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 This counts as one major example of brands challenging the outdated assumptions of gender-based marketing.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 positioning. And children’s consumer goods are just 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. 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.
Even further, the idea of gender contamination occurs when a brand or product commonly associated with one gender deters the other. Remember Dr. Pepper Ten? Their “it’s not for women” campaign promoted a male-friendly alternative to other diet sodas largely consumed by women. Marketers have historically used gender contamination to their advantage by expanding their product line with both a “for men” and “for women” version of each product, but with the gender lines blurring, this strategy is quickly becoming dated.
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 a Better Way
How can marketers move beyond gender-based marketing? With the wealth of consumer social data being voluntarily shared, we can move beyond demographics and form a more authentic portrait based on an individual’s behavior and interests. At HackerAgency we layer consumers’ self-reported and observed social behaviors onto existing CRM data. We then analyze the interests of look-alikes to complete the picture and determine what compels purchasing behavior.
With these Intelligent Profiles, we’re able to identify segments and trends that would have eluded us had we not connected the dots. This data is used to personalize communication at an individual level, well beyond gender, and deliver a genuine message at the right time and place. What’s great about social data is that it is constantly being refreshed, ensuring that important behavioral or environmental changes are captured to update our profiles, including important life events such as a new baby, marriage or new job.
What about on a smaller scale, when you may not have a wealth of social data available? Once you isolate the shared characteristics of your most loyal consumers — including location, income, buying habits and more — patterns will naturally emerge to inform positioning and messaging for future potential customers. This profiling will improve the efficiency of your targeting efforts by prioritizing consumers most likely to respond and convert.
- Gender neutrality 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 long after their offending ads left the airwaves.
- 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.
- Data can tell a different story. By harnessing the power of an individual’s social activity and identifying shared patterns, we can tap into motivations more substantial and specific than gender.
- What can you do? On a personal level, pay attention to both the direct and unconscious gender bias that surrounds you and start a new conversation.
Alyssa Lilliequist is an account director at HackerAgency, a digital/direct marketing agency.