Inclusive marketing: How to make smartphone advertising work for everyone

November 2019

When we think about the way we market a product — any product — we must always remember that there isn’t a single, monolithic ‘audience’ waiting to hear about said product. It’s always important to keep in mind that your consumer could be anyone so it’s important to make sure that your marketing works for everyone. Which isn’t the same as trying to impress everyone. It’s about baking the sensitivities of diversity into everything we do.

Take smartphones, for example. The overwhelmingly majority of tech reviewers are men so you may be tempted to think that reaching men predominantly is the way to go. However, in a country like South Africa, 52% of smartphone users are female.1 Other emerging economies aren’t different. According the 2019 GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report, 1.7 billion women now own a mobile phone in low and middle-income countries, and over a billion of them use mobile internet. This highlights that 80% of all women living in emerging regions own a smartphone.

While low- and middle-income countries still struggle with a digital gender gap, many are working to bridge this divide, including South Africa. In terms of smartphone ownership, women in Africa’s second-largest economy are early adopters of these devices and they are driving the market. Google research has shown that female users account for 52% of South African smartphone owners, while 61% of the population has more than one phone.2

So if you were to choose not to diversify your smartphone campaign, you would be losing out on more than half of the country’s smartphone market. There is a huge untapped potential for advertisers to reach more people by creating inclusive campaigns that speak to and celebrate all users, irrespective of gender, race, culture, age, and socio-economic position.

Gender diversity from within

How does one create more diverse marketing messages? The first step is to build a diverse marketing team that represents all key audiences, women included. And that is not where it stops. Your marketing team should also have women of different races, age groups, religions, and other backgrounds. Women are not one homogenous group.

“If your employees represent different genders, ages, races, political beliefs, ethnicities, physical abilities, sexual orientations, and so on, your campaigns will be authentic without even trying,” said Marija Zivanovic-Smith of American technology company NCR Corporation earlier this year in Forbes Magazine. “Inclusion comes naturally when your company lives it.”

Know what (all) women want

Credible and authentic information about what your female audience likes, dislikes, wants, and needs is the lifeblood of any marketing campaign geared at women. This prevents you from falling in a chin-deep whirlpool of stereotypes, which may put new audiences off rather than attracting them.

Do your research properly and don’t expect one single ad with one message to resonate with everyone. “Narrow down your marketing demographic to be as specific as you can get, then think through the needs, desires, and triggers of that further defined [audience]. Develop content and messages that speak to this refined audience,” explains content marketing company Social Toaster.

Ditch the pink

“Don’t take a perfectly decent product, give it a marshmallow Barbie paint job, and miniaturise it so it fits perfectly into tiny female hands,” writes Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts, founders of Pretty Little Head, a UK-based consulting company that helps companies market to women.

According to them, it isn’t the product’s colour that entices women to buy it, but the quality of the product itself.

Don’t push too hard

Rachel Pashley, planning head at marketing communications organisation J. Walter Thompson (JWT) in London, says in an interview that over-feminising products risks you losing female customers before you attract them. “There’s a computer company that shall remain nameless that launched a laptop for women and they launched it with an in-built calorie counter. That’s just a face-palm moment of, ‘what were you thinking?’ That is a fundamental misunderstanding of women,” she said.

In other words, smartphone marketers will do themselves and the sector a huge favour by diversifying their ad campaigns and marketing messages, and making them resonate with all audiences. Not doing this may result in losing out on a growing market to competitors who are getting it right.

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