Are marketers ready for a woman's world?

How will brands adapt to reflect the new female-led political climate, Sarah Golding asks.

Let me start with an admission. I’m not particularly into "women’s issues" and this isn’t a particularly feminist piece. 

I applaud the work of Wacl to empower and encourage young women in communications. But I think the marketing and advertising industry has been a pretty female-friendly profession for some time, and we see women leading many of our best agencies and strongest brands across the softer fashion sectors as well as harder ones such as utilities and banks. I think this is great – not because they are great women but because they are great people. And I like my job because I get to work with great people. 

However, in the new political climate in which women hold leadership positions in Germany, the UK and, I hope, the US, I started to wonder what impact this might have on the environment in which marketing operates. Are we about to enter a time when the behaviours of our female leaders set the tone for a different approach to marketing? 

My conclusion is no. Rather, some of the trends in marketing and advertising we have seen over recent years are, I think, bound to accelerate as we see female leadership traits as the new normal at the upper echelons of power. 

Different leadership styles

So how do women lead? There have been many reports into this. Most agree that women score better on the typically feminine traits, such as being more compassionate and nurturing of others. So we could well see the continued growth of brands focusing on their social agendas in the way Unilever has so successfully in recent years. 

But we also see that female leaders often display very stereotypically "male" traits too – for example, they actually work harder and longer than men. Does this mean we’ll see more brands focusing on how dedication and determination deliver results in life? This would certainly be a welcome counter to the pervasive get-rich-quick worlds of teenage Silicon Valley billionaires and pop-idol wannabes. 

One fascinating trait of female leaders is that they tend to be more humble about their own strengths and effectiveness. Male leaders often have an over-inflated opinion of their own ability, whereas female leaders tend to rate themselves lower than how others rate them. Again, I wonder if this could lead to an increase in a more self-effacing and modest approach from brands. We already see previously "macho" brands such as Lynx celebrating the average man and, quite possibly, many more brands could follow suit. I could easily see style-oriented companies selling less of a perfect and proud image and, instead, take an unshowy and reserved approach. 

Brands such as Lynx are already celebrating the average man

Above all, every study agrees that female leaders are more democratic and participative than their male counterparts. Men tend to adopt a "command and control" style, whereas women prefer to gather many views, listen to counterarguments and embrace collegiate decision-making. This could have a huge impact on the way social media grows. The European Union referendum has undoubtedly turned Facebook into far more of a debating chamber than it has ever been before, and female leaders will surely see all social media as a valuable tool for listening to and engaging with audiences. And I am sure brands will busily follow suit, elevating the importance and meaning of the conversations they have with their fans and friends.

And what about marketing to women these days? Are we going to see a move by female brands to position themselves as the choice of strong, leading women? Maybe – and that wouldn’t be a bad thing. But it remains true that women still want to be seen as women, not quasi-men, and fashion brands mustn’t sacrifice style for substance entirely. As a report in that thinking-woman’s newspaper the Daily Mail showed, women who still look and act in a feminine way actually do better in business and public life. Those kitten heels of Theresa’s aren’t going to be shelved for a pair of stout brogues just yet.

A new dawn for politics

But you know what really strikes me about the new female political era? It just feels more grown-up. For too long, men have been seemingly playing at politics with their posh friends, their silly haircuts, their love children and their phoney wars. But our new female leaders just have an air of wanting to actually do the job, genuinely serve the public and improve lives. They are leading a more politically engaged audience and facing real human challenges. And I think they will prevail. They will set a more decent course and we will be relieved to be following them. 

And the brands that thrive under their watch will be those that also strive to do the right thing for everyone. The brands with a purpose, heart and integrity are about to have their day, and the silly brands for the silly boys at the back of the class might need to rethink their futures. Welcome to the end of girl power because, today, it’s girls in power.

Sarah Golding is the chief executive and partner at CHI & Partners

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