According to an article in bizwomen, for the last two years Wells Fargo has been building an external business strategy, known as the “women’s initiative.” Wells Fargo has been marketing specifically to women by educating their teams on why they should focus on women and how to market to women based on the differences in the ways that men and women do business.
It is clear that Wells Fargo wants women’s business. And for good reason. According to the bizwomen article, women-owned businesses are expected to make up 39 percent of all businesses by 2017.
I am reminded of the 2000 movie What Women Want. Mel Gibson plays a marketing executive who can hear women’s thoughts. He uses this tool to, among other things, better market toward women by working closely with his new boss in order to steal her thoughts and develop a marketing pitch to Nike Women. Before he got the “gift” (if you want to call it that) of hearing women’s thoughts, Mr. Gibson’s character was known to be a bit of a scoundrel. Most of the movie consists of Mr. Gibson getting in touch with his feminine side in order to determine – wait for it – what women want. At the end of the movie, the final pitch to Nike Women is geared toward women runners. It shows a quiet, lonely road, occupied by a single woman running. The ad focuses on the woman’s desire to simply run on the pavement without superficial judgment or expectations. The women love it, Mr. Gibson’s company wins the pitch, Mr. Gibson’s character gets the girl, and everybody lives happily ever after.
But do men and women really need to be marketed to separately? Judging from Super Bowl commercials, it appears that the ad industry has already decided “yes.” You’ll get an eyeful of burgers, fast cars, beer, and babes (and I don’t mean infants). To keep the women interested, occasionally you’ll get Ryan Reynolds, puppies, wine, or babies (now, I do mean infants).
Every now and then, you may have a standout commercial that is clearly geared to women, like the 2015 Always “Like a Girl” commercial.
An article about the ad noted, “[T]he ad may be the first time a feminine care product was advertised during the Super Bowl and is a prominent example of how companies are trying to woo women customers are shifting advertising tactics.”
Should women be offended that we are being marketed to differently? Does this mean that we are really being reduced to wine, cuddly animals, and cute babies? (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things.) But a lot of women like burgers, fast cars, and beer, too. And a lot of men like wine, cuddly animals, and cute babies.
The “Like a Girl” campaign teaches us that society has applied different norms and expectations to young men and women, some of which persist, but it also teaches us that women are rewriting the rules.
According to a 2015 report by First Round Capital, tech startup companies founded by women performed better than those founded by men. Yet, there are only 24 female CEOs in the S&P 500. Is this because of the glass ceiling, or are smaller tech companies – as opposed to the more traditional companies included in the top 500 – providing women leaders with more attractive opportunities? Possibly, both.
The “Like a Girl” campaign and the Wells Fargo women’s initiative are run by women. Given the growing number of women-owned businesses, the success of tech startups founded by women, and the stark reality that women are still not running very many S&P 500 companies, programs like the “women’s initiative” and the “Like a Girl” campaign are less about differentiating women from men and more about responding to real changes and providing women leaders with the tools to be successful in their own way, whether as a small business owners or as CEOs.
It is a recognition of differences in how women and men succeed, and how they define success. Recognizing these differences must not be demeaning to women. Companies should recognize that women leaders are here, important, and growing in number, and that their different styles, needs, interests, and goals are contributing to positive change in business. Companies like Wells Fargo, who help women-owned businesses to grow, will reap the benefits of their success. More companies should follow that example, not by singling women customers out for their femininity, but by recognizing that women have something to offer to the success of a business. All will benefit in the long run.