Caitlin Iles recently presented on how women offer businesses the greatest commercial opportunity of our lifetime. But only a handful of men showed up to hear her talk. It’s not just lazy for male marketers to be uninterested, it’s commercial negligence.
On International Women’s Day (IWD) last week, I felt like a lot of other women around Australia – and the world. I felt that we may actually be getting somewhere in terms of recognising the value of women in our community, economy and the significant role they have in future-proofing our world. That it was time to honestly acknowledge and address the diversity issue within the community and organisations. That the business community at large was starting to understand the commercial opportunity and imperative that women represent to our economy. That we were ready to move beyond the warm, fuzzy and humanistic approach, which really hasn’t managed to get more than half the Australian population the outcome that we are looking for and adopt a far more powerful discussion that would deliver results and what women want.
What do women want – especially those in business? Real change and a new, commercially-savvy dialogue. When do we want it?
IWD brought with it lively protest, active conversation across social media & the news was packed with stories of exceptional women in business. Each event and story highlighted that there is not a competence issue around female talent. In fact, women have been shown to deliver higher returns on investment and use resources more efficiently and effectively. And there were all those posts from men in the business community, voicing the importance of equal balance of women that made it feel like the dial was really shifting. Further, the instillation of the Fearless Girl in the financial district of Manhattan opposite the Charging Bull, served as a powerful symbol that maybe 2017 signified a REAL change.
But a week later, this optimistic ideal was interrupted by the reality that, in fact, we have a very, very, very long road ahead of us. You see, things really haven’t evolved as much we would like.
On March 15, exactly 7 days after that IWD high, I delivered a keynote address at ad:tech in Sydney. My presentation was well attended, garnered a decent amount of commentary online and those in the room were genuinely engaged. However, one thing stood out clearly – where were all the men?
In a room that seated approximately 200 people, only 5 were men. Having come from a male-dominated industry before, I NEVER assumed that the room wouldn’t have a healthy representation of men. Instead there were 5 men and around 195 women. Essentially, I was wrong, and I was shocked.
I’m the first one to advocate for women taking their seat at the table (and the ad:tech conference) but this was one event where an equal proportion of men should, purely for commercial reasons, have been in the room – not less. Why? The discussion was about The Disruptive Dollar = Women. The Greatest Commercial Opportunity of Our Lifetime. This is not just marketing hype and effective PR spin, but a topic based on hard data, making it a valid and well-researched business case. Given the changing face of the advertising, marketing and media landscape, increased competition for the dollar, and the impact of disruption, which is drastically reducing the lifespan of companies from more than 65 years in 1955 to less than 15 years today, surely the topic would be of interest to a market that rides on the back of the consumer dollar, more than 85% of which is controlled by women?
Clearly, IWD was so last week and the commercial imperative of embracing and better connecting with the female dollar is not being taken seriously or getting through. And that’s a major #brandfailher. A problem that, from a consumer marketing perspective, runs into the trillions of dollars.
If decision-making representatives attending a leading digital marketing conference, from industries that are supported predominantly by the female dollar, have no obvious interest in learning how to have meaningful and effective conversations with (statistically) the most valuable consumer market, real equality is still too far out of reach.
My keynote address was written to highlight the value of the female dollar and the opportunities that the industry is missing out on – especially when it comes to products that operate in traditionally male-marketed product categories. With a background in venture capital, my responsibility has been to reduce risk and maximise returns for investors. This objective carries through into my new venture, Xchange, an initiative that seeks to unlock the exceptionally valuable and powerful commercial potential of women in our workforce, economy and community. It’s a value that, currently, according to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), remains under-represented, under-valued, under-appreciated and alarmingly under-serviced.
Over the past 100 years, women have evolved as consumers faster and far more powerfully than men. As a result, women have earned the coveted position of being the ‘Chief Purchasing Officers’ of our economy. Women make 9 out of 10 of consumer purchases and, globally, are worth $28T of a $35T consumer-economy. So, why is the business world so uninvested (and apparently disinterested) in giving us what we want?
It’s confusing, but all evidence points to it being true. By refusing to make any real effort to learn how to fluently speak “woman” and not a pigeon version of it, agencies continue to fail to unlock and capture the full value of our dollar. Isn’t that why brands are engaging the services of agencies – ROI? Is it just me or are we not REALLY talking about the pink fluffy elephant in the room?
This is not just my opinion, in fact, research conducted by Boston Consulting Group shows that companies continue to:
- Offer women poorly-conceived products and services
- Market these using outdated marketing narratives that promote female stereotypes
- Miss out on an opportunity worth more than $5T.
What’s crazy about this, is that women are prepared to pay a premium and will remain loyal to products and services that meet their wants and needs. It’s actually a higher margin opportunity and one which, in today’s competitive environment, I don’t believe agencies and brands can afford to ignore.
The poor male attendance at ad:Tech this week highlighted the lack of interest. As a client of these said agencies, I would be asking “why weren’t the guys in the room”? Given the science and data to validate the value of the female dollar – why weren’t our male marketers, strategists, creatives & suits, etc., in the room to learn how we capture every one of these highly valuable dollars? Surely, failing to take the time to understand the “greatest commercial opportunity of our lifetime” is less about lazy behavior to be dealt with by a “tut-tut” and actually, closer to serious commercial negligence?
High-profile American news anchor, journalist and author, Tom Brokaw, described the 21st century as The Century of Women, in the same way that the 19th century, for example, is known as the Industrial Age. This century is well underway – and Tom is not alone in his insightful assessment – but it still has a lot of years left.
The success of the advertising industry to connect with this incredibly lucrative market in all those decades to come will rely on strategies based on data, collected from asking women what they want. Gone are the days where making a product pink or tying it up in a bow will deliver the results you seek. It’s lazy and condescending – don’t do it!
Invest in learning or engaging those who can teach you and your brands how to stop committing #brandfailher and actually speak woman. Disrupt the way you do business by embracing and learning how to capture the female dollar. According to BCG, the companies “that really get women and respond to their unmet needs with skill, nuance & genuine engagement will enjoy breakaway growth, unprecedented customer loyalty and category dominance”.
And that, after all, is the holy grail of marketing, right?