I got my copy of Bridget Brennan’s Why She Buys in the mail today and hoped to get through it relatively quickly. I decided to take it to the gym with me and make the most of the 60 minutes I’d be on the treadmill. I grabbed my gym bag and left the office book-in-hand.
As I was walking out, I looked down and saw that the front side of the book jacket was facing the outside world, with huge black lettering practically screaming the title WHY SHE BUYS. I felt a little uncomfortable with this, so I flipped the book over, holding it against the top of my gym bag, and put my hand around title printed on the spine. I walked over to the US Steel tower (there’s an awesome YMCA in the basement) and headed into the locker room. When I got on the treadmill, I discovered that the jacket was making it much harder to keep on the reading rack, so I took it off and folded it so that only the white inside part of the cover was visible. Then I spent the next 60 minutes reading.
At some point early in the book, Ms. Brennan discussed how men have been socialized from birth to reject all things feminine at the expense of being thought of as being a sissy or (gasp) gay. I kind of laughed to myself — it’s as if she called me out right then and there for being embarrassed about doing this potentially profitable research.
Think I would have been more enlightened after that experience? Nope. On the way out, I continued my covert ways. Even knowing that it’s silly and even counterproductive, I couldn’t help but worry about what passers-by might think about me reading a book about the big S-H-E. I’m in the process of doing the largest research project I’ve ever attempted, reading as much as I can (three books down, about five to go based on my current purchases/inventory), speaking with leading authors/thinkers in this category and writing about it, quite publicly, on this blog. I have bought tampons for girlfriends without blinking an eye. But I feel awkward about people seeing me with a book about selling to women.
My conclusion? This is a very hard subject for us men to tackle. We’re embarrassed about it, concerned that someone will question our manhood because we’re discussing it. As a result, we’re simply ignoring the impact women have on the market, thinking that we can get by without worrying about their sheer financial muscle. But we can’t afford to, and all of the data says so. How can we possibly adapt and compete if we’re too embarrassed to talk about it in the first place? Have you ever seen a professional sports general manager assure the fan base that he has acquired all of the talent necessary to win a championship only to see the team get clobbered by everyone in the league (*ahem* Pittsburgh Pirates *ahem*)? How can that GM make the right moves and build a winning franchise if he’s too embarrassed to admit mistakes and learn what it takes to be successful? (Hint: He can’t, as us Bucco fans can attest.) Wouldn’t you rather have your favorite team run by GM who is responsive, willing to own up to errors, open to new information and strategies, and comfortable with completely changing his view of what that team needs to succeed?
So, that means I have to walk the walk. I need to resist the urge to hide from what might be the most important marketing conversation happening today. If I can’t expect this from myself, I can’t expect it from anyone else, either.
Hmm…this intrigues me. I would assume that there would be masculine stigma around being “caught” with a product aimed at women, but not one that is about (read: subjectifies/objectifies) women. For example, book about marketing to women = acceptable, but Danielle Steele novel = not cool, bro.
But I do understand the tampon thing being somehow more comfortable. In that case, there’s no ambiguity about why you’re buying them and who the end user is. In fact, it reinforces heteronormative masculinity in that the tampons are publicly symbolic of the fact that the buyer is more than likely in a romantic/sexual relationship with the woman for whom he’s buying them.
My experience is that most men AND women are a little weirded out by a guy doing this type of research (I spoke with a consultant who did a four-day seminar around this topic, which she described as, “some of the most frustrating days of my career.”). Think about it sociologically — we (men) were taught to reject nearly everything feminine growing up, which was reinforced by both men and women. It creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance in most people.
As for the tampons thing, I’d challenge that. I’d say most men are more comfortable buying tampons (as you said, though more artfully than I will, he’s probably getting laid) than, say, holding his girlfriend’s purse in public (another signal that he’s probably getting laid and, frankly, deserves to if she’s making him hold her purse in public).
The bottom line is that we’re not really ok with the conversation. The reasons aren’t illogical (like every other guy, I relentlessly guard against threats to my perceived masculinity), but they’re holding us back and making us less competitive.
I’d honestly think that the good old-fashioned capitalist overtones and end goal of the marketing research would cancel out the femininity factor. Is studying women as a target market really perceived as emasculating vs. just smart business sense? Even if it involves seminars and book learnin’ vs. tottering around in high heels for an afternoon to understand what it truly feels like to walk a mile in our shoes? Does the same go for Pick Up Artist (PUA) culture (which also studies women and their preferences, albeit with a different outcome in mind) as a threat to masculinity?
You would think economics would cancel out the femininity factor, but it’s not the case. I’m not saying that I agree with it (if I did, I wouldn’t be doing the research), but men are, as it’s been said, allergic.
Think of this from a man’s point of view — we’ve been raised to reject nearly anything feminine, we were educated in systems mostly shaped by men and entered the workforce where, for the most part, men wrote the rules. I despise the word “equal” when it comes to people (there’s a future post on that one, I’m sure), but the need to create legal structures to address the challenges women faced in the workplace is a good indicator that they had little in shaping the rules of the game. In other words, what we consider normal, everyday life, women consider to be incredibly masculine.
The implications are huge. If men don’t get women, it really doesn’t matter what seminars you attend (they’ll go against what a man believes and be promptly ignored), and “walking a mile in heels” gives men a false sense of knowing what women need, which leads to even more disaster (think multicultural training where people are taught nothing more than “Chinese people eat rice”). The decision-makers, who are overwhelmingly male, will deny their blind spot (or not even know that it exists) and the cycle repeats. Because women have been neglected for so long, they’ve generally resigned themselves to the frustrating ways companies treat them (i.e. women are socialized, too).
Pick-up artist culture, I would contend, is a short-term strategy, and the skills to “win” are considerably different than the skills needed to have a successful relationship. There’s a good reason why women often say that “all men want is sex”, because, well, there are a lot of guys who embody that. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to come up with a few tricks to get women to sleep with you than it is to figure out how you can be in a relationship with someone for the duration. And, in that case, I would say the challenges between pick-up artist vs. long-term relationship and traditional marketing vs. what we need going forward have a lot of similarities. The first is often thought of as a masculine trait, the latter is thought of as feminine. In the end, that disconnect is both the challenge and opportunity.
As men engage in this conversation, women should welcome the dialogue and resist the inclination to treat this topic as an “all girls club.”
Just found your blog today and have thoroughly enjoyed the read. In fact, I’d like to have you on my side of the table the next time I have to go toe-to-toe with a not-so-enlightened CMO (which is often). You are really smart and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing your musings.
To your reader’s points above, I was speaking on this subject in Sweden last Fall and found the crowd’s response very enlightening. As you know, Sweden prides itself on being one of the most egalitarian societies in the world.Yet even they run into bumps in that grey territory between equality and sameness.
@Mary Dean – Thank you! It’s been a fun and challenging process, with my end goal being someone who can’t be described as not-so-enlightened 🙂
I’d love to hear what the crowd’s response was to that presentation. Frankly, it was only yesterday that I realized just how egalitarian the Scandinavian countries were thanks to this article (Equal Rights for Women? Survey Says: Yes, But … – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/01/world/01iht-poll.html), so I can’t take too much credit for being knowledgeable on that front. Hearing about their bumps would be great.