What women want

TRENDAFRiCA November 7, 2012

In South Africa, women make more than 87% of buying decisions. As a population group, globally, women control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, so it stands to reason that marketers need to understand what women want.

Handling projects in countries as diverse as South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, China, Vietnam, S. Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, US and India for multinational and local clients, Added Value have investigated 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.

A core insight is that being a woman is about being more than just feminine, says Dr Inka Crosswaite, a South African cultural insight and semiotics specialist at Added Value in Cape Town.

She says 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.

Added Value identified various themes around how young South African women perceive themselves through the lens of gender and identity:

  • Duality of life: the pressure upon women to be all things – mother, lover, career women, and so on, results in South African women living between dual worlds and lifestyles. They move forwards, but stay connected to their roots. The role of women has not shifted, as much as it has “stretched”. Modern women (especially those who live by traditional rules too) are struggling in a world where self-realisation means conquering a male world, while a female identity depends on mastering traditional female duties.
  • Feminising the male frontier: as young South African women become more independent, they are becoming a force to be noticed in traditionally male brand categories and work environments. Added Value has found a growing interest in and profile in former exclusive male activities, e.g. women bikers, female taxi and Gautrain drivers, car mechanics, painters, etc.
  • Sisterhood: South African women form strong relationships to stand up for their rights. Many take on the role of community warriors, taking in homeless children, looking after HIV orphans or simply feed the less fortunate in the their neighbourhoods.
  • Go-getters: South African women are taking every opportunity to better themselves, even if this means having multiple jobs. They embrace female individuality because they have been dominated by politics and societal norms and now express their desire to do things their way and to choose their preferred lifestyle option. They admire women who are cool and trendy, but she must always be true to herself. Honesty and authenticity are highly valued by South African women.
  • Woman’s pride: South African women are proud to be women. They are aware that women are the backbone of African society, they participated in the struggle for freedom, raised  their children alone and helped to empower communities. Yet, they have never emulated the male role and rather embrace and celebrate their way of womanhood – a combination of endurance, inner strength and empathy. Resulting from the celebration of  South African womanhood is a strong sense of renewed cultural delight,  expressed ethnic styles often fused with modern influences, to create a very distinctive South African style.
  • Different to her mother’s generation: young South African 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 fills her world with things she connects to emotionally. She buys things that make her feel good about herself. And things that engage her by how they look, what they say and the relationships they represent.

There are some themes that marketers can build upon to create more meaningful connections with women:

  1. Celebrate uniqueness: women despise generic and diluted campaigns that play on female stereotypes, such as the busy housewife cleaning up ‘happily’ while her husband actively plays with the kids, or the ‘pink-washing’ of female identity which objectifies her identity and body and reduces her to ‘dumb bimbo’ or worse, to sole object of desire for the male gaze. Women know exactly what they want and need. If you want to connect to her celebrate her uniqueness rather than stereotypes. Levi’s for example found out that 60% of women think that their jeans are conceived for an ideal shape and have to try at least 11 to find one that fits. The result was creating the Levi’s Curve ID line. It utilises a unique, custom fit system focusing on a woman’s shape and proportions, not her size. It was a revolution for women and has provided huge global commercial success for Levi’s.
  2. Stay connected: tap into the social web – it’s where women are increasingly talking, so you can’t afford not to be. Social networking has always been a vital part of how women make purchasing decisions as they frequently ask friends for recommendations. The internet and social media allow her to network better and faster as she can share and receive any information immediately.
  3. Acknowledge the complexity in her life: develop tactical campaigns that empower women and help her overcome the stresses resulting from the multiple roles she has to take. Convenience and time-saving count high. Again, don’t just portray the mother, the working mum, the cook, the wife. She might be all at once and she wants to be celebrated for this. Make her the hero in your brand story, not the accessory.
  4. Help them be and do good: South African women care, they are strong empathisers, which is partly driven by South African history and current social circumstances, as well as by the sense of obligation women feel to ‘put back’ into the community. Honesty, authenticity and ethical commitment rank high among young women who want to make sure that their compassion corresponds with the brand’s value they use.
  5. Forget the detail: it’s the story that sells, especially one with a twist in the tale. Fact is, women want to know the benefits of a product and are less interested in product details. Porsche, for example, launched the winning ‘Engineered for Magic – Everyday’ campaign in the US in 2011. Rather than talking about speed and technology, the automaker focused on the everyday, showing the car as a lifestyle choice and ‘hero’ing’ its versatility. Unusual for a sports car brand, the ads figure women picking up their children from school, going shopping, etc. And it’s worked. According to an analysis from Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for automotive information, of all automakers, Porsche has made the largest relative market share gains among women in the US. From January through August 2011, 23% of Porsche buyers were female, compared to 19% during the same period last year. The growth accounts for a 21.1% proportional change, year on year. The recent South African Toyota commercial, ‘Toughness Rubs Off’, also takes a different stance, telling a fun and emotive story.
  6. Respect her: coming from a patriarchal society where men have traditionally been seen as the stronger, South African women still battle to be respected for what they are instead of what they wear or look like. The SlutWalk campaign, as well as the Bree Street taxi rank miniskirt march in Johannesburg, are indications of women’s call for respect. Both the campaign and the march were intended to emphasise that women have the right to wear what they wish and should not be victimised over their appearance.

“This gender tension provides a rich platform for marketers to engage in a genuine discourse with South African women which support their need for respect. Think of Dove’s older Campaign for Real Beauty, which connected with women through debunking stereotype ideas of beauty and femininity. The recent South African Lil-lets campaign ‘We are Women’ pays tribute to all women. There are no stereotypes or condescending representation of women and their lives. The campaign is authentic, sincere and differentiating,” concludes Crosswaite.

SOURCE: Added Value, www.added-value.com, provides consultancy on brand development and marketing insight for iconic brands, both big and small, around the world. It helps solve clients’ central marketing questions about market, equity, positioning, innovation and communications. Added Value is part of Kantar, WPP’s consumer insight and consultancy group.



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