Gender Fluidity: An Imminent New Reality

Gender Fluidity: An Imminent New Reality

Decades ago, marketers made a critical change in focus from demographics, such as age or location, to psychographics when anticipating consumer behaviour. This led to the rethinking of widespread assumptions, for example, that young people were all youthful and old people were all old in their mind-set. Despite this fruitful movement, little has changed with regards to gender: take a stroll through any shop or surf a virtual shelf today and you will find yourself shepherded into making gender-specific choices.

Meanwhile, recent influential cultural shifts suggest there is more that unites genders than divides them. We are witnessing gender fluidity in fashion (such as Jayden Smith modelling female clothing for Louis Vuitton), in film (remember the fiercely debated all female cast of Ghostbusters), in sport (the welcoming of transgender athletes into a category of their choosing) and in education (think the Goldieblox engineering toys designed for girls and boys). The rejection of rigid gender categorisation is particularly apparent in today’s digital world and among the consumers of tomorrow. The new cohorts of identification are fragmented, smaller and temporal.

The blurring of genders isn’t just in vogue nor is its relevance limited to niche audiences. Rather, it is on track to becoming the new reality. The likes of universities, social networking and certain children’s brands are early adopters of gender fluidity. Harvard University is accepting gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ in essays, OKCupid and Facebook offer gender-free options in profile settings and a Swedish children’s clothing brand has abandoned designated boys and girl’s sections.

The huge commercial opportunity in gender fluidity shows in the recent successes of brands that empower consumers to effortlessly transition. Kiehl’s apothecary heritage and Calvin Klein’s re-invigorated unisex perfume range are prime examples of the sweet spot between masculinity and femininity. We believe that leading-edge industries such as digital and new luxury will accelerate and lead the shift towards gender-fluidity. The change for mainstream brands will come at a slower pace.
So is your brand – whether mainstream or luxury – doing enough to seize the opportunities of the new gender fluidity reality? Let us take you through the key implications that any brand strategist or marketer will want to consider:

Think beyond female decision-makers for insight
Societal shifts at home mean that men are increasingly making their own shopping decisions. Yet, the balance of insight-mining remains in favour of women as key decision-makers. Your brand may be overlooking incremental growth that new players are capitalising on (Dollar Shave Club, for example). Gender-neutral insight can create profit. Uniqlo saw this and has carved out a radically fresh unisex shopping experience in the clothing market.

Invest in gender-soft or gender-neutral codes
From Oprah to Merkel or from Trump to Obama – the female and male role models consumers identify with today are more diverse than before. In response, brands often enforce or reinforce potentially artificial gender values. But a modern man may feel limited, for example, by a brand that uses the colour black or advocates only one form of manhood. Gender-neutral cues such as Apple’s simplicity of choice are the future. They attract a wider base of consumers – whether you are a traditional man looking for directness or an ambitious woman tired of complexity.

Embrace a descriptor of gender that responds to context
Our gender-ness can skew masculine or feminine depending on the context or occasion. Balancing work with life for example has become equally as relevant for men as it is for women. Yet, openness to improve well-being may be highest for a man in his more ‘feminine’ moments. Brands with a single, static gender strategy run the risk of missing key opportunities. The recent L’Oreal make-up ad, targeting men and women alike, shows how marketers can eliminate gender altogether. We believe brands that truly liberate you to express how male or female you feel at this very moment are the ones that will thrive in this new gender-fluid reality.

dalm@mash.uk.com, tinnev@mash.uk.com