Why gender-based marketing is bad for business | Gaby Barrios

Like a lot of people around the world, earlier this summermy friends and I were obsessed with the Women's World Cup held in France.

Here we are, watchingthese incredible athletes, the goals were amazing, the games were clean and engaging, and at the same time, outside the field, these women are talking about equal pay, and in the case of some countries, any pay at all for their sport.

So because we were mildly obsessed, we wanted to watch the games live, and we decided that one ofthe Spanish-speaking networks in the US was the best place for us to start.

And it wasn't until a few gamesinto the tournament that a friend of minetalks to me and says, “Why does it feellike everything I'm seeing is commercials for makeup andhousehold cleaning products and diets?” It did feel a little bit too obvious, and I don't know ifwe were sensitive about it or the fact that we were watchingwith men and boys in our lives, but it did feel a little bit too obvious that we're being targeted for being women.

And to be honest there's nothingnecessarily wrong with that.

Someone sat down and lookedat the tournament and said, “Well, this thing is likelyto be seen by more women, these women are Hispanicbecause they're watching in Spanish, and this is women content.

Therefore, this is a great placefor me to place all these commercials that are female-centricand maybe not other things.

” If I think about it as a marketer, I know that I absolutelyshould not be annoyed about it, because this is what marketersare tasked with doing.

Marketers are tasked with building brandswith very limited budget, so there's a little bit of an incentive to categorize people in buckets so they can reach their target faster.

So if you think about this, it's kind of like a shortcut.

They're using gender as a shortcutto get to their target consumer.

The issue is that as logicalas that argument seems, gender as a shortcutis actually not great.

In this day and age, if you still blindly use a gender view for your marketing activities, actually it's just plain bad business.

I'm not talking even about the backlashon stereotypes in advertising, which is a very real thingthat has to be addressed.

I'm saying it's bad business becauseyou're leaving money on the table for your brands and your products.

Because gender is such an easy thingto find in the market and to target and to talk about, it actually distracts youfrom the fun things that could be driving growthfrom your brands and, at the same time, it continues to createseparation around genders and perpetuate stereotypes.

So at the same timethis activity is bad for your business and bad for society, so double whammy.

And gender is one of those thingslike other demographics that have historically beengood marketing shortcuts.

At some point, however, we forgot that at the corewe were targeting needs around cooking and cleaningand personal care and driving and sports and we just made it all a bucket and we said, “Men and womenare different.

” We got used to it andwe never challenged it again, and it's fascinating to me, and by fascinating I meana little bit insane, that we still talk about this as a segment when it's most likely carryover bias.

In fact, I don't cometo this conclusion lightly.

We have enough data to suggestthat gender is not the best place to start for you to designand target your brands.

And I would even go one step further: unless you are working ina very gender-specific product category, probably anything else you're hypothesizingabout your consumer right now is going to be more useful than gender.

We did not set up to drawthis conclusion specifically.

We found it.

As consultants, our jobis to go with our clients and understand their business and try to help them find spacesfor their brands to grow.

And it is our belief that if you wantto find disruptive growth in the market, you have to go to the consumer and take a very agnostic viewof the consumer.

You have to go and lookat them from scratch, remove yourself from biases and segmentsthat you thought were important, just take a look to seewhere the growth is.

And we built ourselvesan algorithm precisely for that.

So imagine that we have a person and we know a person is making a choice about a product or service, and from this person, I can know their gender, of course, other demographics, where they live, their income, other things.

I know the context wherethis person is making a decision, where they are, who they're with, the energy, anything, and I can also putother things in the mix.

I can know their attitudes, how they feel about the category, their behaviors.

So if you imagine this kind of blobof big data about a person — I'm going to oversimplify the science here but we basically built an algorithmfor statistical tournaments.

So a statistical tournamentis like asking this big thing of data, “So, data, from everythingyou know about consumers at this point, what is the mostuseful thing I need to know that tells me moreabout what consumers need?” So the tournament is goingto have winners and losers.

The winners are those variables, those dimensions, that actually teach you a lotabout your consumer, that if you know that, you know what they need.

And there's losing variablesthat are just not that practical, and this matters becausein a world of limited resources, you don't want to waste it on peoplethat actually have the same needs.

So why treat them differently? So at this point, I know, suspense is not killing you, because I told you what the output is, but what we found over time is after 200 projects around the world –this is covering 20 countries or more — in essence we ran abouta hundred thousand of these tournaments, and, no surprise, gender was very rarelythe most predictive thing to understand consumer needs.

From a hundred thousand tournaments, gender only came outas the winning variable in about five percent of them.

This is true around the world, by the way.

We did this in placeswhere traditional gender roles are a little more pronounced, and the conclusions were exactly the same.

It was a little bit more important, gender, than five percent, but not material.

So let's let that sink in for a second.

No matter how you're lookingat a consumer, most likely anything else is goingto be more interesting to you than gender.

There's probably something very importantyou need to know about them, and you're getting distracted becauseyou're doing everything based on gender.

And that's why I say you're leavingmoney on the table.

Gender is easy.

It's easy to designadvertising based on gender, it's easy to target people onlineand on TV based on gender.

But at the end, that's not wherethe exciting growth will come from.

If you're a food company, for example, it's actually much more interesting to you to know where people are eating, who they are eating with, are they very nutritionally oriented.

All of those things are actuallysignificantly more powerful and useful than knowing if a personis a man or a woman.

And that matters, of course, because then if you're puttingyour limited budget into action, then you're better off creatingsolutions for different occasions than trying to target womenversus young men.

Another example is alcoholic beverages.

Thirty-five percent to 40 percentof consumption in alcoholic beverages around the worldactually happens with women, but, you know, “women don't drink beer.

” Those are the thingsthat we typically hear.

But actually, when a man and a woman are, for the most part, in the same location, the emotional and functional needsthey have at that moment are very similar.

There's only one exception, by the way, and the exceptions exist, where if you have a man and a woman on a date, the man is trying to impress the woman and the woman is tryingto connect with the man, so there's going to bea little bit of tension, but that's important to know.

We'll take a few dates.

Financial institutions:that's something where we've heard a lot about the differencebetween men and women, but actually talking aboutmen and women as different is distracting youfrom the thing that is underneath.

We made it so simpleas “women don't like to invest, ” “women hate managing their money, ” “men are great and aggressiveand risk-takers, ” but at the end it's notabout men and women.

It is actually a different narrative.

It is about, there are peoplethat are excited and energized and educated to manage their finances versus people that are not.

So if you change the conversation from men and womento actually what's underneath then probably you'll stop beingso condescending to women and you may start serving some men that are actually shyabout managing their finances.

I'll leave one more example.

If I go back to the womenthat were playing sport at the beginning, one of the fascinating things we foundover different countries, exploring sportswear, that if a person is a competitive person and they are in the moment of action, the needs are not differentbetween a man and a woman.

An athlete is an athlete.

It doesn't matter for men and women, it doesn't matter for old and young, you are an athlete, and in the moment of actionand extreme competition, you need this gear to work for you.

So these soccer-playing women havea lot in common with their counterparts.

Out of the field, it doesn't matter.

Out of the field, they may beinto fashion, into other things, but on the field, the needs are not different.

So these are just a few exampleson categories where we found that gender was not the best place to go, and actually the argument is that at this pointit's not even a feminist push, it's just we got used to it.

We got used to using gender, and it's important for usto start finding ways to measure other things about consumers so that we don't revert back to gender.

I am not naïve, and I know there's stillgoing to be appetite and certain ease around using gender, but at least this warrants a conversation.

In your business, you have to inquire, is this really the best lensfor me to grow.

So, if you are, like me, a person that is in business, that I am constantly worriedabout what is my role in the broader societal discussions, if you're listening to your businessand you hear things like, “Oh, my target are women, my target are men, this goes to young girls, young boys, ” when it's that gender conversation, unless you are working, again, in a very specific, gender-specific product category, take this as a warning sign, because if you keephaving these conversations, you will keep perpetuatingstereotypes of people and making people thinkthat men and women are different.

But because this is business, and we're running a business, and we want to grow it, at least kind of challengeyour own instinct to use gender, because statistics say that you'reprobably not choosing the best variable to target your product or service.

Growth is not easy at all.

What makes you thinkthat growth is going to come from going into marketwith such an outdated lens like gender? So let's stop doing what's easyand go for what's right.

At this point, it's not justfor your business, it's for society.

Thank you.


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