Can we take gender out of the segmentation equation?

Gender definitions are being redefined beyond traditional and physical boundaries. Sarah Elsmore and Matt Lam ponder the risks of gender-segment based targeting, and say focussing on creating more authentic personalisation and experiences for the customer is paramount to remaining relevant and championing equality. 

Let’s start by making it clear that this article was written by two 20-something strategists. One male and one female. Not that that should tell you much. It’s not an opinion piece, but an exploration. Feel free to challenge, contradict and change our minds – we’re keeping them open.

Let’s start the conversation.

 

Why we are here

Gender is no longer a binary concept as male or female, driven by societal shifts towards equality and diversity.

Looking to a leader in this space, Facebook now provides 71 options for gender, and recently added a custom gender option to help people better express their identities on Facebook.

The message is that everyone should have the ability to truly be and express their authentic self, not limited or confined by societal structures, social norms, stereotypes or pressures.

Despite the industry making headway in understanding changing gender roles in the way we market to consumers, we still place significant emphasis on defining consumers by two mutually exclusive definitions. We believe that the impact of this is significant – limiting our ability to truly create authentic experiences for consumers and reducing effectiveness for clients.

First, let’s get some definitions straight.

In Western culture, gender has traditionally been defined by physical sex, limited to two fixed choices: male or female. From these two binary concepts, society has developed strict gender norms, roles and stereotypes.

Today, however, physical sex is only one piece of the puzzle that makes up an individual’s gender.

The American Psychological Association defines true gender as the complex interrelationship between an individual’s gender biology (physical sex), gender identity (internal sense of self), and gender expression (outward presentation and behaviours).

It’s the culmination of these three personal attributes that define an individual’s authentic sense of ‘gender’, making the gender spectrum broad. It’s no longer black and white, it’s colourful, rainbow, holographic… but ultimately up to the individual.

As a society, our attitudes toward gender are broadening as headway is made in gender equality and diversity. This is especially true for younger generations, who are taught acceptance by default, with changes to how they learn and understand gender, for example, the introduction of gender-neutral pronouns and uniforms in primary schools.

The message is that everyone should have the ability to truly be and express their authentic self, not limited or confined by societal structures, social norms, stereotypes or pressures.

This is just the first sparks of major changes, but we predict the deconstruction of gender driven social norms, and the reconstruction of a gender-neutral society – especially in the case of service and product developments.

Why this is relevant

At our agency, we’re in the business of designing moments, connections and experiences between the brands that we work for and their customers. This is something we cannot achieve without understanding the individual, their functional needs, their emotional needs, their dreams, their hopes, and their desires.

Yet, relentless segmentation and profiling of customers based on gender permeates what we do. It defines how we analyse data, make strategic decisions, and the experiences we create. The risk here is twofold.

Firstly, the deconstruction of gender stereotypes is resulting in the shift of products and services that fulfil gender-specific to gender-neutral needs, such as insurance and financial advice. Do we risk negatively impacting the relevancy of customer engagements if we bring gender in to the picture?

Would we create better experiences by always focusing on needs based segmentation, rather than reverting to gender? Rather than seeing customers as female or male, could we delve deeper into need states, and socially constructed communities?

Secondly, there is the potential for internal methods and processes of segmentation and profiling to provoke bias and miscommunication in how we understand and develop brands, as well as how we communicate to our clients’ customers. We risk imprinting our own personal bias as analysts, strategists and creatives throughout the process, resulting in a Chinese whispers-like effect of what really defines the consumer.

This is not sustainable, and we believe there is a major risk in not evolving. But with evolution comes the opportunity to be at the forefront of championing gender equality and diversity to create more authentic and valuable experiences for consumers while driving effectiveness for our clients.

What we’re going to do about it

As two strategists, we’re going to look to the future to minimise our risk and increase our possibility for greatness.

1. Gender in the equation

Firstly, we’re going to run some tests against our two risks. We’re going to understand the importance of using gender in the segmentation and profile of our customers. We’re going to test the liquidity of gender perceptions and bias across our data analysts, strategists, creatives and producers in the delivery of our work.

2. Gender out of the equation

Then, we’re going to plan for the future looking to the data, technology and marketing automation capabilities that will enable us to build a much more unique, rich, and complex understanding of the individual.

Why we’re doing this

To move the needle on gender diversity and equality. To be at the forefront of truly understanding people as individuals. To be the most pioneering and effective customer engagement agency in the world.

 

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Sarah Elsmore and Matt Lam are strategists at LIDA.