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What women want: exploring her market power

September 2023 | STRAGEMS & JEWLES

Women have come a long way since 2006, when Jeweller first explored their increasing consumer purchasing power. However, in some ways, the full potential is yet to be unlocked. GILLIAN BARTLETT and ARABELLA RODEN report.


For most of us, the nature, depth and implications of the differences between men and women are mired in a mystery that adds adventure and excitement to our personal relationships. In the cold, hard reality of the commercial world, however, such mystery is a luxury retailers cannot afford.

Significant gains in their financial independence means women no longer need men to do the buying for them. With their own cash to splash, women are choosing to spend it on themselves. And it’s imperative for businesses to understand what makes them tick.

According to worldwide statistics, the female consumer makes more than 80 per cent of all purchasing decisions… and that’s across all product categories. Numerous studies reveal the percentage is even higher when it comes to personal and luxury items such as jewellery and cosmetics.

In 2006, Amanda Stevens, director Splash Consulting Group, a Sydney-based communications consultancy that specialises in marketing to women, told Jewellerthat a “seismic shift” occurred in the profile of Australian female consumers in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

“The consumer dynamic of the jewellery market has changed dramatically over the last decade,” she said. “The way women purchase jewellery now is very different to 10 or 20 years ago, when most major jewellery purchases were made by a man.

“Today, women are walking confidently into jewellery stores, gold card in hand, and making significant jewellery purchases.”

Stevens attributed these changes to three major demographic factors:

  • Based on comparisons, the male to female salary ratio flattened at an astonishing rate (although not before time!). Women are simply earning more money than they used to by being paid the same wages as their male counterparts.
  • According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, women were staying single longer and having children later in life, with some 26 per cent of couples choosing to remain childless.
  • There was a dramatic increase in female home-ownership, further indicating growing female wealth and prosperity.

It is these elements, according to Stevens, that combined to make women in the 25–40 year old bracket Australia’s fastest growing wealth demographic.

“Understanding how to more effectively market to women is the number one opportunity available to corporate Australia,” she said.

Notably, those three trends have held true over the past 15 years.

Australia’s female labour force participation rate reached an historic high of 60.5 per cent in January 2018, according to the ABS, and between 2014 and 2019, the gap in average weekly earnings between men and women declined from 18.3 per cent to 14 per cent.

In South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania, the gap is even narrower, hovering at around 10 per cent.

The ABS also estimates that between 2023–2029, there will be more people in a relationship living without children than families with kids.

And in 2019, 60 per cent of Australian women owned their home either with a mortgage or debt-free, compared with 56 per cent of men. Home ownership was higher for women than men in all age groups up to age 65.

Mary Lou Quinlan, founder and CEO of US strategic marketing company Just Ask a Woman (JAAW), previously noted: “Women are powerful consumers who can make or break brands,” warning that “industries slow to realise this will suffer loss of trade.”

However, recognising an increase in female buying power is one thing – understanding the woman behind it is another.

Marketing misconceptions
Melinda Geertz, Leo Burnett

“If the emotion in an ad feels wrong or fake, women will reject it immediately. Beware of portraying emotion without evoking emotion. If marketers want to build trust and credibility, they have to talk to women in a way that’s believable, relevant and honest.”

In 2004, advertising consultancy Leo Burnett published a study called Miss Understood – She’s Not Buying Your Ads. The seven-country study, based on interviews with women from their teens to their forties, examined why advertising didn’t seem to engage with women consumers as effectively as it did with men.

It challenged the industry to raise the creative bar across female-targeted categories historically associated with
cliche-ridden, unauthentic and sometimes offensive work.

Unfortunately, many of the same issues persist to this day. US research published by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDI) at Mount Saint Mary’s University and J Walter Thompson New York found no statistically significant difference in gender representation in television advertising between 2006–2017.

Men had four times as much screen time as women, and spoke seven times more; 25 per cent of ads featured only men, compared with 5 per cent featuring only women.

Furthermore, women in ads were mostly aged in their twenties, while men were depicted across a wide variety of ages. Women were also 48 per cent more likely to be shown in a kitchen.

In March 2020, advertising industry publication Campaign Asia-Pacific asked a number of female executives which stereotypes annoyed them most in their industry.

Helen Graney, group managing director Jack Morton & Weber Shandwick Australia, said, “The one stereotype that I would remove from advertisements is that women are often presented to be not as intelligent as men.

“A 2017 study showed that men are 62 per cent more likely to be portrayed as smart in TV ads.”

Richa Goswami, global head of digital Johnson & Johnson, called for more diversity and an end to the “perfect is pretty” message, while Kaveri Khullar, marketing director Mastercard Southeast Asia, said, “I’d like to see the ‘Wonder Woman’ stereotype being smashed. She’s a boardroom gladiator, a doting mother, a dutiful daughter or daughter-in-law, and a loving wife. We don’t aspire to be that superhuman… And that’s alright.”

Amanda Stevens, Splash Consulting Group
“Today’s Australian woman sees herself as multidimensional, and she rejects any communication or advertising that pigeon-holes or stereotypes her into any particular role.”

 Stevens believes effective marketing to women involves not only understanding what women want on an intellectual level, but also taking into account neurological differences between the sexes.

These differences manifest in a wide range of behaviours, predominantly in the areas of emotion and language. “The emotive centre in the female brain is proportionally larger and spread across both left and right hemispheres,” she explained.

“The female emotive centre is more closely linked to speech and language areas of the brain. From a sales and marketing perspective,” Stevens concludes, “this means that women make purchase decisions on a more emotive level than men.”

This reliance on emotion will often cause women to deliberate longer over purchasing decisions, and it also gives them a higher propensity for brand loyalty.

It follows that greater emotional investment in the purchasing process should not be mistaken for a lack of intelligence. Women are marketing savvy and quick to reject outdated, stereotypical images.

Portraying women accurately is no mean feat, with female roles changing so rapidly, but Stevens’ insight from 2006 remains true in 2020: “Today’s Australian woman sees herself as multidimensional, and she rejects any communication or advertising that pigeon-holes or stereotypes her into any particular role.”

Melinda Geertz, then-managing director Leo Burnett and now its CEO, agreed with Stevens that women respond to emotional marketing, while men tend to be more focused on practical, fact-based campaigns.

However, she warned of the danger of hitting a false note. “If the emotion in  an ad feels wrong or fake, women will reject it immediately,” Geertz said. “Beware of portraying emotion without evoking emotion.”

She added, “If marketers want to build trust and credibility, they have to talk to women in a way that’s believable, relevant and honest.”

Getting the message
Chaumet’s stackable Josephine rings

Today’s female consumers respond strongly to realistic, authentic, and relatable advertising content, and this is especially true when marketing through social media channels such as Instagram.

Indeed, social-media marketing is a critical advertising tool for female consumers.

A 2016 survey conducted by Bloglovin, comprising 22,000 female respondents, found that 54 per cent had purchased a product after it was personally recommended by a social-media influencer.

However, nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed said that if content did not appear to be genuine – such as if the sponsored post differed markedly in tone or style from the influencer’s usual content – they would question the influencer’s integrity and disregard their advice.

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Pam Danziger, founder of US research and consulting firm Unity Marketing, noted another key difference between male and female consumer psychology in 2016, writing, “For those selling premium or luxury-leaning brands, one is especially important – men are motivated by status and envy, while women are driven by empathy.

“Women want to belong and to be understood; whereas men want to be admired, women want to be appreciated.  So positioning brands as a status symbol is a fail for women, who want to belong and share,” she explained.

Contrary to long-held marketing beliefs, women also have a sense of humour and like to laugh at themselves.

Humour-based advertising is more commonly directed at male consumers, but the 2004 Leo Burnett study found that women were crying out for more intelligent, funny advertising to be aimed at them.

Unfortunately, the GDI research found that in 2017, male characters in ads were still 2.6 times more likely to be funny than female characters – roughly the same proportion as in 2006.

Opportunities embraced – and missed
Thomas Sabo’s Crown Ring

In 2006, Jeweller asked if insights into the feminine psyche would translate into untapped potential for the jewellery industry, which already earned 90 per cent of its income selling female-driven products.

At the time, Danziger noted, “The real opportunity in jewellery marketing is the self-purchasing female” – an insight that proved prescient.

Notably, De Beers began embracing female self-purchase in 2017 with its holiday campaign for the Forevermark jewellery brand.

Stephen Lussier, executive vice-president – consumer and brands at De Beers, said at the time, “Historically, De Beers ads focused on a man gifting a diamond to a woman to express his appreciation for her as a mother or wife or girlfriend.

“Today, we need to understand the changing world in which we operate: it’s a world of economic empowerment of women in which there is a greater degree of equality in the relationship.”

A year later, the De Beers Diamond Insight Report (DIR) 2018 indicated that women’s self-purchase had increased from 23 per cent to one-third of diamond jewellery sales in both the US and China; it valued the market at $US43 billion.

The 2019 DIR noted that the number of women purchasing their own engagement ring had doubled from
7 per cent to 14 per cent, and that women spent 33 per cent more on their own diamond than men.

Last year also saw the Diamond Producers Association – now the Natural Diamond Council – launch its ‘For me, from me’ campaign, which focused on women sharing stories of their diamond jewellery bought to celebrate personal milestones such as career promotions.

The Diamond Producers Association – now the Natural Diamond Council – launched its ‘For me, from me’ campaign in 2019, focused on women sharing stories of their diamond purchases that celebrate personal milestones like career promotions.

So, having established the profile and motivation of the self-purchasing woman, how can the jewellery industry continue to capitalise on her spending potential?

In 2006, Stevens advised retailers to keep in touch on a regular basis as one a great way to attract, retain and maximise female business.

Tiffany & Co.'s 2020 campaign showcases its T1 collection which represents "independence, power and strength” as an expression of the modern woman.

Today, social media and text messaging allow jewellers to reach customers and communicate more intimately and swiftly than ever before.

Stevens also recommended implementing reward schemes, preferably incorporating some element of surprise – something other retail sectors, such as cosmetics, have harnessed in recent years through birthday presents and seasonal ‘bonus boxes’.

Women’s greater emotional motivation also makes them pay more heed to the passing of different life stages than men.

“What that means for the jewellery industry,” Stevens explained, “Is that women who are purchasing a significant piece of jewellery are highly likely to have just gone through a major life change.”

Graduation, career promotion, birthdays, anniversaries, pregnancies and births are just some of the occasions ripe to be marked with a jewellery purchase and businesses can use these to offer great opportunities for tailored product and target marketing.

According to MVI Marketing’s Luxury Self Purchasing Female Research Report 2020, rewarding themselves and self-love were also major drivers of purchasing, motivating 23 per cent of these sales.

Furthermore, Marty Hurwitz, CEO MVI Marketing, told US publication National Jeweler that the typical retail price range for US jewellery self-purchasers was $95–$995.

Effective harnessing of the buying power of this nascent demographic stands to reap rich rewards on two fronts: by persuading a woman to spend more money on herself, and by instilling in her the potential of jewellery as a gift.

In 2006, Leighton Richards from Swiss watch brand Tissot noted, “Women are already taking a much greater interest in the male jewellery market.

“Even when they’re not the actual purchaser, women decide what men should buy for themselves, raising the question of whether advertising for male jewellery products should be targeted more at women.”

Notably, Millennial and Gen Z males are also more likely to wear jewellery – even traditionally feminine gemstones, such as pearls – than older men.

Motivation and mood
Pam Danziger, Unity Marketing

“For those selling premium or luxury-leaning brands, one is especially important – men are motivated by status and envy, while women are driven by empathy. Women want to belong and to be understood; whereas men want to be admired, women want to be appreciated.”

One thing that unites women of all ages, income levels and backgrounds is the desire to be beautiful.

In 2006, Danziger asserted, “Every woman, everywhere, wants to be beautiful, and wearing beautiful jewellery makes her feel beautiful. Jewellery marketers need to get with the program and help fulfil women’s beauty fantasies.”

However, today’s female self-purchasers are equally motivated by the desire for unique and personalised items that express their individual taste and style, with empowered, pro-female messaging.

Pandora Jewelry launched its Pandora ME collection in 2019, which targeted Gen Z shoppers with customisable pieces that could be worn as jewellery or clothing accessories.

The collection was marketed using phrases like, “Discover micro-sized jewellery pieces full of symbolism that only you can define”.

The campaign was advertised by 16-year-old Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown, whose role in co-designing the pieces has been emphasised in marketing materials.

Socially conscious jewellery – including recycled and vintage pieces, and responsibly sourced metals and gemstones – are also increasingly appealing to women, far more so than in 2006.

Notably, the 2020 Women Consumers Survey by international management consultancy firm Kearney found that female empowerment marketing is “profoundly influencing women’s purchasing behaviour”, with 39 per cent of the 1,000 women surveyed calling it a “primary consideration” in making a decision to buy.

L to R: Pink Kimberley Dente De Leone Pendant;
Pink Kimberley Diadema Pendant

“For the most passionate women – those that try to only buy from certain companies – it’s all about female leadership,” the report added.

Emphasising female founders and executives in marketing materials has been employed by several jewellery brands in recent years, including Mejuri, Aurate, and Ring Concierge.

At the same time, retailers and suppliers must remain in tune with the latest trends and styles in the fashion market as women look to accessorise every outfit with complementary jewellery pieces.

The changing identity and role of women also presents the jewellery industry with great prospects for creating new products.

With emotions running high on the female shopping list, it would be foolish to undervalue the shopping experience itself as a marketing opportunity.

“Women are challenging the retail scene as vigilante shoppers,” Quinlan says.

Using the internet as a pre-purchase research tool, recommendation service, and online store – as well as having a high regard for aesthetics and taking a dim view of poor customer service – she believes that women are forcing retailers to lift their game.

While it’s still impossible to paint a definitive picture of today’s female consumer, one thing is clear – she should not be underestimated on any level; not in her sophistication, her intelligence, her demand for respect, her buying power and certainly not in her marketing potential.

In reflecting on the way the jewellery industry has adapted to changing female consumers, it remains true that understanding their complexities may present an enormous challenge, but a rich reward awaits those who are able to crack the code.

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