Has gender marketing had its day?

Are women passive and girly? Are men all about their muscles? Of course not. But that’s not what most product marketing tells us.

For a long time it was ‘acceptable’ to gender products in order to sell them. But this has just served to perpetuate the myths we are still trying to break free of – ultimately, that men and women act in wholly different ways and therefore must want, need and be sold different things.

A little story
I recently bought a bottle of Radox Muscle Therapy, my usual bubble bath of choice. I picked it up, paid for it, took it home without a thought. It’s only when I ran the bath later that evening that I realised Radox Muscle Therapy bubble bath is now labelled for ‘MEN’.

Just a matter of months ago, this same bubble bath was safe for use by all sexes. But I – as the dumb consumer that marketers think I am – can only assume they’ve just discovered it contains ‘man ingredients’. You know, the kind that only work on men. It would be wasted on women – you have to be a man to enjoy it!

But what is the assumption behind this seemingly innocuous labelling? That only men use their muscles? Only men get back pain or aching legs? I wonder if they’ve ever heard that women lift stuff too? Or of period pain and restless legs syndrome?

I don’t need to make my point – you already know what it is. But many marketers don’t.

Gender marketing: a double-edge blade
When they market products, many marketers still employ assumptions about gender and sex to sell them. Whether it’s pink, flowery bicycles and globes for girls, or superman costumes and camouflage play tents for boys. And if that fails, they just tell you who it’s for, as in the case of many toiletries products. Just so there’s no ambiguities and everyone stays in their rightful place.

These marketers think that by labelling products appropriately – even though it is totally inappropriate to exclude one sex from a unisex product – they’re attracting a newer audience or targeting their marketing. But here’s the thing. Often, they’re not. Instead, they’re turning off a whole lot of other consumers and risk making them feel belittled, alienated, angry and not listened to. And if those consumers you’re putting off are female, you might just end up losing out.

Women buy
Women account for 85% of all purchases made. They might be buying for themselves or they might just as frequently be buying for the men in their life – so marketers need to have the woman in mind when they sell.

That doesn’t just mean with flowers and fancy décor. Target marketing is about more than just fluff – and sex and gender for that matter; it’s about appealing to your customer’s ideals and values. If you take the time to find out what matters to your consumer, rather than making assumptions, and distilling those values into your marketing, then your message will be picked up.

The paradox
These days we know gender stereotypes are bunkum; we live our lives to the full doing all kinds of different jobs and activities that blur the boundaries of gender and sex. But advertising largely fails to acknowledge that. In a world much more open, we actually seem to be seeing more gendered marketing. It doesn’t make sense.

Women are more likely to buy products aimed at men, more so than men will buy those aimed at women. Therefore, gendering products can work against marketers, who are actually narrowing the field of what men, and some women, will go for. If unisex products were marketed at all sexes, then the audience base becomes wider. We also have to ask ourselves whether women sometimes buy products aimed at men because this is the only way of getting what they want.

How to get what you want
When I went back to the supermarket and looked at all those Radox bubble baths lined up, I noticed something. Only one was labelled for men (Muscle Therapy), while the others had titles such as ‘feel pampered’, ‘feel heavenly’, ‘feel blissful’, ‘feel enchanted’. There was also a Muscle Soak option – I suppose the passive woman’s version of the more intensive, active and energised Muscle Therapy, which is for ‘MEN’, as we now know. Despite the fact that all baths entail the passive act of simply ‘soaking’.

None of the other bottles were labelled for women. But I could tell, what with all the pastel pinks, peaches and innocent, creamy white palettes – and of course the flowers adorning the labels. The men’s Muscle Therapy bottle, however, was angsty black and red, with a label signifying something more akin to the bubbling inferno of hell than a relaxing bath. Of course, men don’t want their bath time to be relaxing, but rather a dip into hell and back. They want the hard stuff.

Just as the statistics state, in order to get what I want I will still buy Muscle Therapy bubble bath, even though it’s now for ‘MEN’. Mostly, I just like the product, but I also refuse to be told I must defer to a more feminine alternative.

Marketers – break the mould!
Gendered marketing seems wholly backward in a time when we are more than ever aware of marketing tactics, more connected, and the already-blurred divide between the sexes is being shattered day by day.

Advertisers and marketers with the most acclaim are those who recognise what their consumers want, but also show the reality of modern culture – whether that’s the recent Match.com advert with two kissing lesbians (albeit in a sexualised way) or the Guinness ‘Never Alone’ advert with gay rugby player Gareth Thomas.

When I see a pink this or that for females and a camouflage alternative for males, I despair. Because it is this lazy, old-fashioned stereotyping that makes it harder for the people out there who don’t conform. And that, in one way or another, is all of us.

At worst, gendered marketing of unisex products is offensive, at best it’s just redundant.

Neglect social media at your peril

If you’re not convinced social media is important for your business – then this blog post is for you.

I’ve worked with clients who see social media as a last resort. They see it as something that, if they use it almost sparingly, will stand them in good stead against the hordes of online competition.

This just isn’t the case.

Social media is your child

Time consuming as it is, social media is not just something that happens once, like updating your virus protection. Instead, it’s like a child, which needs constant attention and nourishment in order to grow.

Starting with the basics, key social media sites Facebook and Twitter are crucial for getting news, offers and new products out there. They’re important as a way to send traffic (people) to your blog and website.

To put it bluntly – you need them to sell your stuff.

Don’t lose out to the competition

You might think it takes a lot of effort to write a blog post once or twice a month and post it to your blog and social media accounts. And it does.

But I hate to tell you that that alone won’t do anything for your business. If you’re putting money and time aside for that, you might as well not bother.

With social media, it’s all or nothing. You’re up against big businesses who have a whole marketing department devoted to blogging, tweeting, liking and sharing all day, all week, all month long.

If you’re not posting on your blog at least once a week and checking your social media at least twice a day (to make friends, respond to queries and post relevant content), you’ll never be part of the online conversation that your customers are.

What can you do?

There are several online tools that make this easier for independent businesses. These include the scheduling function on several blog hosting sites, including WordPress.

Hootsuite is another great tool which allows you to manage up to three accounts for free. This way you can schedule tweets or posts and respond to messages, likes, retweets and mentions all from one platform.

Finding the time

The best way to do this is to manage your time accordingly. Put aside one day a week where you write as many blog posts and schedule as many social media tweets as you can.

However. This doesn’t replace being constantly engaged with your online customer base.

You should think as social media in the same way you would a shop front. It is a virtual high street. You need to keep rotating products, highlights and offers in your social media window in order to attract people inside.

I can help

It’s not easy doing this yourself, but a freelance copywriter or marketing consultant can help. I have worked with several clients and businesses to write their blog posts and promote them online.

Using a professional takes care of the hassle of writing engaging and keyword-rich copy. After all, we are trained and experienced in how to do this.

We can even monitor your accounts for you, ensuring your online customers are being looked after in the same way a shopkeeper would.

Think about it for a second

In real life, you wouldn’t shut your cupcake business on National Cupcake Day. Or leave your customers to wander around your shop and put money on the counter without any interaction with an employee, would you?

Who would answer their questions? Who would make sure they knew about the latest offers? Who would ensure they could find everything they needed?

81% of people research their purchase online before they buy. That includes high street shoppers. If you neglect that 81%, you neglect them at your peril.

I can work with you on your blog and online needs to ensure your business works as hard as you do. So take the next step for your business today and contact me now to get started.

 

Lifetime ISA: a lifeline for freelancers

If you’re self-employed, you might have let out a little cheer on Wednesday after the Chancellor announced the forthcoming budget.

For once, savers are being rewarded. In particular, young savers. And as copywriting is (so I’ve heard) a young person’s game, this should come as welcome news.

But young people are also renowned for not saving, and I’m interested to see if this stems to freelancers.

Common sense

As a self-employed person, I would find it incredibly hard to operate without savings. Projects come and go and there’s no reliability in the same way as with full-time employment.

Once you embark on a career path comprised of ups and downs, it’s common sense to put a little away in the fruitful months to help you through the barren ones.

For me, saving is inbuilt from childhood. But as I’ve followed my path into freelancing, I truly appreciate the value of having a safety net to catch me –  for example if work became thin on the ground, or I needed to move flats and had to pay 6 month’s rent up front (when self-employed, it’s hard to get a property otherwise).

Lifetime ISA: a lifeline

Interest rates have been somewhat dismal in the past eight years since the recession kicked in. But the government’s proposed Lifetime ISA could well provide lifeblood to those ailing savings.

For those who weren’t paying attention, the Lifetime ISA is specifically for young people (anyone under 40 – thank you George!). It pays a handsome 25% interest rate on deposits up to £4000 per year and you can use it for a mortgage or your retirement. They’d rather you kept it in until you were 60; however, they’re looking into ways you might be able to take money out and repay it.

Either way, this is good news for freelancers, especially those just embarking on self-employment who will be earning a very modest wage.

Freelancing: the disadvantages

Like everyone, we benefit from the increase in the personal allowance, but not from employer sick schemes, bonuses, wage rises, holiday pay, and the recent pension auto-enrolment with employers forced to pay in for employees. All this is left up to us.

And because our wage can be considerably lower than most full-time jobs, especially when just starting out, cash ISAs don’t do much for us with their dwindling rates at a stagnant 1%.

The Lifetime ISA, however, will reward those who can’t afford to save a huge amount with a very generous rate, making the future look not quite so gloomy.

You do the maths

If you could save just £50 a month, you’d earn £150 in a year from the government; pay in the max of £4000 a year and you’d get £1000.

That money then goes on to accrue year on year, giving you a firm foundation for retirement. This new ISA also promises to be easier to manage than a pension, and more transparent.

Save for your future today

If you’re a freelancer who doesn’t have savings, now might be a good time to start paying some interest, in order to get some back in return.

The Lifetime ISA doesn’t come into effect until April 2017, but in the meantime, you could start saving in a high-interest current account (see TSB or Santander), which will give you regular rewards on your cash, helping you accrue some capital for when it does come into effect.

Take it from me and my own experience, it’s always worthwhile having a little money in the bank because you never know when you might need it.

 

5 proofing hacks for your business

Your copy needs to be spot on if you’re going to impress. There’s a lot of competition out there, and while customers won’t always reward you for getting it right, they will punish you for silly errors.

That includes spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Since you don’t know who might be reading your words, it’s also important to fact-check and ensure your copy doesn’t break any laws.

That’s why I’m going to share my top 5 quick and easy proofing hacks to make sure you get it right.

  1. Grammarly

Grammarly is an essential free tool to download. It helps flag up any common errors in spelling and missing words, and is clever at spotting punctuation and grammar errors, even teaching you as you go! It installs on your browser, in MS Word and on your PC for use on many different platforms. Grammarly also offers a year-long premium option, providing even more fixes and a plagiarism checker.

  1. Spell checks

While it’s OK to use MS Word spellchecker, don’t rely on it. It misses many an obvious mistake, and there are plenty of free spell checkers on the Web. My favourite is on Google Docs. How often does Google correct your search results and know what you want? Well, the Google Docs spell checker checks your words against the plethora of information on the Web. That makes it good at spotting errors in references, names, place names and even some international words and phrasing in addition to the usual spelling mistakes.

  1. Plagiarism software

Ensure you don’t fall foul of plagiarism laws by always running your copy through a plagiarism scanner. Grammarly premium offers this service or you can find a free one on the Web, such as this from Small SEO Tools. If you reuse product descriptions or content from the Web, make sure you rewrite it so it’s 100% unique. Otherwise, your search rankings will be lowered and you could even face a copyright suit. A surefire way to avoid this is to pay a copywriter to write your content for you. They’ll get it spot on and you get copy tailored to your business’ needs.

  1. Oxford Dictionaries Online

Consult a dictionary. Yes, some things you can’t get a robot to do! But don’t dismiss these humble reference tools. Oxford Dictionaries Online has a vast store of UK, US and world dictionaries to check spellings, pronunciation, similar words (synonyms) and encyclopaedic entries for notable persons and events. If you’re not sure how to spell a word, start typing and it will pop up. This site is especially useful for showing you how to use a word or phrase in a sentence and different spellings for US or UK English. Sites like Wikipedia are also invaluable, but always check their sources before citing ‘facts’.

  1. PerfectIt

Go pro and invest in PerfectIt – proofreading software that has an add-in built for MS Word. This software can run many tests on your work, including commonly misspelt words, inconsistencies in spelling and punctuation, formatting errors, and you can even specify your preferred spellings and punctuation use. Plus, once you’ve paid, it never expires! Even better, you can also try before you buy with a 30-day free trial.

It’s best practice to run your copy through as many proofing tools as you can, to ensure your content is up to scratch.

A supplement not a substitute

However, this is not only a timely procedure, it also isn’t 100% effective. Unfortunately, robots can’t catch everything and, in some cases, they even make suggestions that are incorrect – causing potential embarrassment.

These tools are a supplement not a substitute for accurate proofreading and need to be used with caution. You’d be surprised what kind of obvious errors slip through these filters, which can cost you big business.

Get perfect, tailor-made copy

So to get it right first time, it’s best to employ a proofreader or professional copywriter to ensure you don’t make these costly errors.

If you work with me, we can come up with the best solution for your needs. Perhaps you simply need another pair of eyes to spot any errors, you already have some content you’d like rewriting, or you want some copy creating from scratch.

Contact me today and we’ll get across everything you need to say in the best way possible.

My Tip for Writing Sales Copy

The modern world is fluid: there are no longer strict times to work, to go shopping, to connect with people. This fluidity is even more dangerous to those who work freelance, especially if that’s from home. It can be difficult to switch off from the endless list of things that can be done at any one moment, causing constant distractions – some welcome, but most not.

One of the bonuses of being a professional copywriter is that clients give you work. However, if you write sales copy full time, there’s a significant chance that at some point you will experience that awful feeling of writing yourself into a corner full of clichés, and it can be a tiresome task trying not to recycle your own work.

But it was while I was tuning up my new TV that I made a career-defining discovery. When you can’t think of any more ways to sell that ugly pair of leather cowboy boots simply take my advice and…turn on the TV.

Yes, you heard me. Turn on the TV.

Switch straight to the home shopping channels – you’ll find you have plenty. And, for once in your life, that’s a good thing.

Watching the endless hours of furious waffling will give you a crash course in how to sell. Home shopping channels are divided into hour-long slots where a presenter is challenged to shift as many units as possible, as though trying to bargain their way out of a hostage scenario. Often they have a whole range to peddle, but the real feats of salesmanship are the solus endorsements.

As the minutes tick away, the programme swiftly descends into farce as the host becomes desperate to snag that potential customer. It’s true. I have actually seen, with my own eyes, a frantic presenter furiously force the backstage crew to fashion a pet fish out of a carrot and a bowl of water, just to show off a panoramic camera.

But the highs (and the many lows) of this kind of television are invaluable to the ‘blocked’ copywriter.

As you sit there in your be-throned armchair, all smug in your new position as the ‘potential customer’, you can see what works – Wow, that mobile really does look like it has everything I want and at such a reasonable price – and what doesn’t – Hmm, I’d rather take memorable photographs of my grandchildren than my goldfish.

As we all know, one of the most important things in copywriting is selling the experience. And that is what these guys (usually) do so well.

To gain your trust, the presenter will start out with the product specifications – the brand, the quality materials, the craftsmanship – but before you know it they’ve segwayed these indisputable facts into the ways that this product will make your life easier, more efficient, and, in turn, make you a better person/worker/mother/friend.

The sole point of the programme is just like a piece of sales copy – it is to build a gradual argument for why this specific product will change your life, and by the end, even the most dismissive viewer can’t help but agree with everything they’ve just said. Except for maybe that bit about the fish.

Of course, I’m not saying this little technique is without its risks. Turning on the TV while you’re trying to work does, after all, take a lot of stamina, mostly to not let yourself get sucked in by Pointless or Bargain Hunt (I’m not judging). But, if you’re stuck on the roundabout of sales clichés, there are worse things you can do than switch to the home shopping channels. And besides, all that red-faced shouting and carrot-bobbing means they can be pretty fun too…