Are women natural marketers?

by Aarthi Srinath

The last decade has seen an exponential increase in women occupying top positions in marketing in businesses, the world over. Indeed the gender-wise representation shows a marked spike in marketing positions for women, as compared to other executive positions in the industry.

The list of the 29 most influential CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) in the world (Business Insider, October 2012) has 14 women taking up just under half the spots. Interestingly, these women were evenly distributed throughout instead of simply being clustered at the bottom, with three of them in the top ten. Another ranking by iMedia on the top Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators 2012 has 6 women in the top 10.

This heartening trend of larger numbers of women CMOs holds good in India Inc as well.

Dipika Warrier (Executive Director Marketing, Pepsi), Nadia Chauhan Kurup (CMO, Parle Agro), Tanya Dubash (Chief Brand Officer, Godrej Industries), Kainaz Gazder (Marketing Director, P&G India), Anuradha Aggarwal (Sr VP Brand Communication, Vodafone) and Virginia Sharma (Director Marketing, IBM) are excellent examples of this.

Anuradha

Anuradha Aggarwal (Sr VP Brand Communication, Vodafone). Flickr/ Creative Commons

Of the 50 women awarded at the IMPACT 50 Most Influential Women Awards 2012, 19 of them were from the field of marketing.

Vinita Bali (MD, Britannia) and Sangeeta Pendurkar (MD, Kellogg India Pvt Ltd), among Fortune India's Most Powerful Women, started their careers as marketing professionals and successfully held CMO positions before taking over as chief.

Fortunately, the diversity of the industries and the size of the companies these women represent leave absolutely no room for stereotyping!

This brings us to the next question: Are these listings coincidental or are they indicative of any gender-specific strength that makes women naturally good marketers? The stereotypical explanations are that women like softer subjects like marketing and design and hence gravitate towards marketing.

In my view, the truth is probably that women possess two strengths in greater measure - empathy and intuition.

Built for Empathy

Selling to customers is done on one of two bases: Rational or Emotional. Rational selling works on the assumption that the company truly has a superior product that consumers clearly agree is superior and there is a reasonable reason to believe that the product will retain its superiority and differentiation. Emotional selling relies on building emotional bonds and inspiring loyalty from its consumers. Both these approaches are equally justified.

For example, Procter & Gamble relies mostly on rational selling, while Nike, Starbucks and Red Bull take the emotional route.

Today's marketplace is over-crowded, and assaults the consumer with infinite choices and a million legitimate alternatives. Psychologists and economists argue that this overload of options is actually paralyzing people and pushing them into decisions that are not the most rational ones. Instead, decisions are taken emotionally.

Marketers need to be able to get into the heads of their consumers, understand their beliefs, empathize with their needs, and then structure their strategies to build long-term relationships. In this context, marketing is essentially a challenge of understanding.

Women's brains have been found to have a deeper limbic system, the area of the brain associated with emotions and emotional responses to situations.

According to extensive scientific findings, women's brains are the default for all of us. For the first eight weeks of our existence in the womb we all have a female brain. Then, the sex hormones take over. In the case of boys, a huge surge in fetal testosterone results in the destruction of cells in the communication centers of the brain and the growth of cells in the sex and aggression centers. Meanwhile the female fetus, devoid of the surge in male hormones, continues to grow unaltered.

This leads to significantly different brains. Women's brains emerge as superior organs for communication and emotional understanding. From an early age, girls display much greater sensitivity to the suffering of others, than boys. And in adult life, they have a greater ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. Baby girls, even as young as 12 months old, respond more empathetically to the distress of other people. When girls and boys were asked to judge when someone might have said something potentially hurtful, girls score higher than boys from the age of seven.

Women are also more sensitive to facial expressions. They are better at decoding non-verbal communication, picking up subtle nuances from tone of voice or facial expression, or judging a person's character.

All this points to women, in general, exhibiting greater emotional empathy - the kind of empathy that fosters rapport, relationship and chemistry - a critical skill for the marketer.

Naturally intuitive

Today, marketers 'know' more than ever before. Millions of dollars are spent on market research, to collect information on customer's needs, purchase patterns, spending behavior, preferences etc. With social media analytics, big data and social listening tools, marketers not only know what customers are saying, but they also know what customers actually mean when they say or do something. This data drives all marketing decisions.

But amidst all this data-worship, critics insist that data cannot trump intuition. In fact, data must be examined in the context of one's experiences and intuition.

Many of the products that we commonly use today, the computer, the iPod, or chunky tomato pasta sauce, all came through visionary intuition of their inventors, not by the expressed need of the consumers.

The left half of our brain controls order and logical thinking, and the right half of our brain deals with emotions and creativity. The connecting pathway between the two hemispheres, the corpus callosum, is often wider in women than in men. This suggests that there is possibly a higher level of intercommunication between the two hemispheres, more transitions back and forth in women when compared to men. This greater interaction between logic and emotions is often referred to as 'woman's intuition'.

Xerox CMO Christa Carone describes a recent "major repositioning effort" for the company essentially as a result of a gut feeling. "It's impossible to measure squishier, meaningful intangibles, such as human emotion, personal connection and the occasional "ahhhh" moment. Those things often come with a marketer's intuition, and they deliver big-time."

Summarizing...

While it is fair to conclude that women have a genetic advantage in fields such as marketing, it is important to remember that is not so much about the gender advantage as it is about the typical 'male' and 'female' traits in the brain. We live in a world of approximations. So while it is not accurate to claim that all women are better than all men at marketing, it is reasonable to say that a successful marketer would probably have more "female" traits, such as empathy and intuition, than others. By definition, women possess these in greater measure than men.

The strength of a woman has been paraphrased by Gandhiji thus, "Has she not greater intuition, ....has she not greater courage? ....Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?"