Times Have Changed: Bec Brideson on Marketing to Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month throughout March, we’re featuring women who are shattering stereotypes in their personal and professional lives. From artists to engineers, women who have forged their own path inspire us and women everywhere to accomplish whatever we dream of being.

The creators of “Mad Men,” the TV show that aired for seven seasons on the cable network AMC, made it easy to buy into the creators’ vision of life in a successful 1960s-era advertising agency. The set design, clothing, mannerisms and attitudes were spot on. And, while fashion has changed a lot since then and you’d be hard pressed to find all that smoke in an office any more, there is one thing that hasn’t changed: the executive offices in the advertising world are still primarily occupied by males. As a result, outdated lenses are often used to view markets that include females. It’s a lens that was made for the era when Don went to work and Betty stayed at home.

When you consider that women have more influence in the market than they’ve ever had before, but that business is still operating from a male point of view, the fly in the ointment becomes obvious. We sat down with Bec Brideson, a consultant on the female economy, who talked to us about her career in advertising and marketing, and the importance of stepping beyond stereotypes to find new ways to attract female consumers at a time when women control $4.3 trillion (73%) of U.S. spending.

Bec, tell us about your career path in the world of creative agencies.

I’ve been on the creative side of advertising for 25 years and am among a small group —  about 3 percent — of women who made it to the position of creative director, and 0.1 percent of women who start their own agency. 

In 2003, I’d had enough of alpha male egos and the absence of gender diversity. The way women were treated in agencies was like a joke from a Benny Hill skit. I’d had enough of fighting the wrong battles and I had to make a decision about what I wanted to fight for. I could either keep chasing an agency job that shared my values about women, or create an agency myself and make smarter work for clients. That’s when I decided to start Venus Comms, Australia’s first agency specializing in the female audience.

The last three decades have been filled with change — the gender transformation has been almost as fast as the digital changes we see all around us today. Whilst agencies may have kept up with the digital landscape, they’ve stayed stuck in the past when it comes to women.

Even though women influence over 85 percent of consumer spending decisions, the agencies are still serving up work that does not understand females. But it’s more than just the work – it’s the entire lens on the business – and that’s why I’m now working with clients before they even go near the agencies. Approaching the female market is not even as simple as writing a great “femvertsising” ad – although at least it is a start.

How have you shattered stereotypes in your role of promoting “womenomics”?

In a world where I was always a minority or the “token chick,” I could still see that helping brands build empathetic loyalty with female consumers is actually a game-changing growth strategy. It was clear to me that marketing needed to keep pace with the social evolution of women and that women wanted us to connect with them in different ways than we’ve historically been taught. Either the industry would change and adapt to understanding women (but it didn’t) or I would be part of creating the change in it.

I think having the vision, courage and commitment to start my own business, an agency and consultancy focused on finding business and creative solutions to connect with women, shatters multiple stereotypes. Where most agencies use the same set of tools for males and females, I want to wake the industry up to the understanding that gender segmentation can be powerful. I could see that there was another way to think about how we approach the female market.

What is your advice or call to action to other women?

Pay attention and embrace change. Just because an individual or an industry has looked at communications strategies the same way for years doesn’t mean it’s the right strategy today. Let’s look at women’s economic development as an example. Three hundred years ago, women were regarded as the property of their husbands after marriage and they depended on them for their very survival. Then they became independent as they entered the work place en masse. Now women are influencers and control $4.3 trillion (73%) of U.S. spending — a powerful market. Marketing needs to catch up and connect with this audience in ways tailored to them and their needs, rather than the masculine preference that’s dominated for years.

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