The Missing SHE Economy
Business Today|October 04, 2020
The Missing SHE Economy
Despite obvious benefits, most of India Inc is oblivious to business around women-specific needs. Marketers listening to them have never been happie
Sonal Khetarpal
At 40, Priti Rathi Gupta, Promoter and Managing Director, Anand Rathi Group, was enrolled in Owner/President Management programme at Harvard University where she made a business case for a financial management platform for women as part of a class project. The skepticism from fellow classmates surprised her. “They were oblivious to the varied needs of women — they earn less, live longer, and have a different outlook towards investing. They didn’t seem to understand the rationale,” says Rathi. She launched her university project — LXME — a digital financial planning plat form for women. In the last four months since its launch, it has got 5,000 users.

Not just financial services. As consumers, women are under-served across sectors, be it auto, hospitality, fashion or sports. Most brands, say experts, have never thought about gender as central to their products and services. “Small sporadic experiments have happened in the Indian consumer brand space to cater to women but nothing exceptional. Mostly, it is positioning of the same product with a different communication strategy,” says Alpana Parida, former CEO of brand consultancy DY Works.

One reason for this is economic. “The fundamental problem is that women don't have control over finances. If 21 out of 100 women work, and 100 out of 100 men work, marketers will go after the (bigger) spender,” says Apurva Purohit, President, Jagran Prakashan.

The average disposable per capita income of women (₹46,505 a year) is about one-third that of men (₹1,87,868).“Due to this, products which help a woman live her life effectively and efficiently are low on priority in households,” says Akshaya Vijayalakshmi, Professor of Marketing at IIM-A.

The Stereotype

Things are changing, though slowly. There might be few women in leadership positions but women are finding ways to earn and supplement family’s income. Also, they are delaying marriage and so getting more years to spend on themselves. Increasing access to internet, digital payments and new micro-entrepreneurship opportunities are encouraging them to improve their lives. “With rise of platforms offering gig work, entrepreneurship opportunities and work at home options, women are aspiring to increase their standing,” says Sairee Chahal, founder and CEO of Sheroes.

But, marketers often fail to recognise these nuances and communication is still black and white. There is a tendency to classify all women in one category, says Ameera Shah, Managing Director of Metropolis Healthcare. “Just like not all men are cheats and philanderers, not all women are emotional.” She says there is a deep segmentation among women that marketers fail to understand and, hence, fail in communicating with them, she says.

Though brands are slowly recognising this and launching campaigns breaking stereotypes, most product categories continue to follow the older pattern.

“Mainstream brands are usually wary of trying new consumer strategies or products. It is not that they can’t target women. They are risk averse,” says Parameswaran Venkataraman, Chief Design Officer, Fractal Analytics.

Then there are domestic power equations. For categories where they are end users (such as for household goods, kitchen appliances), women play a key role in purchase decisions. But for more expensive appliances such as fridge and air-conditioner, while they can be influencers, men are deemed to be final decision makers, he says. A Google study of Youtube ads over four years found that male characters got more screen time (59 per cent) than women (41 per cent). Also, male characters were heard two times (at 67 per cent) more often than female characters. Women were also less likely to be seen as having a profession and in a leadership role.

But what about categories specific to women like clothes and shoes? Here, too, the reality isn’t pretty. Fashion brands for women – clothes, shoes – are still geared towards looking good and comfort isn’t a priority. “Retail brands focus heavily on women but look at the popular stereotype needs of fashion and beauty with focus on ‘looking good’. They do not really focus on other needs that a woman might have, such as comfort and functionality,” says Rajni Menon, Head of Solutions Development and Chief Strategy Officer, Dentsu.

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October 04, 2020