The Golden Rule of Marketing to Women

by | Dec 13, 2016

lcb_brandbriefwinter2016headerWhen asked to align this quarter’s Brand Brief with the editorial theme of the overall publication [the Winter 2016 edition of Omaha B2B magazine with the theme of women in marketing – Ed.], my first thoughts turned to satire. After all, there is no shortage of bad marketing to lampoon, nor is just a small amount of it targeted at women. But then the fear arose that some in the audience (not you, of course) might take such satire seriously. Seeing it at best as a middle-aged white guy’s attempt to mansplain the finer points of selling to the gender that is not his own; or, at worst, a guide worth following. Plus, if I can’t end with the literary equivalent of Slim Pickens riding off into the nuclear sunset atop an H-bomb, what’s the point?

Nonetheless, as the Brand Brief is geared – however dubiously – towards offering helpful advice for my fellow marketers, I will attempt shed some light on advertising to women. All I ask is that you please read the entire piece before tweeting me a stink eye GIF or Willy Wonka meme. Thank you.

The foundation of any successful advertising campaign, to women or otherwise, is what I call the Golden Rule of Marketing. I call it that because it’s a wholesale appropriation of the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12 and formerly taught in kindergarten before the New Math confused society’s collective moral compass or something. In this case, the Golden Rule of Marketing is defined as “market unto others as you would have them market unto you.”

The beauty of this purloined proverb is that, when followed, one avoids committing any number of marketing sins. Do you want to be shouted at? Then don’t shout at the consumer. Do you want to watch a boring ad? Then don’t create boring ads. Do you want more spam? Then go forth and spam not.

Applied to the specific task of marketing to women, the Golden Rule of Marketing actually keeps it more generalized, forcing you, the marketer, to consider your audience not as a collective group sporting double-X chromosomes, but as individual human beings. Like, I assume, you are. Treat women like the people they are and not the bottomless pool of profits you hope them to be.

Of course, we see painful violations of this spread throughout the advertising landscape. Often, this involves a headline that sounds like it came from Oprah’s third cousin thrice removed. And unless you really are The Oprah, calling someone “girlfriend” while marketing wrinkle-free business attire just doesn’t ring true. In fact, it signals that your brand isn’t strong enough to have a real personality of its own and, instead, is content to glom onto an individual’s or subgroup’s cultural cachet in hopes that it rubs off on your company in a lucrative way. Which it won’t.

Having written for companies whose target customers were either mainly women (Walmart) or almost exclusively women (Beauty Brands), I can guarantee you that no one ever gets upset at or tunes out from messages that are smart, interesting and focused on solving a problem or fulfilling a desire. It’s the awkward, tone-deaf sucking up that does you in.

Today, we live in an increasingly fractious and fractured society. One in which, from a marketing perspective, it is easy to assume every sub-niche of an already divvied-up demographic demands a certain level of magic “ingratiation” dust to be successful. But while we should always strive to know our customers and relate to them on their own terms, we would be wise to always think of them as people first and purchasers 143rd.

Do that, and your marketing to women or men or Millennials or Boomers or Oprah groupies has a much, much better chance of being golden.

This column originally appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Omaha B2B magazine which had a pub-wide theme of women in business.

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