Celebrating the difference

25 Mar,2012

By Shalini Rawla


Standing in a queue, waiting for your turn can be quite an enervating experience. But not if you keep yourself occupied with a weird kind of game – guess the gender of the baby who is staring back at you while the unsuspecting mother ahead of you holds the baby in her arms, haplessly waiting for her turn. Notice if the baby engages with you and makes eye contact. Is your smile returned? Or does the baby have your face last on the priority list – everything else that you carry – your mobile phone, spectacle frame, jewelry, bag etc. hold the baby’s attention more than your face? Chances are the former is a baby girl and the latter a boy.


Dr Louann Brizendine, MD, author of the brilliant book The Female Brain explains how we are hard wired to behave differently as two genders right from the time when a foetus turns eight weeks in the womb. We are different as men and women. And shall remain so. A fact we must celebrate. And as marketers thoroughly understand. But have we been able to display that depth of understanding in our marketing strategies? While marketers routinely differentiate between men and women as target audience, brand strategies don’t often make this distinction. Does that mean a woman’s floor in a retail store should be all pink and men’s all blue? No. That is typecasting. Trouble is that most brand managers do not know the difference between typecasting and original casting. Who do you consider as more gender neutral – Hamleys who consciously removed “sexist” signs dividing its toys into boys and girls departments after being accused of gender stereotyping or Harley-Davidson who has been marketing to women for many years in several of the iconic motorcycle brand’s digital initiatives and promotional events?


As a responsible marketer, we all know we must steer clear of all gender stereotypes. But today responsible marketing is mere posturing as a lot of what most marketers do is done in a vacuum. They do not know how to go beyond the gender demographics and celebrate the differences. To them male and female segments are like two boxes and each can be unboxed with the same strategy. They would rather be seen as politically correct than leverage those differences for a better engagement with their customers. Knowing the differences mean you know intimate details about your customers. Marketing to them differently does not mean you are being sexist. A bolder step for Hamleys would have been to continue with the two departments but tailor make the same remote controlled car for a girl child and that for a boy child.


In a study titled, “Men Buy, Women Shop,” researchers at Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative and the Verde Group, a Toronto consulting firm state that women think of shopping in an inter-personal, human fashion and men treat it as more instrumental. It’s a job to get done. In their book Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, Barbara and Allan Pease explain why women are different from men in much the same way as Brizendine does, going back to how our brains are wired and how hormones dictate our behaviors.


All this is good information to arm yourself with. But how can one apply these learnings in the context of our culture, our society and mores? The answer is in keen observation, intent questioning and a dogged determination to convert the information into intelligence.


High involvement and reasonably unisex categories like apparel, fashion and personal care in a retail and shopping context bring out sharper gender differences. We all know that women while dressing up choose the top wear first and then the bottom wear. Men on the other hand usually choose the bottom wear first. There is a Freudian dimension of celebrating one’s sexuality hidden in what you choose to dress up first with. Hence a woman is likely to choose a top wear as her most fashionable outfit and men are most likely to consider their bottom wear as more fashionable. Top wear for men is ‘cool and comfortable’ which has a different and lower fashion quotient from the ‘sexy and snug’ bottom wear. The reverse is true for women. Armed with this knowledge a marketer can position his brands accordingly. And it is not just about communicating to them differently. It is about how you display the stuff for them as well.


Women have never been able to figure out why men have so many blue coloured shirts. But men consider each of their blue hues a different colour! Voila! There lies the answer to the age-old conundrum a fashion retail head asks constantly – should it be a colour block display or should it be theme based display? Well just go ahead and display differently for the two genders. The nuances and differences continue further. Ask both genders to buy an outfit for a date they are going for. The woman knows clearly which stores to go to but is confused on what to buy. The man on the other hand knows exactly what he wants and sets out to get that from where he thinks it will be available. Men dress up to go on a date (the occasion) and their dressing is not likely to change on the basis of whom they are meeting. Women dress up for the date (the individual) and their choice of outfits may be different for different dates. Imagine the possibilities in merchandise, display and service that a fashion brand can offer.From a market research standpoint, the academic community has done most of the work on psychographic and behavioristic segmentation – leading to a point where we have ready-made, validated, agreed and fully published papers. Gender is one of the easier customer attributes to address in a strategic fashion. Truly sophisticated marketers could get into attempting to differentiate services by gender. True engagement is all about celebrating the difference.


-The author is Managing Consultant at The Key Consumer Diagnostics.



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