Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

What Women Want

Published in Jan-Feb 2022

You will only find out if you pay attention to the detail that makes up their lives, writes Sumaira Mirza.

It would have been really simple if we, the admen and adwomen, were endowed with the same gift Nick Marshal had in the 2000s box office hit What Women Want – the gift of hearing women’s thoughts. Listening to what their hearts and minds desire and then creating the communication. It would have been just brilliant – and easy!

Marketing to women is not as simple as putting pink on a label. The female segment of the market is an under-developed opportunity – possibly the number one opportunity – for people who understand what women really want; they are the primary consumers of products and services across multiple categories and responsible for buying or influencing the purchases of products for themselves and everyone around them: partners, children, elderly parents and friends.

Men and women do not communicate in the same way and do not buy for the same reasons. He simply wants the transaction to take place; she is interested in developing a relationship. Women make a connection everywhere they go. They want to know what the product will do for them, how it will make their life easier. How do they get this information? By doing lots of research.

Women are much more complex than what traditional marketing would have them be and their differences influence their worldview. Race, age, language, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, and how these identities overlap, are significant factors when it comes to understanding women.

Brands can sometimes miss how a woman’s identity intersects with her experiences at each life stage. What she responds to and buys changes as she does. No two women’s journeys are the same. There is only one common thread: women are the market. You cannot afford to ignore them.

There is no special trick to marketing to women. Use common sense. Gather the data, recognise the diversity of their experiences, induct more women in your team and you may just begin to market to women through a more inclusive lens.

Women have long been the primary target for many marketers, not only because they make up roughly half of the world’s population, but because of their buying power. Although the data varies, it is believed that women drive 70 to 80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. 

Although advertisers want to reach out to women, the tendency to objectify them remains. As someone who works in advertising, I can attest to the fact that way too much marketing still relies on outdated stereotypes and impossible beauty standards. The fact is that women are still being failed too frequently by the same industry that has been failing them for decades. Some brands still use the ‘shrink it and pink it’ strategy and ads routinely miss the mark with misrepresented gender roles. Brands need to realise that it is not difficult to reach them using diverse messaging that takes into account what it is like to be a woman today. All they need to do is work with women who know how to talk to other women. If you want to target women more meaningfully, start with the facts.

Do the Research: There is a major disconnect when it comes to marketing to women. Many brands do not take the time to project the needs of women, their challenges, goals and their appearances. They are not designing their offerings with women in mind. They continue to hold on to antiquated marketing tactics, without considering the data. ‘Pinkifying’ the branding is not enough to connect authentically. Learning how to engage women requires paying attention to their diverse needs and perspectives. If you don’t follow the data, you could fall behind with the emerging generation of consumers.

An Intersectional Approach: As women go through life they change. They may grow up in a particular neighbourhood or cultural tradition, but live their lives in another. Some begin college with one major and graduate with a degree in something else. Many jump head-first into careers then re-evaluate their professional goals after becoming mothers. Some grow up thinking motherhood is inevitable, then decide not to have children. Marketing to women is less about gender and more about adding a human layer to the approach. It means prioritising people. Let the data guide you and try an intersectional approach.

Tell Their Stories: A simple and effective way to market to women is to integrate their stories into the messaging. What better way to connect with real women than to highlight their experiences? Every woman’s journey is unique, and on the way, she encounters challenges and wins other women can relate to. Part of making your brand accessible to women is offering something that speaks to their needs and lets them know you are paying attention – it involves more than using a bunch of stock images of women and calling it a day. Explore the issues women face and provide a platform to promote awareness and change. Women want to be seen and want brands to meet them with solutions that speak to their needs.

Hire Women from Different Backgrounds: One of the best ways to market to women is to include women on your team – and not just one woman or one ‘kind’ of woman. Having women from different backgrounds at the table will ensure you target women with intention; this will enhance your offering because a diverse array of female voices will bring any gaps in the market to your attention. 

Include Women Influencers: Female influencers know what kind of content their audience responds to, so allow the promoted content to be shared in their voice and style. Some influencers convey a relatable, everyday vibe, while others offer a more aspirational experience — either way, let your brand messaging shine through. However, think twice about embarking on any kind of campaign based on unrealistic body image claims, even if the influencer seems to occupy that space. Remember the backlash against Kim Kardashian’s appetite suppressant lollipops? Women (especially Gen Z and Millennials) are tired of the toxic diet culture. The important thing is to be authentic. Effective influencer marketing is about real stories by real people. They should be an extension of the influencer’s regular commentary. Women influencers who talk authentically about what matters to them are the best partners for brand sponsorships. The messaging should be organically woven into the conversation, rather than delivered as a sales pitch. 

Content is Always Queen: The mistake advertisers make is assuming that all women respond to the same messaging. Influencer marketing allows you to target effectively and leaves no room for bland ‘spray and pray’ content. It enables you to drill down to the generational and life-stage differences that make up your audience. Content that taps into the strength, intelligence and diversity of the female experience will simplify portrayals, although there can never be a one-size-fits-all answer for what women respond to. Content should be targeted, relevant and valuable and with the right influencer, brands can powerfully leverage their messaging.

Reach Women Where They Are: Selecting the right social media platform depends on the campaign KPIs and there are plenty of best practice tips for doing so. Pinterest can be ideal for recipes, DIY projects and craft how-tos. Stories on Instagram can be an engaging way to show a step-by-step process or fashion board. YouTube is popular for beauty tutorials. Facebook can drive deep engagement with paid boosting. TikTok is an emerging platform for light-hearted brand content and challenges. Using a mix of platforms and influencers often results in the best overall engagement and reach, with paid amplification as a great option for acquiring even stronger numbers.

As more women move to top levels inside ad agencies, and clients understand how deep the reach of women consumers is across all market segments, the more likely it is that brands successfully align their marketing objectives with the needs of women shoppers. However, it is important to remember that effective advertising requires going beyond male or female demographics. Why people buy a product is more important than who they are, and the more you know about the men or women you are targeting, the more successful you will be. No superpowers are required!

Sumaira Mirza is Creative Director, Ogilvy Pakistan.