‘Women are not a target market’: Confessions of a former finance marketer
- There’s no shortage of headlines and reports about how companies fall short in marketing to women
- Unless research comes out specifying what about the marketing isn't working, the problem is that women are treated as a niche
Retail banks are missing out on $15 billion in global revenue thanks to a gender gap in access to checking and savings accounts.
A BNY Mellon report published last week in collaboration with the UN, cites flaws in design and marketing that make financial products less accessible to women than they are to men. For example, women tend to be in the workforce for a shorter period of time but also tend to live longer than men, so insurance or retirement savings products and the marketing for them needs a refresh, said Heidi DuBois, BNY Mellon’s global head of corporate social responsibility and social finance.
The report identifies gender gaps on other products; financial institutions are missing out on another $7 billion in credit card revenue, $14 billion in personal loans and $4 billion in housing, the report says.
There’s no shortage of headlines and reports about how companies fall short in marketing to women: just look here, here and here. In this installment of Confessions, in which we trade anonymity in exchange for honesty, we spoke with a marketing expert who spent a decade in large financial institutions like Citi and Bank of America and now works at a fintech company, who says overarching statements about marketing “problems” are misguided and unless research comes out specifying what about the marketing isn’t working, the problem is that women are treated as a niche.
Do banks really fall short in marketing to women?
When I see the word marketing problem it makes my skin itch. Guess what that means: that women complain more, or that they read the fine print. And this is true. I find that vague “marketing problem” as a bit of a catch-all that women question things.
What’s the biggest misconception about this kind of research, which itself can be a form of marketing?
The idea that this is a market that needs development and specialized communication or a targeted approach in and of itself is not really the issue. There are things that just fundamentally create barriers to marketing success when it comes to inclusiveness. And shame on them for not defining it. Without defining it we’re going to leave it to people like me to define it based on our experiences and observations, which of course are not the most flattering.
When you see that in a report that doesn’t back it up, how do you interpret the problem?
When they say “marketing to women” I think that means they’re a little harder to pull one over on. Women are very observant and tend to take a cursory glance at the fine print. They look at fees, account minimums, check charges, check fees. They definitely are comparison shoppers and are more careful about how they choose things.
How does that measure against your experience in financial institutions?
When we had phone lines light up on a particular issue, more often than not it was the women who made the calls and asked questions about fees and other parts of the fine print.
What then is the opportunity for banks to improve marketing to women?
I’ve seen us spend millions of dollars in target marketing money toward women — we are almost 51 percent of the population, we’re not a target market. We say, “well so what, we’re still trying” but what that means is it might be a narrowly defined effort that has a life span that includes initiatives developed in some sort of marketing lab, not with real people. So it feels like a targeted marketing campaign. We might get a little pop from it and we would be heartened by that but over the long term, it just never worked. It was just sunk money.
What are your biggest problems with the status quo?
Fundamentally, that banks are selling it. Women tend to not like to be sold to, they like to have problems solved, know and stick firmly to what they want when they go into these settings. When they open a business banking account, end of story. I did not want a business savings account, I did not want a business investment account, I did not want with a swipe of a keystroke you to approve other areas of the bank to reach out and try to market to me.
There’s research that shows millennial men tend to be better bank customers than women, based on how many referrals they bring. Does that surprise you and is there a correlation?
In terms of the patriarchal structure of financial services’ patriarchal infrastructures, men tend to be more “assertive” and say things like “I got this great deal at X.” Culturally they talk more about money and investment vehicles than women do. It doesn’t surprise me terribly that men are more likely to make referrals. Is the flip side that women are more likely to say “stay away from that place”? — that also might qualify as a “marketing problem.”