I have a client in Holland who I visit every month or so for a couple of days. They always put me up in the same hotel – a big chain very much in the Premier/Holiday Inn mould. It’s fine – clean and efficient to the point of sterile, with beds of a hardness usually reserved for prisons and 1970s caravans. As hotels go, it’s bland and boring, but reliable and only a short walk from the office.
Last week, over a continental breakfast of cold meat and cheese that smelled like adolescent feet, I spotted a promo on the back of my key card for a “Woman Style” room.
Oh do tell, I’m all ears.
“Woman Style Rooms pamper female guests in an oasis of comfort featuring fashion magazines, a makeup mirror, professional hairdryer and a full range of exclusive beauty products”.
Fashion magazines AND a makeup mirror? Gosh, you DO spoil us.
And herein lies the problem of marketing to women in 2013. Whilst there are undoubtedly women who consider fashion magazines in a hotel room a unique selling point, there are plenty who would prefer to read about literature or science or technology or world affairs. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that there are plenty of men who would equally appreciate a hairdryer that does more than fart feebly in the direction of their scalp. I also know some men who wouldn’t say no to Sky Sports, a fridge full of Heineken and some softcore porn. Do you do a Man Style room for that? Gosh, it’s all suddenly got a bit complicated, hasn’t it?
I used to regularly tell clients that I specialise in marketing to women – most of the brands I’ve worked for as a marketer and copywriter over the past 15 years are traditionally female-focussed, across fashion, parenting, cosmetics , consumer durables and homewares. But I’m also conscious that this gender line is increasingly drawn in shifting sands.
Whilst I’m not expecting a male market for sanitary products to open up any time soon, the audience for homewares and parenting brands in particular is on the move. These brands have traditionally put women (and more specifically mums) firmly at the heart of everything they do, but here we are in 2013, where most men are competent humans who do laundry and vacuum; they even buy saucepans and mop up spillages and feed their children. Dads now account for 10% of those who stay at home with the kids whilst their partner goes out to work, which means increasing influence on brand choice. Like women in technology and automotive, you ignore these customers at your brand’s peril.
One of my favourite marketing campaigns from last year was for the Urbo pushchair from Mamas & Papas – I used to head up their brand team, but alas this one was after my time. It’s a lovely celebration of modern British families in all their joyous diversity, and a reminder that every parenting journey is different, and few families these days sit tidily in the centre of the target audience bullseye. Rather than feeling niche, it feels warm and inclusive – an ideological approach that dispenses with the usual consumer brand principle of crowbarring customers into boxes and throwing everything you’ve got at the biggest.
Of course this isn’t just about gender stereotyping or talking to dads about babies – you can skin this particular cat any way you like and make it about geography or ethnicity or the price of fish. I could spend the next 97 paragraphs banging on about pink and blue baby clothes and Lego for girls and the portrayal of mothers in TV advertising, but you’ve heard it all before and I’d go blue in the face.
All I know is that somebody in the Marketing team at my hotel chain decided that fashion magazines and a makeup mirror would help their brand engage with women. This depresses me not because it’s sexist and patronising (although it is), but because it’s so tediously lacking in imagination and creative thought.
So my advice to my Dutch hotel would be this – I salute your efforts to offer a more personal service, I really do. But if you want to make your customers feel welcome and special, offer a range of options for male OR female guests to choose from – a pillow menu, premium towels and toiletries, a range of magazines or DVDs across a variety of subject matter, proper teabags…the list of possibilities is extensive, and it would be a brainstorm worth having.
And please, put a decent hairdryer in ALL your rooms – whether you’re male or female, half-dried hair just looks crap.