A few years ago, laundry detergent and fabric care company Ariel (from the house of Procter & Gamble) came out with an ad where a father visiting his daughter found her struggling to strike a balance between professional duties and household work. It made him rethink the traditional gender roles, and he decided to share laundry duties with his wife, going ahead. In the end, the commercial asked a simple question — why is laundry only a mother’s job? A recent campaign from the ridesharing company Uber India raised a more profound question: Why should distance get in the way of women’s dreams? Why can’t women work far from home for better career opportunities?
But there is always a flip side. Around the same time the Ariel ad was released, Bengaluru-based ridesharing app Ola promoted its ‘affordable’ micro cabs by comparing it with a woman who makes her man spend way more when the couple is out shopping. Released on the video-streaming platform YouTube, the ad said: Too expensive to take GF out on a date? It drew instant flak from netizens and was pulled off.
Cut back to the 1990s and mainstream advertising, and one is bound to find rampant gender stereotypes and loads of social discrimination even when companies targeted women-focussed products. And the same approach — lacking inclusivity and pushing unrealistic standards — continues to thrive even in the third decade of the new millennium. In April 2021, UNICEF and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a non-profit research organisation, released a study titled Gender Bias and Inclusion in Advertising in India. Although female characters dominated screen time in Indian commercials, the report found that their depiction was confined to specific roles like being the caretaker of the family and propagating similar values to consumers. Women were majorly shown cleaning, cooking or shopping, while male characters dominated in intelligent or funny roles.
Of course, we are not here to pen a story on gender bias in advertising. The goal is to dive deep into the marketing strategies of women-focussed direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands to explore whether gender equity plays a crucial role in product promotion. However, it is pretty clear by now that many traditional and new-age brands are broadly out of sync with ground realities. And they often find it challenging to cater to the female consumer segment that is continually breaking silos and growing in size and buying power.
Lately, many companies have been compelled to re-evaluate their stand and rethink how to engage with female customers away from the age-old marketing din. A recent example is Hindustan Unilever rebranding its flagship product Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely after a countrywide backlash against colourism and skin-lightening products.
Another criterion that has led Indian brands to prioritise their female audience is the latter’s growing purchasing and decision-making power. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the number of Indian women with bank accounts has tripled between 2013 and 2019, and their disposable income has increased by 63%. The country’s Credit Information Bureau (CIBIL) also recorded a 62% jump in credit card usage among women consumers during 2013-19 compared to a 30% rise among men. Also, the average CIBIL score of women is 734 compared to men’s score of 726.
Add to that market projection data, and one can easily understand why brands are increasingly looking at female power for future growth. According to Inc42’s 2021 D2C report titled Decoding India’s $100 Bn+ D2C Opportunity, the total addressable market size was $44.6 Bn in FY21, and women-driven segments such as fashion and FMCG contributed $17.8 Bn and $6.1 Bn, respectively.
Given that the nature of their target consumers is evolving fast — from gender stereotypes to financially empowered and savvy shoppers — Indian D2C brands catering mainly to women have adopted new-age techniques and strategies to acquire, engage and retain their consumers. Here is a look at how brands are promoting their products that resonate with their audience.
Breaking The Barriers
This is easier said than done as women’s narratives are rarely highlighted in advertisements outside of fashion and FMCG domains, and gender-neutral brands still fail to engage with female customers. But this does not happen in India alone. A 2020 women consumers’ survey by US-based management consulting firm Kearney said that 15% or fewer respondents were satisfied with brand promotion across segments such as automotive, digital media, consumer packaged goods and tools. In fact, Indian companies targeting similar segments should take note of this trend to improve their branding.
According to a report by Kantar, a UK-based data analytics company, 76% of women consumers across the globe believe that the way they are portrayed in adverts is entirely out of touch. Although their needs are not inherently different from others, the historical underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women consumers now make a strategy rethink essential to capture their imagination and aspiration. In essence, product promotion must be more humane and inclusive, and reducing the tone-deafness across commercials is one way to achieve that.
Although it is difficult to do away with stereotypes entirely, some D2C brands are thriving on the much-needed differentiation that their marketing campaigns and brand messages have ushered in. Take, for instance, the IPO-bound beauty and fashion unicorn Nykaa’s maiden TV campaign rolled out in 2018. It celebrated women from every walk of life — a woman at the centre of high-stake situations, a multitasking mom with a high-profile career, scientists, pilots and athletes — all coming together to script a saga of glory where the spotlight is always on the women. They are real-life heroes (nykaa, in Sanskrit), and for them, beauty has many faces. Incidentally, Nykaa became a unicorn in 2020 and is looking to raise $4.5 Bn from an IPO later this year.
Or think of the recent campaign by MyGlamm, another D2C beauty brand. Unlike the other TVC, this one has a bubbly approach ideal for millennial customers. But the brand strikes a chord deep inside as it manifests an inclusive journey, asking consumers what they want and creating products that fulfil their needs.
While technology, data and insights into consumer mindset play a key role in portraying women’s true potential and enhancing product appeal, a lot more can be done to reach out to potential customers. Here is a case in point. It is common knowledge that marketing automation players like WebEngage, MoEngage, CleverTap and Piano help D2C brands with better customer targeting and quantifiable outcomes. Businesses can leverage similar tech solutions to gather extensive data on their female audience through a gamut of identity parameters (gender, age, race, religion, socioeconomic status and more). Next, they can identify preferences and customise their marketing campaigns for an inclusive experience.
From a business standpoint, such efforts result in high returns as a study published on ResearchGate under the Journal of Marketing finds that women are more loyal consumers than men and require fewer retention efforts once they are happy with the brand.
Building Communities Through Meaningful Content
Breaking barriers is undoubtedly the first step towards inclusivity, but it is not the last. Although it is important to acknowledge women’s achievements in every sphere of life, it is even more crucial to make them a part of a brand’s journey to ensure sustainable, long-term appeal. So, the goal is to build a community around the target audience for meaningful and seamless connectivity.
Interestingly, this process started in bits and pieces and went through a metamorphosis of sorts. Like all other businesses, customers are core to D2C brands. But to counter high customer acquisition costs, companies initially opted for free social media play, communicating brand narratives and ensuring optimum reach for lead generation and conversion. Soon enough, other opportunities cropped up.
For starters, brands have found it attractive to unlock the power of information to appeal to buyers intelligently. This fits well in the scheme of things as new-age women care about product information, as much as they love catchy taglines and meaningful messages. That is why many fashion, beauty and personal care brands in the D2C space have started publishing blogs and vlogs to create product awareness, feature use cases, share tips and hacks and generate conversations on what is trending or what challenges consumers are facing.
Amanté, a D2C lingerie brand, is a case in point. The company runs a blog on its platform where it talks about its products and creates content for consumer education on innerwear because not enough conversation happens in this space. (Incidentally, it is not an Indian-origin brand. Amanté is part of MAS Brands, a subsidiary of Sri Lanka’s MAS Holdings.)
Similarly, Kohima-based skincare marketplace Beauty Barn’s overarching marketing strategy includes engaging consumers in conversation and focussing on different factors that impact skin health, right from skin type to weather and sun exposure, hygiene and eating habits. Understanding the pros and cons helps customers make a better choice when buying products for themselves.
Such initiatives also underline a stark transformation from the marketing approach of the 1990s and early 2000s when brands upheld a one-size-fits-all thesis and focussed on enticing instead of informing.
Brands like FabAlley are also taking their communities to the next level. Set up in 2012, the online fashion store claims to handle a monthly order volume of 150K and caters to a large user base that primarily serves women consumers. The company said it also recorded a 50% rise in revenue in FY21 compared to the previous financial year. But more interestingly, this brand can be an excellent case study of how to build a community with the right purpose.
Given the pandemic situation, FabAlley is focussing more on community building instead of driving sales aggressively. Besides, it has come out with multiple giveaways and special offers to help its customers.
“The past year pushed us to look at marketing in a new way because of the pandemic,” said Tanvi Malik, cofounder of FabAlley and Indya. “So, we have taken a more personalised approach. When engaging with our customers, we discuss various topics that go beyond fashion. From Covid-19 resources and snippets on well-being, from fitness and mental health to slice-of-life bits and fun takes on the new normal, we explore many topics to generate conversation with the community.”
Now that brands have come a long way from bland social media posting and built full-fledged communities powered by content, the latter plays a crucial role in retaining customers and giving them a sense of ownership through an inclusive approach. In fact, MyGlamm’s latest campaign has leveraged this strategy of inclusion to gain traction.
With brick-and-mortar retail witnessing frequent shutdowns due to pandemic waves, ecommerce marketplaces in India and abroad have helped a wide range of emerging and established brands with marketing, sales and logistics. Even global giants like Dell, Apple and Nike have leveraged marketplaces for sales growth as customers prefer buying from there for quick access to a variety of brands and fast, hassle-free delivery.
The convenience of the online marketplace model has resulted in rapid growth. According to a report jointly published by Deloitte India and Retailers Association of India, the value of online marketplaces in India is set to reach $1.2 Tn by the end of 2021.
To leverage this opportunity, D2C players like Purplle, Nykaa and Zivame have adopted the marketplace model in the past few years. They are now helping new-to-the-market or not-so-well-known D2C brands create touchpoints on their platforms to diversify sales strategy and create an omnichannel presence.
This is also creating a new marketing narrative, although indirectly. Consider this. Customers visiting these D2C brand-driven marketplaces are bound to look for what is new in the market, experiment with products and feel gratified if they come across ‘new’ brands that prove genuinely fulfilling. As for the new businesses on the block, leveraging a ready-made omnichannel strategy (in case they already have physical stores) with the help of market leaders will allow them to foray into a competitive market and pursue an aggressive growth strategy. Eventually, it will be a win-win for all — customers seeking appealing brands, brands reaching out to prospects with meaningful narratives and an overall D2C enablement ecosystem emerging to push growth stories.