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Strong Women, Strong Marketing

POSTED ON: 02/14/17 Marketing to Women

“He never lets me catch up. But I do love trying.”

Said no woman I have ever talked with.

But a few years ago, Timex had a young female runner speak those very words in an ad for a new, remade-for-the-ladies watch with GPS. Classic “Shrink It and Pink It” behavior.

Back in the day, professional football, having maxed out its male audience, sought to grow its fan base by bringing women into the fold. But the NFL was patronizing toward female fans: they approached women as though they didn’t know the rules and needed special classes to learn them, wanted sparkles on everything, and really enjoyed fanicures. (Though, to be fair, the NFL has upped its game in recent years.)

Women have since called for a time out. Sports and gear brands must now understand two important realities:

  1. Women account for more than half of U.S. sporting goods sales.
  2. Pink is not a marketing strategy.

In order to connect in meaningful and authentic ways, gear brands must draw from women’s experiences rather than simply watering down those of their male counterparts. Marketers must craft campaigns that reflect the ideals and expectations of the active woman. It is critical to redirect the conversation from telling women that they can do anything, to telling them that they should do anything they want. This seemingly small shift in messaging can have great impact.

(We see that type of messaging in “Beekeeping,” a great TV spot for Keds featuring Girls star Allison Williams packing for a beekeeping adventure. The brand offers no judgment, no warnings and no advice.)

It’s about the experience.

Experiences and experience-related products such as sporting goods have risen to 28% and 17%, respectively, of $4.3 trillion in consumers’ discretionary household consumption as of 2015, up from 22% and 14% of $1.1 trillion in 1985, according to A.T. Kearney’s “Consumers @250” study to be released later this year.

Whereas outdoor gear retailers in the past might have emphasized the insulation powers of a coat or the wheel size of a mountain bike, their stories should now be about how the products can deepen the shopper’s outdoor experience, whatever it might be.

Some additional rules of the marketing-gear-to-women game:

Don’t assume all women are the same.

The idea that women are a single, homogenous group that thinks and acts as one is ludicrous. Marketers should stop asking, “What do women want?”

What women want is to be recognized and treated as individuals with diverse knowledge, interests and desires. Just like men. Some like pink, and some like blue. Some wear high heels and some wear running shoes. Some throw a handbag into the back seat, while others toss in their boxing gloves. The moment a marketer treats all women (or all men) as one, the race is lost.

Help her to see how it’s done and to share what she’s learned.

Women use online and in-store content to learn about products and to be inspired by their possibilities. How-to videos and tutorials provide judgment-free information that she can interact with on her own time and in her own way. This is particularly important in areas where she has not traditionally been empowered, like automotive repair or sports.

When a peer presents the information, it’s even more effective. Smart brands will create opportunities for women to create and share their own adventures and know-how. Build an authentic, supportive community around the product experience.

Treat her with respect.

That woman who visits the store or the website may not know everything about power lifting – yet. She might even feel awkward and self-conscious because she knows she’s out of her comfort zone. This doesn’t mean she isn’t intelligent. Don’t mansplain.

And don’t try to sell her unnecessary extras, thinking she won’t know the difference. Chances are, she’s done her research, and is not only onto your game but is insulted you even tried to fake her out. It’s always a mistake to assume gender determines needs and preferences.

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