May 9, 2018

The importance of businesses and brands reaching out to the female market

In 2018, women’s issues have been hitting the headlines, and it’s clear that how we reach out to women as sports brands and businesses needs to be given some serious attention, Fiona Bugler reports

2018 has been the year of the woman. #MeToo, a campaign to help survivors of sexual abuse come ‘out’, had a revival when Hollywood exposed its sexual deviants and the messages went viral. This year also marks 100 years since women got the vote. The gender pay gap in the UK between men and women was put high on the agenda when more than 10,000 large firms provided details, and three-quarters of them were found to be paying men more than women.

First things first: Money Talks

We live in a transparent, digital age, so the first things brands need to do is, ‘get their housekeeping in order,’ says Sandra Peat from the digital marketing agency, We Are Superhuman (https://, set up to help brands connect with women. ‘Are you paying your women a fair wage? If you aren’t doing this you will get found out,’ she adds.

The gender pay gap can at times seem to be simplistic but it’s a very transparent way for consumers to see whether the brand they are buying from is doing more than just talking the talk. The report showed that 78 per cent of companies have a pay gap that favours men (interesting stats include: Arsenal Football Club, pay men 2.5 per cent less than the average woman. At Marylebone Cricket Club, women are paid 14 per cent less than men, and at the Lawn Tennis Association it’s 18 per cent less – even Sport England (behind This Girl Can) pay women 5.8 per cent less than men).

When it comes to brand loyalty, research has shown that brands with a conscience and social awareness are more likely to engage customers. And some a taking a position where women are concerned, for example, in the US Cliff Bar are offering a 20 percent discount on all LUNA Bars sold on the Luna website ( 2018), and have promised to match the discount amount with a donation to American Association of University Women (AAUW), up to $100,000. The money raised will help fund salary negotiation resources for women. They’ve combined ‘women’s issue’s’ with the trend for millennials to expect brands they like to back a cause.

What’s the business case for reaching out to women?

Do sporting brands really need to worry about reaching out to women? Sport England’s campaigns, such as This Girl Can have been brilliant, but according to Mel Berry, from Berry Sports Marketing, who works closely with Nottingham County Council on This Girl Can, participation in sport is still low, and 23 per cent of men and women remain inactive. But women are important for sporting brands and there is evidence that when it comes to watching sport, women’s sporting events are growing in popularity and that these offer sometimes untapped advertising and marketing potential.

In an article for Campaign entitled: What you need to know about sports marketing in 2017 and beyond - Key trends for marketers and agencies who want to win in today’s sports marketing environment, it was predicted that female fans would become equal to male fans, which says, ‘seems a credible forecast, given that more Americans watched the Women’s World Cup final in 2015 than the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup’. Here in the UK, the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup attracted a global television audience estimated at up to 100 million (the MCC should take note!).

In the broader health, fitness, wellness story, ‘women are passionate about looking after themselves,’ says Peat. ‘Older women have a disposable income – and are interested in investing in this passion.’ In their survey The Invisible Middle, which questioned women over 40, 78 per cent said that they feel they have a strong appetite to explore and have new experiences.

And this is reflected in the growth of older women participating in big challenges and ultra races.

The bottom line thought is that, as Peat points out, it makes complete business sense to target women. ‘It’s really simple, 85 per cent of purchase decisions are made by women, or influenced by women, so they have huge power of the global spend,’ she says.

What’s Not working

In marketing terms there has been a lot of noise and tokenistic gestures. On International Women’s Day it seemed that everyone was deciding to take a stand on social media. But bad judgement can be a PR disaster. ‘McDonald’s decision to turn their M upside down and make it a W was a big mistake and they were heavily criticised for it,’ explains Peat.

Consumers cannot be easily hoodwinked and change needs to run deeper. As well as the pay gap, Mel Berry points out that there are cultural issues at heart of sport, with for example, very few directors in NGBs and at an elite level. In the commercial world, Peat says, ‘most agencies are run by men. And women are largely ignored,’ added to that, she says: ‘We quickly rely on stereotypes to promote our brand. It’s no surprise that sporting celebrities are also very good-looking’.

Sport England’s research, (Go Where Women Are? https:// women/womens-insight-pack/) has found that 13 million women say they want to take part in sport, but over six million are inactive. They’ve identified barriers that include over-use of the word ‘sport’ which is associated with aggression, competitiveness and seen as unfeminine.

So, how do brands reach women?

‘Any marketeer needs to listen to their customer,’ says Berry. ‘Don’t apply a broad-brush to gender. Different women will have very different needs, from improving performance to getting off the sofa.’

Brands like Under Armour saw that focussing on the traditional alpha female and her spending habits meant they were not capturing and making the most of reaching out to the women sports apparel market, said to be worth $14 billion in the US. They responded with hugely successful ad campaigns, such as I Will What I Want (2014) and Unlike Any which told stories and tapped into emotions about overcoming adversity and empowered women, regardless of race or other barriers. Storytelling is key, says Mel Berry. ‘Women want to hear about real women doing sport, they want to be able to relate to the product and the brand. Women in sport support each other and work together to find solutions to problems and advertising needs to reflect that.’

Solve a problem

‘If you really want to engage women, find a shared problem, and try to solve it,’ Peat agrees. ‘This Girl Can recognised that women had a fear of being judged and they needed flexibility and encouragement. And many women find that the basics are ignored. For example, sports clothing isn’t designed with them in mind and ignores the need to fit different breast sizes and bums.’

Forward-thinking brands such as Athleta (bought by Gap), are a leading sports brand for women in the US who have gone a long way to find and test clothes that work for women of all shapes and sizes. They are also talking to women in a way that gets results as the brand continues to thrive in a challenging market. Campaigns have included the ‘Power of She’ which is all about inclusion and empowerment of women, as well as the worthy-sounding, ‘Permission to Pause’ and ‘Grateful for’. And of course, they support a cause, Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE) ‘a programme that provides the women who make our clothes education that helps them build the skills, knowledge and confidence to advance.’

It’s very clear that sports brands need to get to know all their female customers, and understand their individual needs, and their stories. With every passing year, more women are taking part in sport, being empowered by sport and spending money on sport. It’s time to talk to them.

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