Can women be better marketers?

Chair person: Executive chairs often discourage women from wearing Indian clothes like saris or salwar kameez with dupatta. - SHUTTERSTOCK/BIKERIDERLONDON

This is not a flavour-of-the-week thought, because tomorrow happens to be International Women’s Day. Some in marketing actually believe there is a lot of merit in that question

Did you know how the Ford Motor Company came up with door handles that one can wrap one’s fingers around, like a tight clasp of hands? Marketing legend has it that most automobiles came with door handles where one had to slide fingers under the handle and pull the handle to open the door. A woman engineer at Ford was upset that this process took a toll on carefully maintained fingernails.

This may not be an earth-shattering consumer insight. But when the wraparound door handle came on car doors, it surely made many women consumers smile. Kate J Sweetman of Sweetman & Associates Leadership Consulting and a Visiting Scholar at MIT's Legatum Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, narrated this anecdote in Mumbai a couple of years ago on International Women’s Day.

While Sweetman was demonstrating the importance of gender diversity in the workplace, there are others who believe that the fairer sex can play a major role in product development. A woman CEO from an Indian company who declines to be identified throws some light on other product deficiencies that women can solve. Women executives wearing Indian clothes or a salwar kameez with a dupatta can never sit on executive chairs, she says. The reason: the dupatta or the pallu of the sari can always get stuck under the wheel of the chair and do the damage. Or, she asks, why cannot conveyor belts that deliver check-in baggage in airports be designed better to help single woman travellers offload their suitcases without too much effort?

But can women make better marketers? A CEO from a large consumer goods company thinks there is a distinct advantage for women in the marketing profession. In so many categories from basics like the toothpaste and washing powder to higher end household appliances such as the washing machine and the refrigerator, the woman in the household is a key decision-maker. Deepa Misra Harris, Senior Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, Taj Hotels and Resorts, says, “Women are a very powerful segment and are making more and more decisions in the house or even how discretionary spends have to be made. They are a very exciting target audience who give marketers the flexibility to do exciting messaging and for brands to resonate with women they need to have deep consumer insights.” She adds that the Taj group for instance is looking at how to reach out to single women travellers and looking at designing and customising packages with their point of view. “While single women travellers do not want to be treated differently, certain sensitive nuances do come into play when it comes to security and safety, especially in the current day scenario.”

Others who do not squarely target women in their communication do not want to alienate them altogether. Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV says, “It will be difficult to determine whether women or kids are making the key decisions in choosing DTH connections. But we focus more on approaching families.” He adds that while the general entertainment channels have a huge female viewership, sports channels are more male-focused. “While women make key decisions, when it comes to our positioning, we focus more on wooing families as our product is something that everyone can enjoy together.”

Another senior marketer estimates that in 70 per cent of product categories the decision-maker is a woman, even if she is a housewife. “The chief wage-earner might be paying the bill, but it is the woman who makes the choice,” he says. Harris adds saying that women as target audiences are making higher discretionary spends and are making more and more decisions, and it is important to keep them in mind.

Consumer insights major Nielsen India believes the balance is tilting further in the favour of women. The research agency says that even in categories such as financial services or automobiles, considered as a traditional male bastion, women are making inroads and calling the shots in the purchase decisions (see story below). The chief executive who prefers to remain unidentified says, “Women are taking the majority of purchase decisions. And as the popular adage goes, men do not understand women. Then who can understand them better? Hence, women marketers are better equipped to understand women consumers,” he says.

Second, women have a higher emotional quotient than men. They have a better response to emotions and feelings and are a lot more expressive than men. In the marketing function, advertising, packaging, design and so on require a better grasp over emotions, swinging the vote in favour of the fairer sex.

Third, women multitask a lot more in their lives. At home they can manage the household chores and still attend to kids and also catch up on television. They certainly carry that multitasking ability into the workplace. The marketing function also requires a multi-tasker, like a juggler, who can control multiple things like price, promotion, supply chain, digital, PR and fire-fight at the same time. The multitasking expected from marketers makes women better suited for the role.

Finally, it boils down to the left brain versus the right brain. While most left-brain marketers, the typical engineering-MBA combination, have a terrific command over data analytics and research part of the marketing function, most women use the right brain to great advantage. “They take leaps based on intuition and move in far more confidently,” says a CEO of a large consumer goods company. “Hence the team effort of both left-brain men and right-brain women will be a powerful combination for companies,” he adds.

“I wouldn’t want to make a gender difference when it comes to delivering on goals,” says Harris. She finds support in Anisha Motwani. Director and Chief Marketing Officer, Head - Marketing, Direct Sales & E-Commerce, Max Life Insurance, who says, “Gender has no role to play in the making of a good marketer.” Clearly, the debate is not over. Watch this space.

Published on March 06, 2014

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