Gendered Branding

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?

As we help our clients develop strategy plans for their brands, the question of how to address different audiences will undoubtedly come up, and the conversation often turns to the difference between men and women.

I won’t spend too much time explaining the difference between men and women. For the most part, I hope your parents, like mine, took you to a restaurant and had “the conversation” with you. Mine did and I still can’t enter a Cuban restaurant without thinking about the anatomy of each sex.

If you keep up with this blog you know our perspectives on the differences between people; we’re more alike than we are different. Gender is no exception. No person is exclusively masculine or feminine. Each person expresses elements that coincide with his or her desired identity. In fact, our expressed and perceived gender may shift from moment to moment as we enter different environments, different social situations, and are faced with different goals.

For example, the way I act around my two brothers is dramatically more masculine than the way I act with my wife on the couch watching The Notebook. My masculinity isn’t set in stone but is indeed a shifting slide on the gender scale.

Understanding the Gender of Brands

As brand managers and marketers, this means we should develop a framework for understanding how each sex uses our brands to help express their gender. In fact, the gender and context of your brand may be more important to understand than the sex of your customers.

According to Alreck, Settle & Belch (1982), brands are perceived by consumers on a similar scale of masculine to feminine. Considering that we build emotional relationships with the brands we consume, it makes sense that brands are people, too. This is important to understand because further research shows that consumers resonate more deeply with a brand whose gender closely matches their own – regardless of sex (Grohmann, 2009).

Now let’s consider what this means: Knowing that our customers’ genders shift from context to context, understanding where, how and why our brands are used will help us determine whether we should play up our brand’s masculine identity or feminine identity. Consider most fast food brands. They typically target 17- to 32-year-old males who visit the restaurant with packs of other men. This dynamic means the men are typically portraying a much more masculine identity to each other or to impress women that may be with them in their group. As a result, many fast food companies have created masculine brands, leading their communication tactics with slapstick-style comedy and exaggerated situations. And for the most part, it works for that audience. On the other hand, a brand like McDonald’s stands out as a more gender-balanced family brand. It has redesigned its stores, its menus and its service to cater to families. As such, it resonates much more with parents than many other fast food restaurants.

So, the next time you find yourself asking about the differences between your male and female customers, think about the gender of your own brand first. Then ask about the context in which your brand is used, who your customers may be with when they use it, and what their goal(s) may be when using your brand. This will likely give you more insight into how you might resonate with your audience. And it’s at least a step further than just resorting to the old adage that sex sells.

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