7 ways to engage better with women in comms

We’re finding that when we speak to women – of all ages – there is a strong sense that branded comms have not caught up with the changes in their lives and attitudes, and often don’t feel like they are ‘speaking to me’ Here are 7 ways to engage more effectively with women through comms, regardless of medium:
  1. Show work, respect and femininity
Comms targeting over 30s women very often define them in relation to someone else. The target audience is set as ‘women with children’ or “wife/partner”.   Although many women get satisfaction from being at the centre of everything in their lives and homes, it can also stress them. So when they are shown ‘women as housewife’ this risks tapping into all these negative emotions which can then be attached to the brand. Women have also never been more independent. Most work and women may even come to dominate the workforce. Defining women as mothers also excludes a very significant minority (the 1 in 4 women of childbearing age who are now childfree) Comms approaches that tap into this sense of independence, confidence, self-respect and respect from others in a positive way elicit a very warm response from women. Such is the power of showing women in this way, as individuals in their own right rather than defined by their relationships, that we would go as far as to say that there is a case for removing the woman as housewife from brand comms altogether.
  1. ‘Male pattern’ conversation won’t do for women
For men, conversation is likely to be mainly about ‘things’…football, the telly, some event, the hilarious thing that happened the other day. People will be mentioned but only as players in the story. The classic social currencies in these situations are either jokes or factoids. The whole conversation is a sort of competition – albeit often an entertaining one. Who can be the funniest? Who can demonstrate superior knowledge? Who can prove they are a winner? For women on the other hand, conversation will usually be all about people: what’s happened to so-and-so, who’s done what, who’s going out with who, who’s giving them a hard time. Feelings will be discussed and the discussion illuminated by stories and observations about others – the more detailed the better. Most importantly, the entire conversation will be about building closeness and establishing connections.   Brands need to reflect this in the way they speak to women. Be careful about being seen to speak too competitively (how this product is better than another). Focusing on users rather than products. Building empathy and bonds.  
  1. Women laugh ‘with’ not ‘at’
Handling humour right is a key way in which more female-pattern conversation can be had between brands and women   What women find funny can be very different from what men find funny. Female humour tends to be warmer and more affectionate, based on observations about people and their relationships.  By contrast, slapstick or cruel humour, which can work brilliantly for men, rarely works well for women. It it can be a more powerful tactic to entertain women in a subtle way that promotes recognition, rather than try to make them laugh out loud.
  1. Keep it positive
Put simply, we’ve found that women respond best to a positive tone. Implied criticism or seeing people suffer turns them right off. Using music to generate a feel-good factor works hard for them, especially because women listen to lyrics and can often empathize with a link between the song and their lives. Women also appreciate an all-girls together chatty style when this is relevant to the product field as it is with fashion and food.
  1. Don’t “diss” men (too much!)
Interestingly, women really appreciate comms that make them feel better about men. This comes from the context of women taking on more and more responsibility in the partnership which makes them whinge about their partners. Comms that run men down risk tapping into all these negative emotions which can then be attached to the brand.   Women enjoy seeing a more aspirational picture instead – provided the communication that makes men look good also feels credible.
  1. Make images of women credibly aspirational
Still on the subject of what’s aspirational yet credible….   Marketers have always known that (whatever they might tell us) women don’t want to see their real, everyday selves reflected in advertising. They want something a bit better. This principle still holds but the way it’s executed is often not working for women nowadays. The growing social pressure to look thin, young and beautiful at any age combined with the increase in average weight of mainstream women means that the so-called aspirational images of women they see in most comms are often so far away from being realistic that they simply end up communicating ‘not for me’. How women want to see themselves depicted is in a way that feels credibly aspirational to them. As weight is the biggest issue or most, they respond best to the pretty and young(ish) but slightly larger women normally only seen on ads for diet foods and plus size clothing. When celebrities are used, the definition of ‘credibly aspirational’ tends to be one of three things; younger women who are feminine, attractive, likeable and also known for their achievements (like Fern Cotton); or women who have had a hard time and dealt with it with dignity (like Angeline Jolie); or women over 40 who are attractive and still in the public eye (like Julianne Moore).
  1. Online is a naturally feminine medium
The internet is of course a godsend for marketers who want to talk to women because it reflects the way they prefer to operate – building relationships ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’. Women can time-shift their shopping and research to suit their busy, busy lives and access reviews, conversations and advice from peers.  Companies with good digital and social media strategies get credit for helping relieve some of the pressure women are under, putting them back in control, and communicating with them more directly.   We believe there is considerable scope for marketers to gain advantage by engaging with the real world of women – rather than sticking to outmoded social models. We will be very happy to discuss this with you in more detail.

Maddy Morton


Maddy is Director of Lucid. She has been described as a 'maestra' with groups of people and is appreciated for her passion and commitment as well as the clarity of her strategic thinking, insight and expression. Maddy began her career in advertising at Ogilvy and BBH and then worked at the Arts Council, English National Opera, AEA consulting and Stimulating World Research before setting up Lucid.

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