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When women aren’t women and men aren’t men

Gender has undoubtedly been one of the hot topics in marketing of recent months. Brands are increasingly asking how they can better understand women (and men) - and as part of this, what it means to be a woman (or man) today – to help them better engage with consumers.

But there are significant risks to be aware of in using gender as the primary lens for understanding audience(s) and their needs. Without being mindful of these risks, brands can end up getting it very wrong, demonstrating to the world just how little they in fact understand their audience(s).

  • Dividing people into two camps is an over-simplification which fails to recognise the reality and complexity of people, who they are and what they need.  There are of course many other factors that shape those needs – for example, household composition, affluence, employment status.

  • What it means to be a woman (or a man) is evolving and becoming increasingly complex and fragmented. Focusing on superficial similarities (rather than differences) within 50% of the population is likely to only result in generic platitudes, rather than deepening audience understanding.

  • Setting up a dichotomy between women vs. men encourages the active seeking out of – often artificial - gender differences and blindness to similarities that do, in reality, exist.

  • A binary division encourages culturally ‘traditional’ constructions of womanhood and manhood that, for many, are alienating and non-representative. Furthermore, a binary division doesn’t reflect how many people define and understand their gender identity as something non-binary and distinct from the sex they were born.

  • Using gender as a starting point also (incorrectly) implies it is the primary factor in shaping people’s identity and consequent thoughts, feelings and behaviours, when we all know there are many other equally important facets of identity, such as race, ethnicity, class, age, disability, experience… (the list is endless). 

That’s why, when it comes to helping our clients understand how to better engage with women (or men), we at Truth take a different perspective. We purposefully choose to look at women not as women, and men not as men. There are five principles that drive our thinking.

1. We never look at just women or just men in isolation. We look at both to understand what differences (if any) really exist. For example, in a recent project about women and wealth 2/3rd of our sample were women and 1/3rd were men.

2. We actively take into account other facets of identity. We are clear from the offset which types of women (and men) are in and out of scope, for example focusing just on women of a certain age, with a certain income who hold certain attitudes.

3. Our investigations take us beyond focusing on superficial distinctions to examining deeper-rooted human characteristics. This means looking at the fundamental attitudes, values, motivations and needs that shape behaviours.

4. Recognising the wider context within which gender is situated is a vital contextualisation for fully understanding women and men. We look at the cultural and societal landscapes beyond gender in order to understand the deeper dynamics behind the classifications of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.  Within this, we recognise gender identity takes a different meaning in Berlin compared with Atlanta, Shanghai, Tokyo…  We unpack that cultural influence to identify any red threads where appropriate.

5. We take a longer-term perspective, recognising that we’re in a period of immense flux and uncertainty, and that looking at emergent, new cultural narratives of what it means to be a woman (or man) can be just as valuable as the current dominant ones that individual women and men can express.

To discuss how we can help you truly understand women (or men) so you can better engage with your audience(s) get in touch…


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