Like a lot of people around the world, earlier this summer my friends and I were obsessed with the Women's World Cup held in France. Here we are, watching these incredible athletes, the goals were amazing, the games were clean and engaging, and at the same time, outside the field, these women are talking about equal pay, and in the case of some countries, any pay at all for their sport. So because we were mildly obsessed, we wanted to watch the games live, and we decided that one of the Spanish-speaking networks in the US was the best place for us to start. And it wasn't until a few games into the tournament that a friend of mine talks to me and says, "Why does it feel like everything I'm seeing is commercials for makeup and household cleaning products and diets?"
It did feel a little bit too obvious, and I don't know if we were sensitive about it or the fact that we were watching with men and boys in our lives, but it did feel a little bit too obvious that we're being targeted for being women.
And to be honest there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Someone sat down and looked at the tournament and said, "Well, this thing is likely to be seen by more women, these women are Hispanic because they're watching in Spanish, and this is women content. Therefore, this is a great place for me to place all these commercials that are female-centric and maybe not other things." If I think about it as a marketer, I know that I absolutely should not be annoyed about it, because this is what marketers are tasked with doing. Marketers are tasked with building brands with very limited budget, so there's a little bit of an incentive to categorize people in buckets so they can reach their target faster. So if you think about this, it's kind of like a shortcut. They're using gender as a shortcut to get to their target consumer.
The issue is that as logical as that argument seems, gender as a shortcut is actually not great. In this day and age, if you still blindly use a gender view for your marketing activities, actually it's just plain bad business. I'm not talking even about the backlash on stereotypes in advertising, which is a very real thing that has to be addressed. I'm saying it's bad business because you're leaving money on the table for your brands and your products. Because gender is such an easy thing to find in the market and to target and to talk about, it actually distracts you from the fun things that could be driving growth from your brands and, at the same time, it continues to create separation around genders and perpetuate stereotypes. So at the same time this activity is bad for your business and bad for society, so double whammy. And gender is one of those things like other demographics that have historically been good marketing shortcuts. At some point, however, we forgot that at the core we were targeting needs around cooking and cleaning and personal care and driving and sports and we just made it all a bucket and we said, "Men and women are different." We got used to it and we never challenged it again, and it's fascinating to me, and by fascinating I mean a little bit insane, that we still talk about this as a segment when it's most likely carryover bias.
In fact, I don't come to this conclusion lightly. We have enough data to suggest that gender is not the best place to start for you to design and target your brands. And I would even go one step further: unless you are working in a very gender-specific product category, probably anything else you're hypothesizing about your consumer right now is going to be more useful than gender.
We did not set up to draw this conclusion specifically. We found it. As consultants, our job is to go with our clients and understand their business and try to help them find spaces for their brands to grow. And it is our belief that if you want to find disruptive growth in the market, you have to go to the consumer and take a very agnostic view of the consumer. You have to go and look at them from scratch, remove yourself from biases and segments that you thought were important, just take a look to see where the growth is. And we built ourselves an algorithm precisely for that. So imagine that we have a person and we know a person is making a choice about a product or service, and from this person, I can know their gender, of course, other demographics, where they live, their income, other things. I know the context where this person is making a decision, where they are, who they're with, the energy, anything, and I can also put other things in the mix. I can know their attitudes, how they feel about the category, their behaviors.
So if you imagine this kind of blob of big data about a person — I'm going to oversimplify the science here but we basically built an algorithm for statistical tournaments. So a statistical tournament is like asking this big thing of data, "So, data, from everything you know about consumers at this point, what is the most useful thing I need to know that tells me more about what consumers need?" So the tournament is going to have winners and losers. The winners are those variables, those dimensions, that actually teach you a lot about your consumer, that if you know that, you know what they need. And there's losing variables that are just not that practical, and this matters because in a world of limited resources, you don't want to waste it on people that actually have the same needs. So why treat them differently?
So at this point, I know, suspense is not killing you, because I told you what the output is, but what we found over time is after 200 projects around the world — this is covering 20 countries or more — in essence we ran about a hundred thousand of these tournaments, and, no surprise, gender was very rarely the most predictive thing to understand consumer needs. From a hundred thousand tournaments, gender only came out as the winning variable in about five percent of them. This is true around the world, by the way. We did this in places where traditional gender roles are a little more pronounced, and the conclusions were exactly the same. It was a little bit more important, gender, than five percent, but not material. So let's let that sink in for a second. No matter how you're looking at a consumer, most likely anything else is going to be more interesting to you than gender. There's probably something very important you need to know about them, and you're getting distracted because you're doing everything based on gender. And that's why I say you're leaving money on the table. Gender is easy. It's easy to design advertising based on gender, it's easy to target people online and on TV based on gender. But at the end, that's not where the exciting growth will come from. If you're a food company, for example, it's actually much more interesting to you to know where people are eating, who they are eating with, are they very nutritionally oriented. All of those things are actually significantly more powerful and useful than knowing if a person is a man or a woman. And that matters, of course, because then if you're putting your limited budget into action, then you're better off creating solutions for different occasions than trying to target women versus young men.
Another example is alcoholic beverages. Thirty-five percent to 40 percent of consumption in alcoholic beverages around the world actually happens with women, but, you know, "women don't drink beer." Those are the things that we typically hear. But actually, when a man and a woman are, for the most part, in the same location, the emotional and functional needs they have at that moment are very similar. There's only one exception, by the way, and the exceptions exist, where if you have a man and a woman on a date, the man is trying to impress the woman and the woman is trying to connect with the man, so there's going to be a little bit of tension, but that's important to know. We'll take a few dates. Financial institutions: that's something where we've heard a lot about the difference between men and women, but actually talking about men and women as different is distracting you from the thing that is underneath. We made it so simple as "women don't like to invest," "women hate managing their money," "men are great and aggressive and risk-takers," but at the end it's not about men and women. It is actually a different narrative. It is about, there are people that are excited and energized and educated to manage their finances versus people that are not. So if you change the conversation from men and women to actually what's underneath then probably you'll stop being so condescending to women and you may start serving some men that are actually shy about managing their finances.
I'll leave one more example. If I go back to the women that were playing sport at the beginning, one of the fascinating things we found over different countries, exploring sportswear, that if a person is a competitive person and they are in the moment of action, the needs are not different between a man and a woman. An athlete is an athlete. It doesn't matter for men and women, it doesn't matter for old and young, you are an athlete, and in the moment of action and extreme competition, you need this gear to work for you. So these soccer-playing women have a lot in common with their counterparts. Out of the field, it doesn't matter. Out of the field, they may be into fashion, into other things, but on the field, the needs are not different.
So these are just a few examples on categories where we found that gender was not the best place to go, and actually the argument is that at this point it's not even a feminist push, it's just we got used to it. We got used to using gender, and it's important for us to start finding ways to measure other things about consumers so that we don't revert back to gender. I am not naïve, and I know there's still going to be appetite and certain ease around using gender, but at least this warrants a conversation. In your business, you have to inquire, is this really the best lens for me to grow.
So, if you are, like me, a person that is in business, that I am constantly worried about what is my role in the broader societal discussions, if you're listening to your business and you hear things like, "Oh, my target are women, my target are men, this goes to young girls, young boys," when it's that gender conversation, unless you are working, again, in a very specific, gender-specific product category, take this as a warning sign, because if you keep having these conversations, you will keep perpetuating stereotypes of people and making people think that men and women are different. But because this is business, and we're running a business, and we want to grow it, at least kind of challenge your own instinct to use gender, because statistics say that you're probably not choosing the best variable to target your product or service. Growth is not easy at all. What makes you think that growth is going to come from going into market with such an outdated lens like gender?
So let's stop doing what's easy and go for what's right. At this point, it's not just for your business, it's for society.