It is a universally acknowledged fact that respecting women as purchasers is key to business growth.
The business case couldn’t be clearer. Women, as consumers, are driving the world economy. They control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending — a number potential to reach $28 trillion in the next five years.
In India, women form nearly half of the country’s population, who are taking the lead on purchasing decisions and are more creditworthy than men.
According to a Cibil report, women have a higher credit score of 720 on average compared to 709 for the male population. In fact, the report reveals that the number of women borrowers have grown at a faster pace than men over the last six years.
Given these numbers, it would be unwise to underestimate or solve for the female consumer. Yet many companies do just that.
A classic example of this is Dell’s short-lived effort ‘Della’ to market laptops specifically to women in 2009. The company fell into the classic make-it-pink mindset and emphasised colours, computer accessories, and tips for counting calories and finding recipes.
It’s needless to say that the campaign didn’t go down well. It was taken down, giving the market a great case study on how NOT to approach women as consumers.
Therefore, it begs to answer, what do women as consumers truly want?
At the MAKERS Conference, India 2021, this entrepreneurially-oriented panel, featuring Sheta Mittal, Co-founder, &Me; Deep Bajaj, Founder and CEO, Sirona (PeeBuddy); Rachana Gupta, Co-founder, Gynoveda, and Archana Vohra, Director, Small and Medium Business, Facebook India, discussed how entrepreneurs and businesses can solve for the women billions in India.
Trends in the Indian female consumer landscape
“Facebook saw 3.3 billion users on its family of apps in December 2020,” said Archana, contextualising trends in the social media landscape.
“In India, there are nearly 400 million consumers who use Facebook as a platform every month. Nearly 20 percent of these profiles that were created from November till today have been businesses that have marked themselves as women or women-owned, pointing to a clear shift in trend,” she added.
Archana also quoted a Deloitte study that revealed that among women who stay in business, nearly 50 percent get their sales online — pointing to the importance of leveraging digital as a survival strategy.
The importance of nuanced messaging with women consumers
“When we were starting up, we were told that menstrual and reproductive health was a very niche space. But that niche space is turning out to be so huge, as is the total addressable market. The tank is so huge that I think there is plenty of space for all of us, for all startups focussed on solving for menstrual and reproductive health to flourish in their respective zones,” said Rachana.
Talking about how David Ogilvy once said, “The consumer isn't a moron. She's your wife,” Rachana added that she was pleased with how the landscape was seeing a gradual shift from mindless slogans and adjectives into more nuanced messaging to target women consumers. She said brands should continue to refine their product and messaging strategy to be more meaningful and inclusive.
The effectiveness of digital platforms
“When we started, either with Peebuddy or Sirona, both the brands had product offerings, which were unheard of in the country. Peabody was about standing and peeing, while Sirona was about menstrual pain patches, menstrual cups, etc.,” Deep Bajaj said, talking about the effectiveness of digital platforms.
“For us, at least, we saw, and are continuing to see, fantastic growth by leveraging digital media forums. It's a brilliant time for us, so no complaints,” he added.
How different is the Indian woman consumer from her western counterpart?
While women have three life stages of menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, the incidence of these problems and the way these problems are taken care of are radically different in India when compared to the West.
“In developed countries, every woman would have her pills that she would take; she would have vitamins and minerals. In India, 70 percent of women are nutritionally deficient. Except for pregnancy, where the support is there, for menstruation and menopause, there is no support,” said Sheta.
Given that the average age of reaching menopause is 42 years in India versus 53 years globally, it points to the fact that the nutrition needs of Indian women are way different. Another varying factor is the ratios of gynaecologists and nutritionists vis-a-vis the population.
There has, however, been a marked improvement over the last two years with a substantial increase in both the number of solutions coming in and the quantum of conversations happening in the space.
“I am confident that India is going to lead the $50 billion femtech market globally, based on how it has been growing digitally,” she added.
She Means Business
Speaking about how Facebook endeavours to empower women entrepreneurs, Archana spoke about #SheMeansBusiness — a space for entrepreneurial women to make valuable connections, share advice, and move forward together. Since its launch, the programme has trained over 2.5 lakh women in India.
Archana cited the case of Bhabi-Behen — a small women-run business in Kutch — that started putting her products online while also leveraging Facebook.
“The business, which started with making Rs 20,000 initially, now, has a turnover of Rs 21 lakh annually,” she said.
“When it comes to solving very real problems — whether we're talking about abuse or people wanting to put food on the table — they can get solved when women leverage technology to start and grow their businesses,” she added.
Advice to entrepreneurs creating for women consumers
Sharing advice based on their experiences at solving problems for the Indian women consumer at scale, the panellists had a couple of important points to offer to aspiring entrepreneurs.
“If you really want to solve for women, don't really make it into a man and a woman sort of a problem. Also, be persistent. If you're trying to change anything, which is going to create impact at scale, it will involve a behavioural change, so just give it some time,” said Deep.
“Being gender agnostic really helps to have the entire right brain and left brain synergise. Also, when we talk about issues like periods, please don't show us ads with blue-coloured blood. Keep it real,” advised Rachana.
“Don't pink-ify it,” advised Sheta, alluding to the classic make-it-pink mindset that brands adopt when catering to women audiences. “Go out there and listen, because you'll find that the woman consumer is still not served,” she added.
“Know your idea and understand whether it works at scale,” said Archana while recommending that women leverage the power of social media to test and learn.
“You don't have to start with a massive budget. So you want to reach, and you have limited money. Find the right audience, the right balance, test, learn, pick the right objective, and stay on the pulse of the consumer,” she advised.
(Written by Ryan Frantz and Edited by Suman Singh)