The business case for advocating for gender equality

—Strong support of gender equality is not only the right thing to do, says Crop’s Alain Giguere, it can convert “no logo” consumers into “pro logo” consumers—

A lot of brands spoke up last week about the importance of equality between men and women. And of course CEOs and all business leaders and brand managers should support gender equality because they believe in it. Because it’s the right thing to do.

But the fact is, businesses and brands that support gender equality can also realize a marketing advantage from their efforts.

Social responsibility has become an important purchasing criterion, particularly among the most discerning consumers. They feel companies have the means to make a difference on important issues, and expect initiatives that advance and support those causes.

In our most recent national survey of Canadians (June 2020), we asked if it would be normal to have total equality between men and women, and 50% totally agreed it would. That jumps to about 80% if we include the more moderate supporters. This group is also surprisingly equally divided between men and women, with 47% of men and 53% of women in strong support of total equality.

To some—those who believe in total equality, and many who work in this industry—this may seem like a low number. But as a marketer it is a significant number, because of what else this cohort believes and how it shops.

Many consumers expect brands to contribute to positive social and ecological change, and those who are most supportive of gender equality are interested in a wide range of social and ecological issues, including:

  • Very aware of the ecological and social challenges of our time;
  • Very open to social, ethnic and sexual diversity in society;
  • Feel a sense of control in their lives: “anything is possible if we put our minds to it”;
  • Enthusiastically embrace technological progress, hoping it will benefit everyone; and
  • Believe in the creative potential of individuals, organizations and companies.

These consumers represent the most progressive segments of society and its markets. The opportunity for brands, then, is to position themselves as being aligned with this progressive trend.

Gender equality is an issue supported at roughly the same level as reducing our carbon footprint. For instance, 62% of Canadian consumers say they agree with the statement “I would be willing to pay more for certain products in order to help reduce climate impact.” But among those who totally agree with the idea of total equality between men and women at all levels and in all areas of society, this proportion goes up to 76%.

The most demanding consumers

Among supporters of gender equality, we also find those who are most critical of the market’s offers, the most informed consumers, and the most difficult to convert by traditional marketing tactics and strategies.

Using other criteria, we can also divide the consumer market into two large, almost equal segments: the most enthusiastic consumers on one side, and the most critical on the other. This corresponds with the most “hedonistic” versus the most cautious consumers.

Generally speaking, the most enthusiastic consumers are too caught up in their self-gratifying consumption frenzy to express any real sensitivity to current social and ecological issues. Pleasure trumps all, as far as they are concerned. Gender equity is not an issue for them, but as a marketer they also don’t take a lot of persuading to consider your brand.

However, not all consumption enthusiasts are insensitive to social and ecological issues. In recent years, a segment has emerged that displays a strong appetite for consumption, yet also wants to be perfectly socially and environmentally responsible. This emerging group, representing about 11% of the Canadian consumer market, will be more attracted to brands that support important social causes.

The most cautious consumers are also the most critical and demanding. They expect the best value for their money, and they define value in different ways—although it often includes the company’s reputation in regards to important social matters like the environment and gender equality.

They are wary of what the marketplace and companies have to offer, believing they create false needs. These consumers constantly reassess their needs before opening their wallets. Many (close to 25%) believe we are living in an era of overconsumption, which they consider a major cause of the planet’s ecological problems.

These consumers are not very sensitive to brand—to their distinctiveness or their promises. They are looking for the very best product, the most reliable, the most sustainable and most progressive in terms of gender equity, and they don’t care which brand that is. They have high standards for the products and services they use, regardless of the brand name.

The following graph shows the evolution in the importance of brands to consumers over the years. After many ups and downs, brand is now important to one in two consumers.

As we see in this chart, there are 49% of Canadians for whom brands are not that important when choosing a product (including 21% who are totally “no logo”). But again, among those who says they totally agree with a total equality between men and women at all levels and in all areas of society, this proportion goes up to 67%. Thus, it appears that the more critical, more demanding consumers, who are also less receptive to brands, are also the consumers most supportive of gender equality.

The brand opportunity

So, gender equality can be used to help convert these “No Logo” consumers to brands that truly support this cause. The consumers who support gender equality but are not brand loyal could be attracted to brands that espouse their values, but only if the commitment is genuine and meaningful.

If handled properly, “No Logos” could be converted into “Pro Logos.” As inherently important as it is, gender equality is more than an issue of social progress; it is also a business opportunity—an opportunity for companies to both do the right thing and grow their brands.

Alain Giguere is the president of Crop Market Research in Montreal.