Niche Advertising/Audience Targeting

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WHM Feature: Women Consumers & The Impact Of The Pandemic

March 31, 2021 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_1864147915 Sad woman alone during coronavirus pandemic wearing face mask indoors at home for social distancing. Mixed race girl looking at window. Anxiety, stress, lockdown, mental health crisis concept

The changes to people’s lives and across industries because of the pandemic will be felt for many years, with certain demographics, including women, bearing additional burdens or feeling the upheaval more closely. A recent study by the Meredith Corporation, The Post-Normal Consumer: Navigating an Uncertain Present & Future, found “divergent changes in women’s interests, lifestyles, values and shopping behaviors in response to the pandemic, as well as common themes, including an overall decline in mental health, a tighter focus on savings and a desire for positive messaging from brands.” Here are five takeaways that brands and marketers should consider as they navigate advertising to this very powerful audience – women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing – today and in the future.

Female Shoppers Have Evolved Throughout The Last 12 Months

In order to understand women as consumers, advertisers must pay attention to the behaviors women are exhibiting as shoppers in order to target effectively. Combining tactics like social listening with data points collected through actions can give a fuller picture of what women are thinking and feeling. Prior to the pandemic, 70% of women said they didn’t feel represented by advertisers for a number of reasons, from overly feminine advertising to brands targeting products for men that are more often bought by women to a lack of images that reflect a broader definition of beauty. Many brands have hired more female CMOs and CEOs in recent years and worked to create more inclusive and accurate representation in advertising campaigns, representing broad positives shifts for women. But, the pandemic impacted some specific behaviors that advertisers need to glean and reflect in their messaging.

“The pandemic has not affected all women in the same way. In addition to factors such as age, race and politics, psychological characteristics have played an important role in shaping the experiences and reactions of different groups of women,” said Dr. Joshua Ackerman, associate professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Michigan, a partner in the study with Meredith. “Brands will face the need for a targeted strategy in reaching consumers to be successful in this ‘post-normal’ world.”

1. Health & Wellness Is A Top Priority For Many Female Consumers

Shutterstock_1291114891 Home fitness workout woman training on smart stationary bike indoors watching screen connected online to live streaming subscription service for biking exercise. Young Asian woman athlete.

Of the top “values that became more important for women because of the pandemic,” a healthy, active lifestyle was second after “having close family relationships.” Additionally, although only 14% of women said their physical health declined, 39% of women pointed to the toll the pandemic took on their mental health. Wellness, fitness and lifestyle brands that are advertising to women will need to consider how priorities and values have shifted, focusing more on overall well-being than superficial quick fixes. A recent Peloton campaign featuring real Peloton members, instead of the brand’s slick ads of the past, is an example of a brand reading the room and pivoting when it mattered. 

2. Many Women Value Social Responsibility & Positive Messaging 

“Treating every person in the world equally and justly” was among the values that increased in importance for women during the pandemic, likely due to a number of factors, including the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and the disparities in impact from COVID-19. Female consumers are also interested in positive messaging from brands, with 78% wanting messaging about Americans being united and 68% hoping to see brands demonstrate “how we all can emerge from the pandemic even stronger.” However, only 48% want to see pandemic-inspired advertising, so brands will have to consider how to walk the line between advertising related to the pandemic and advertising that takes changed consumer values and behaviors into account without being directly about COVID-19. Tackling a changed world, particularly in regards to diversity and inclusion, should also be a priority for brands moving forward, as companies like Unilever and P&G lead the way with new initiatives. 

3. Financial Wellbeing Is Very Important To Many Female Consumers After A Difficult Year

Shutterstock_1689229639 Woman is smiling and hand putting coin into piggy bank, Finance or Savings concept.

A report from The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress found that 865,000 women left the workforce in 2020, with lost wages that could amount to $64.5 billion per year if the trend continues. According to the Meredith Corporation study, “21% of women have burned through much of their savings during the pandemic, whereas 54% actually saved money.” And, “52% of women say the pandemic made them realize they should save more for unexpected circumstances.” Brands that assume every woman is in the same financial position as they were prior to the pandemic are likely to turn off consumers that were laid off or who needed to leave work because of family circumstances, particularly Black and Brown women who were disproportionately impacted. Many women want to see messaging that demonstrates how seriously brands prioritize the roles of women, and many will be interested in comparison tools for goods and services, discounts and deals, particularly for childcare items. Consumer finance brands may also appeal to women that want to get on more sound footing or take another look at how they can be managing their money. 

4. Many Women Plan To Continue Ordering Online & Trying New Brands

Ecommerce was the convenience that made so much of American life bearable during lockdowns and beyond, creating a way to easily get groceries, prescriptions and all the other essentials that many shoppers typically bought at brick-and-mortar stores prior to the pandemic. Meredith Corporation found “22% of women will continue to shop online more post-pandemic, with the highest rates among Millennials (25%) and Gen Z (29%).” And, though many women look forward to easily getting their favorite brands again, “58% say they will continue to purchase new brands they tried during the pandemic after the pandemic is over.” Many of the non-essential purchases women made during the pandemic were for things that made their home lives more enjoyable, like housewares. Nurturing online female shoppers often requires a focus on value, savings or reasons for loyalty, with regularly deployed messaging that makes women feel understood.

5. There Are Generational & Attitudinal Differences Among Female Consumers Post-Pandemic

Shutterstock_1756606511 Portrait of thoughtful retired mature woman in casual clothes standing by large window, leaning on white wall, looking outside, drinking tea. People, social distancing and quarantine concept

Age impacted how seriously women coped with the pandemic, with some women feeling their lives had changed very little and other women feeling hugely impacted. As the vaccine rollout continues and brands transition to advertising strategies that reflect a return to more in-person activities, understanding consumer behavior will be more important than demographic data, like age. Data that digs into the reasons women are shopping, including their needs and wants related to individual purchases, may offer insight into consumers who are trying to figure out what their lives will look and feel like during the tail end of the pandemic and beyond.

Female Consumers Are A Powerful, Influential Demographic 

Whether it’s navigating roommates during a stay-at-home order, balancing families and jobs, spending hours gaming in the condo they purchased and live in on their own, sitting with kids during zoom school or becoming Vice President of the United States, women have been in the news in 2020. The pandemic affected women in many ways that are likely to have a lasting impact on how brands and retailers target their marketing moving forward. Understanding the diversity of experiences women have undergone the last year and creating thoughtful, personalized campaigns is essential to drive engagement, sales and loyalty.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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