Why brands still come up short with millennial women

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(Photo courtesy  Klearchos Kapoutsis via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy Klearchos Kapoutsis via Flickr)

A new study reveals that young women are a demanding target to engage

Women expect a lot from their brand relationships, and millennials expect even more.

That's the conclusion of a recent study by Harmelin Media and Womenkind (a marketing and communications company that helps brands strengthen their relationships with women). It found that millennial women — those born between 1980 and 1995 — are far more demanding in their relationships with brands than previous generations.

That’s not a problem, but this is: The study also found that big brands aren’t very engaging to female consumers.

The study surveyed approximately 450 men and women about their expectations of brands in the snack category. It measured brand health through the eyes of women by surveying their relationship with the Oreo, Little Debbie, Entenmann’s and Blue Diamond Brands. Its conclusion was that marketers are wasting millions of dollars in media and creative by not building stronger relationships with women.

"Through this research we saw that men and women are different, but we also saw that generationally the millenials are different than the Gen Xers and the boomers as well," Mary Meder, president of Harmelin Media, told Campaign.

Meder said seeing how demanding millennial women are was the biggest surprise to emerge from the study. Ninety-five percent of millennial women said that a brand should "adapt to my needs."

"The most interesting thing is that women expect more than men, and millennial women expect even more than previous generations," she said. "It’s incredible how demanding millennial women are. It’s fantastic."

Meder said 85 percent of all buying decisions are made by women, and she doesn’t understand why advertisers aren’t doing more to reach them.

"There’s a blind spot there," she said.

According to the findings, 67 percent of women said they "appreciate brands that make me the hero vs. themselves the hero." For men, it was 59 percent. Meder said American Express got it right with its recent Tina Fey spots.

"They didn’t just talk about the card," she said. "They showed her actually juggling her children and her job, and she ends up being the hero by way of using the card."

Kristi Faulkner, president of Womenkind, told Campaign the study showed women have more complex expectations about brands than men do.

"Women expect so much more from brands and brand communications. They expect a relationship," Faulkner said.

It’s more intense for millennials.

"Millennial women expect brands to be more personal to them," said Bernie Shimkus, vice president of research at Harmelin. "They expect them to able to inspire them and understand them on a one-to-one basis."

According to Meder, a big part of the problem is that large brands like Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson haven’t been honest enough when communicating with women. She pointed to a startup called HelloFlo as an example of a company that became an instant success because it dealt honestly about a subject the big brands dance around.

"The most female of all categories would be sanitary protection," Meder said. "For years it’s been the same old story. Well, HelloFlo came out with a really enaging, different kind of story about the most personal thing to women, which is menstruation. It was clever, it was honest, it was transparent, and it had a little bit of fun."

Incredibly, HelloFlo's unique ad got more than 28 million views on YouTube. It’s edgy and risky in ways seldom seen in ads from big brands. But 28 million views is enough to raise some eyebrows. At least, you’d think it would be.

"It seems so simple, but it’s so hard to convince them that women are different than men," Faulkner said. "Our survey found that, especially in consumer packaged-good products, people are doing it fine and OK, but nobody’s doing it exceptionally well. It’s astounding."

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