The concept of gender based marketing is not a new strategy to sell products or develop new business but it is now being utilized with greater effectiveness. The enhancements to this marketing principle are driven largely by the incredible amount of data which can be populated to provide businesses with very accurate trend analysis.
It does not take a marketing genius to figure out that most businesses will craft a product message based on the target gender market: beer commercials tend to skew toward men, while most cleaning products tend to be geared toward a female consumer target. The role of gender bias has been a hot button topic in our societal discourse as well, whether some of these product campaigns are based on preconceived notions about the role of men and women respectively in Western society.
However, I will be focusing on the changing patterns of the gender based marketing strategic concept as it relates to the shifting demographics in the United States. In particular focus is the impact of the economic recession and the evolving job market which caused a scenario where American society now has more female business travelers than at any other point in history.
The recessionary economic activity caused businesses to react by cutting costs to maximize profit margins. The easiest way to achieve this profit retention is to cut jobs and close facilities or office branch locations and consolidate your respective cost factors. In some business types, that included cutting the jobs of higher salaried employees in order to protect profitability during the economic downturn.
Gender Wage Gap
All of these cost cutting maneuvers in the business world created conditions where many men found themselves out of work, and women found themselves in the role of primary financial providers for their respective families. This shift brought the issue of the gender wage gap back front-and-center to the American national consciousness. The “equal pay for equal work” debate sprang up on the national media news outlets, and still is a largely unresolved issue facing our society.
The labor market is slowly starting to rebound, but even in the current conditions, the months of economic stagnation and stubborn job creation has changed the American family dynamic. I have read several studies which demonstrate that the stereotypical gender roles have changed with men taking on more of the domestic duties of grocery shopping and child care.
Meanwhile, the woman’s role in the family unit has shifted and the business travel industry and the hotel industry have made certain marketing program changes to appeal more to the increase in female business travelers. The major hotel chains have made adjustments to their floor plans, bathroom layouts, and other amenities to cater to an influx in female business executives.
The major hotel chains have also made changes to their respective restaurant menu offerings to provide more healthy meal options which appeal to women. Even the lighting and the colors of some hotel rooms and suites have been altered to suit this change in the customer demographic for business travel today.
The “Mr. Mom” approach
The grocery stores and the manufacturers of food and beverage products have all made marketing plan alterations and advertising changes to appeal to the growing prevalence of male shoppers. The study data available varies on the percentage of men identified as the primary shopper for their respective family in the U.S. from 31% to as high as 51%. The larger number was quantified in a survey done by Yahoo! which also studied male shopping trends.
The increase in male primary shoppers is driven by a few factors but most notably the increase in the unemployment during the peak of the recession, the increase in underemployed males who are working shift type jobs to replace lost wages, and the increase in the number males who primarily work from home or telecommute.
Both the grocery store chains and the food product manufacturers have responded to this shifting demographic by changing the layouts of the stores to grab the attention of the influx of male shoppers who are also prone to impulse buying. Most stores have what is known in the industry as “The Man Aisle” which is filled with all types of products which appeal to male shoppers.
The consumer goods product giant, Procter & Gamble, even has a website called “Man of the House” which features products geared toward the male consumer as well as recipes and health tips geared toward helping men in this new shift in their domestic responsibilities.
The U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends Study displayed that women shoppers are 12% more likely to produce generic or store brand products than male shoppers. Male shoppers are statistically more likely to be loyal to a particular national brand and will pay more to get that brand even if a comparable product made under another brand is reduced in price.
This study also revealed that male shoppers spend $10.00 more on an average shopping trip than a female shopper, and that male shoppers frequently had no shopping list and carried no coupons. More male shoppers use the self-checkout option than female shoppers, but females placed a higher value on customer service than males.
Other studies have demonstrated that the words “low calorie” and “diet” do not test favorably at all with male shoppers. This was the driving principle behind the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group launching a line of new diet sodas they decided to call “10” so that it reflected the amount of calories in the beverage but did not emphasize the term “diet” in the labeling or the promotion.
In my research I found another case study of a frozen yogurt chain in the Midwest which decided to do a social experiment by promoting a new low fat product. When the male shopper came into the yogurt shops with their wives or girlfriends the ladies would try the low fat product offering and 90% of the males would not try it.
The frozen yogurt chain took the same product which was also high in protein, and three weeks later they promoted the same product as “high protein” and close to 90% of the male shoppers tried it and were repeat customers. Many food manufacturers are following the same positioning to appeal to men, developing high protein concepts that are low in fat and promoting them as “high protein”.
Many products such as Hamburger Helper have changed their packaging to darker colors with bolder graphics to gain the attention of the increased number of male shoppers. The laundry detergent brand, Tide, has partnered with the NFL and is in the midst of an ongoing promotional campaign to make doing laundry more “macho”.
It has been listed in several studies that about 41% of men make the meals at home. The food product manufacturers have taken notice of this but initially had offered quick, processed meal solutions to try to grab market share of this shift in cooking responsibilities.
However, those efforts largely failed because several studies show that male shoppers look for rather different elements in their meal purchases than the stereotypes would seem to indicate.
In fact, a Pew study recently indicated that 95% of men consider the nutrient values a meal will provide to their family. This study also revealed that 90% of men prefer to use fresh ingredients and that 86% choose to limit the use of processed food in their meal selections.
The food companies have quantified all of this data and future food product launches will certainly reflect this criteria. The male shoppers have influenced change in the marketplace.
In the end, the change in gender demographics has had a profound impact on not just hotels, the travel industry, food products, or grocery store layouts. It has had a profound effect on our society, on the family unit, and on the gender roles that were once inherent in Western society. We will not know exactly the implications of these changes for many years, but what we do know is that these shifts are here to stay as technologies change and impact both the job market and our society in the years to come.
(Statistics and some background information courtesy of Pew Study, US Grocery Shopping Trends Study, ESPN.com, Yahoo! News, Food Product Design, Specialty Food News, and CBS News)