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From invisible consumers to visible voices

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 20, 2018

‘Design mindfulness’ is an important strategy in the new economy

Women are now emerging as an influential target group. But is being visible, enough?



Influencer marketing is the biggest buzzword today. But hey, guess who marketers consider as influencers today? Mom bloggers are right up there as a powerful community that companies are bending over backwards to engage with. And these are not just companies making women-centric products, but nearly every other company — from tech firms to hospitality giants.

Take the way computer technology firm Dell has started wooing mothers. Ritu Gupta, Director, Marketing, Consumer and Small Business, Dell India says, “We started engaging with mom bloggers last year during the Dell PC Literacy Days campaign on the occasion of World Computer Education Day. Our interactions with women and a research study initiated by us on PC user trends demonstrated how keenly involved mothers are in influencing a child’s PC usage.”

From being treated as invisible consumers, marketers are suddenly beginning to listen to the voices of women. There’s a powerful compulsion to do so. According to a BCG report the global ‘She Economy’ is worth over $5 trillion of incremental spending over the next several years. According to a study by Microsoft, Mindshare and Ogilvy & Mather, ‘digital divas’ are changing the shopping game as more and more technologically savvy women take to the online marketplace and do comparison ratings of everything from haircare to hotels. A growing band of women consumers are already buying everyday products online, forcing ecommerce retailers to make their sites points of experience rather than just transactional zones.

Women roar

In his book, ‘Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age’, management guru Tom Peters has written strong chapters on the marketplace power of women and how they are primary decision makers for almost every purchase imaginable. He also points out how women shop differently and marketers need to take cognizance of this. Writes Tom Peters, “Women as consumers express concerns that men don’t. Take the looming issue of genetically altered food. Seventy-one per cent of males say they would eat it; just 50 per cent of women. Fifty-nine per cent of men would feed genetically altered food to their children, while 37 per cent of women would.”

Peters also says design is the principle reason for emotional attachment (or detachment) to a product or service or experience. He sticks his neck out and says that men simply cannot design for women’s needs. And “design mindfulness” is an important strategy in the new economy.

Designing for women

Companies do seem to be heeding Peters. At the 2014 Auto Expo, the first signs of this were evident at the Maruti Suzuki pavilion where accessories exclusively aimed at women drivers were displayed. Maruti’s range of ‘Femtastic’ products include a GPRS tracker, a reverse-parking sensor, a multi-purpose safety tool with a flashlight, a belt cutter (to cut the seat belt in case of emergency) and a digital inflatable tyre changer. From coffee flasks to personalised shoe boxes, Maruti has developed accessories after researching what women want. Several women drivers apparently said they preferred to wear flat heels to drive and would like to change into high heels once they get off.

But Aparna Jain, who runs a marketing consultancy and has authored a book on challenges that confront working women, reserves her kudos to a designer — Tanya Heath — who has created a pair of beautiful shoes with detachable heels for women on the go who might have to attend a party straight from work.

Okay, so a lot of companies are now listening to what women want, but are they getting it right? Some are, but for the most part, marketers are lost in a pink bubble. So, they do cosmetic touches such as just changing the product colour to pink. As a result, pink automobiles (Honda has been guilty of that), pink scooters, pink helmets, and pink shaving razors have flooded the marketplace.

Also, as Jain points out, marketers in their communication campaigns are guilty of getting their messaging hopelessly wrong. Take the way most advertising around cars revolves around selling the macho dream and tends to show women as pretty props. “In the US, there are soccer moms who ferry kids around, do shopping errands, who are the biggest users of SUVs and yet carmakers rarely address women drivers in their advertising,” points out Jain.

Advertising, feels Anisha Motwani, business strategist and marketing consultant to the Max Group of Companies, has not kept pace with the pace of evolution of women in society today.

Gender stereotyping

Be it the mother and child interactions shown in an ad, or the husband and wife, they are rarely the mirror image of real life. An Ariel ‘Share the Load’ ad is an exception rather than the rule. Says Motwani, “When I look at my own self, who I am, as a person, the progress I have made in my life vis-a-vis my mother’s generation, the role I play in my family life, my corporate life, in society; and I try and see a reflection in advertising, I don’t see it.” But ask Motwani, why the communication language has not changed despite so many CMOs today being women and she reflects, “It is because you fall back on the common minimum denominator. Research may show a different picture in tier II or III cities — that people like us are in a minority. Research democratises the outcome, instead of giving you the flavours, the different facets.”

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Published on March 07, 2016
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