking centre stage in archetypical male categories like automotive as shown in Alfa Romeo’s advertising for the Giulietta, featuring Uma Thurman.

Perhaps it has something to do with the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus mentality: maybe the Boards of some of the world’s top companies really don’t get women at all. Certainly the issue of ‘how to connect with women’ is something that many companies face, particularly those with global FMCG brand portfolios. And no wonder: women now control $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in global spending, and are the primary spenders in 77% of consumer markets.

Watch the Alfa Romeo Giulietta spot here:

Added Value has been helping marketers better understand women for over two decades, handling projects in countries as diverse as Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, China, Vietnam, S. Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and India for multinational and local clients.

Most recently, we brought together our global expertise to assess changing attitudes to young women in emerging and developed markets. Using cultural insight and the semiotic analysis of a wide range of cultural stimuli, such as magazines, packaging, websites, academic sources and communications from other “feminine” categories and brands, we’ve developed a deep understanding of women and how they express gender and identity.

In particular, we’ve been interested in seeing if there are any commonalities across diverse markets and if so, what lessons could be learned for brand owners seeking to engage a female audience.

Being a woman is about being more than feminine.  Young women differentiate between womanhood and femininity. Womanhood is generally understood as referring to inner beauty and strength, while femininity is seen as a set of standards to distinguish men from women.

With this in mind, Added Value has found that there are common themes around how young women perceive themselves through the lens of gender and identity.

 The act of beautifying oneself unites women the world over as an important driver of self-expression and identity. Unsurprisingly, advertising and media exert pressure on women to conform to idealised images of beauty. But at the same time women value inner beauty: the feelings of softness and gentleness that are unique qualities to being women.

Dove campaign by Ogilvy and Mather Dusseldorf

More than skin deep
For example, Dove has recently run a guerrilla marketing campaign about inner beauty in Germany. The brand, which is known for pioneering ‘real women’ in its communications, placed modified scales in female locker rooms in health clubs, schools and at swimming pools. The message on the scale said: “Real beauty is not measured in kilograms”. Dove understands implicitly that beauty is more than skin deep.

Respect me
Although the culture of the arranged marriage still exists in a few of the countries that we researched, women hope to fall in love with their partner. They want a man to woo them, spoil and protect them, but also to respect them.

Women march against Berlusconi in Italy

Take Italy. Women issued a rally-cry to women to reassert their dignity following the series of high-profile trysts involving the country’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Women were asked to join a rally to protest at how their femininity and the image of the country had been tarnished by the media tycoon’s obsession with young girls. Within 24 hours of that rallying cry more than one million women had not only signed up to the rally, but also joined it. They staged it on 14th February this year to underline their point. Mr Berlusconi was said to have watched the rally on TV but made no public comment!

Fight the power
Women still fight against society’s perceptions. Many women feel that they are seen as weaker by society and that they have to constantly prove that they are able to be successful in all spheres of life.Consider this, all around the world there are business awards for ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year’. In Australia, the awards are held on International Women’s Day. Now, try this: Google the Internet for ‘Male Entrepreneur of the Year’… need we say more? All things to all people?
Perhaps most interesting of all is what we’ve seen as the ‘dilemma of duality’: the pressure upon women to be all things – mother, lover, career women, etc. This dilemma is crystallised by the struggle that women face between juggling the responsibilities created by their careers and their sense of independence versus the traditional roles of managing the home and family, which is typically expected of them. Exploring this in detail, we’ve found women accumulate more responsibilities as they mature without being able to release or share traditional ones. Put plainly, women shoulder more burdens than ever before.
Self expression through empowerment
However, far from holding young women back, they are quite prepared to take on these extra roles and responsibilities in order to forge their own identities and freely express themselves.

For example, although Saudi Arabian women have traditionally been banned from entering the workplace, and have only recently had the opportunity to choose professions, such as nursing, teaching, and medicine, female entrepreneurs have spurred Saudi banks into establishing a market especially for them. Ladies’ banking is one of the first sectors to segregate its business branches to cater to women. The Al Rahji Bank has 108 Ladies’ branches and employs approximately 1000 women.

Technology however, has had a profound impact on Saudi women. Not only does it connect them to the world from their home, but it also provides increased exposure to, and awareness of, the outside world. This in turn has changed their self- perceptions and brought a level of empowerment.

In India, being a young woman is a paradox: on one hand they want to behave as tradition dictates – subservient, humble and obedient – but on the other hand they want to be their own person – negotiating and challenging the normative behavior, particularly when it comes to issues like marriage, going out, or to talking back to their parents. Her drive towards self-expression is profound, best exemplified by a strong need to show society that a woman is competent and professional, that she is more than just a mother. Education – or rather the drive to be educated – is recognized as giving her more power in marriage and makes her more equal to her partner.

While in Latin America, femininity is about women being able to express themselves in a ‘self aware’ way – also a way of self-expression and self- improvement – to achieve success in both career and private life. Again, education is essential: a clear pathway to create a life that is independent from her parents or a man.

Different to her mother’s generation
Young women have moved a significant step away from their mothers’ generation already, driven by an awareness of their potential. Despite the pressure to be all things, women seek not only to do things in the right way, but to do things in unique ways. So the things she buys help her build the picture of her perfect world. She’s fills her world with things she connects to emotionally. She buys things that make her smile and feel good about herself. And things that engage her by how they look, what they say and the relationships they represent.

All of which begs an important question from marketers: how do you talk to women?

While there is no magic bullet, there are some themes that marketers can build upon to create more meaningful connections with women. And interestingly what we found was that in working towards satisfying women’s needs, brands can potentially increase sales among women and men. That’s because women are more demanding than men. Therefore, if you capture women’s interest you will bring men along with you. Of course, if you want to sell to women, you have to think like women.

Stay connected. Tap into the twitter-sphere. It’s where women are increasingly talking, so you can’t afford not to be.
Look sharp. If you don’t, they won’t even notice you. And nor will men.
Help them be good.  Guilt has incredible power.
Forget the detail. It’s the story that sells, especially one with a twist in the tale.

For more on understanding women in your market, email us.

Photo credits: Dove campaign by Ogilvy and Mather Dusseldorf


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