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How female consumers are changing “guy branding”


male-female This article also appeared on Finweek.com on 18-Dec-2013

Women playing rugby, our very own Banyana Banyana soccer team, women riding motorbikes, women driving sports cars, women drinking alcoholic drinks. More and more we are seeing women moving into traditionally male-dominated territory.  Is the move good or bad for masculine brands? Finweek unpacks the issues.

In his spare time, my late father was an avid DIY car enthusiast and engineer who could repair anything on wheels. I bought my first car at age 19, a second-hand first-generation Mini Cooper that needed lots of fixing. However my dad’s hands were too large to get into the tiny spaces between the car parts. So we worked as a team to fix my Mini. I would get my hands dirty while he would shine the torch and tell me what to do where. I learnt valuable lessons about the inner workings of a motorcar that way. He also taught me vital skills, such as how to change my tyres myself so that I didn’t need to rely on male strangers if I got a puncture. And so today we often joke about me knowing more about cars than my husband (although he has many other talents). But despite this, I still run up against the traditional male/female car stereotype when I take in my car for a service or repair. Very often the male service staff pretend the problem is more extensive and costly than it is, thinking I won’t know better because I’m a woman. Or they don’t take me seriously when I talk their car lingo or hint at what the problem could be. Why? Because cars are traditionally a man’s territory. Even in this day and age, there are still men who believe the only time women should be near car bonnets is if we are lounging on them dressed in bikinis.

The good news is that things are changing, albeit slowly.

Since the birth of advertising, retailers have intentionally created separate brands of the same products for men and women, even in cases where the products essentially do the same thing. Think Nivea moisturisers for men, versus Nivea  creams for women. It’s known as gendered branding. But studies indicate that loyal male customers often get annoyed when a traditionally masculine brand expands to include feminine products – especially in cases where men use that brand to convey their own identities. Harvard Business School senior lecturer Jill Avery calls this concept “gender contamination.”

If traditionally masculine brands can get the tricky gender move right, women represent a valuable untapped market that could unlock significant future sales growth.

Brands like Harley-Davidson and Porsche understand this.

There was a time when over 90% of Porsche owners were male. But since the brand added SUVs and four-door sedans to its line-up, that percentage has been declining. Today roughly 85% of Porsche customers in the US are male. According to Avery, culturally Porsches and men go together, as shown by her 2007 study showing that 91% of Porsche-driving TV and movie characters were men. By contrast, SUVs are often linked with women drivers. It’s no surprise then that some of Porsche’s male customers have difficulties sharing their beloved Porsche brand with women, feeling betrayed and mourning the breakdown of tradition, says Avery. But the risky strategy seems to have paid off handsomely for Porsche. The Cayenne SUV is not only Porsche’s best-selling model in the US. But also, in the first six months of 2013, Porsche’s sales climbed 31%, driven largely by the surge in female buyers of the Cayenne SUV and the Panamera sedan. The percentage of US Porsche sales by women customers has doubled from 8% to 15% since the launch of the two models, according to Porsche USA. The Cayenne has also proved to be the best-seller for Porsche here in South Africa (although similar gender stats didn’t seem to be available). As reported by Moneyweb, according to Naamsa (the National Association for Automobile Manufacturers South Africa), for the year ending July 2013, Porsche South Africa enjoyed a massive 72% growth in sales, compared to only 6% growth for passenger car sales. Much of this growth has been driven by sales of the Cayenne. It’s no surprise then that there has been a rising number of moms driving Porsche Cayennes at my children’s primary school. As further evidence of Porsche’s drive to attract women customers, Porsche’s Sport Driving School in the US runs a driving course exclusively for women (watch the video here, found on Porscheplanet.co.za, a South-African Porsche social network).

For iconic brand Harley-Davidson, women bikers are one of the most vital and growing market segments. As it nurtures tomorrow’s generation of motorbikers. Harley has concentrated on breaking down the stereotypes that stop women penetrating the motorcycling domain. For example, one of the most pervasive mindsets among both men and women  is that small-framed women cannot handle large, powerful bikes. Not true, say the folks at Harley-Davidson. It comes down to technique, skill and confidence, rather than physical strength. To illustrate this, look at techniques like bike lifting. Former Harley-Davidson executive Leslie Prevish lead the innovative “garage party” initiative. Still running today, these free events introduce women to motorcycling in a low-pressure, un-intimidating environment aimed at beginner bikers.  You might also see get to see the eye-opening “bike lift” lesson: this demonstrates how a small woman can lift a tipped-over motorcycle by coupling the correct technique with her lower body strength.

Twenty years ago, most female motorcyclists were the “tough biker chicks”. Today, you’ll find ordinary women of all shapes and sizes, population groups and lifestyles riding motorbikes. Harley-Davidson  gets this. In the US Harley has a website dedicated to women motorbikers, where the home page even sports a Keira Knightley lookalike in Harley gear. There’s also their garage party programme with events targeted at women. Harley-Davidson has done more in this space than any other motorbike maker, asserts Genevieve Schmitt, publisher of Women Riders Now. “There is not one other manufacturer that is dedicating resources to attract women riders. Kudos to Harley. They get it,” she says.

According to Harley-Davidson the marketing initiatives targeted at women have been successful, although it doesn’t reveal what percentage of its customers are female.

However, in this habitually masculine space, women motorbikers are not always accepted or understood, even at Harley. Similar to my own experience with car dealerships, the motorbike dealerships often ignore the women bikers or don’t take them seriously. and the sales staff may mistakenly assume the women customers are more excited about the Harley clothing than the bikes.

Sadly, the motorcycle industry is still largely in the hands of men who simply don’t understand that women control the purse strings in most families, including the spend on hobbies and recreation, according to Schmitt.

How have other masculine brands fared in the quest to reach out to female customers?

For years, Coca-Cola battled to get men to drink Diet Coke, its zero-kilojoule cold-drink popular with women, encased in a white can. Then Coca-Cola launched Coke Zero. The zero-kilojoule cold-drink looked and tasted the same as Diet Coke, except it came in a black can, together with a male-focused marketing campaign.  Coke Zero was a hit with male cold-drinkers. While men had avoided Diet Coke because of its female stigma, they could relate to Coke Zero. “…even though there was a functional need for men to drink lower-calorie soda, men couldn’t bridge the gender gap image-wise without a new brand and product just for them,” according to Avery. “[This] was a way to tell men, it’s OK, here’s your brand. Drinking this brand won’t affiliate you with women.”

In the flavoured alcoholic beverage industry, Diageo (and Brandhouse in South Africa) brought out Archers Schnapps. This fruity liqueur was the most successful schnapps brand in their lineup, with its top markets being Great Britain, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and Greece. To appeal exclusively to women, they launched Archers Aqua low-sugar spirit cooler. It had a distinctly feminine brand, with its tagline “Something for the ladies”, and its advertising campaign featuring male models. Although Archer’s Schnapps is very popular internationally, you won’t find many men drinking Archer’s Aqua.

Gender contamination is a challenge for many male-dominated industries like sports cars, motorbikes and alcoholic drinks. By not understanding their female customers well and not expanding effectively into the female market, brands are losing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity to grow their sales. The challenge is to make  women love the brand, while appeasing men’s fears of their brand being feminised. The question is: do you create a separate, female-centred brand like Coca-Cola did with Coke Lite versus Coke Zero, or do you offer the same brand to both men and women, like Porsche and Harley-Davidson did? There’s no easy answer.

Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

2 thoughts on “How female consumers are changing “guy branding”

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