Brands need to consider the role gender plays and adopt a decisive stance.
Historically, when companies designed products, the first decision they would make was whether the brand was intended for men or for women. As gender becomes more open, inclusive, and nuanced, the overarching traditional gender decision is no longer the best starting point for brand personality. Gender roles will continue to blur and gender will often not be a helpful categorization for many brands.
We believe that socially aware and responsive design is an imperative for brands, especially for the next generations. Over 50 percent of Gen Z girls say social values influence their choice of brands. The smartest brands of the future will make gender choices deliberately and consciously, reflecting their customers and striving to be more inclusive of expanding, shifting, and fluid definitions of gender. Tinder offers 37 different options for gender identity, including “gender fluid.” Flipkart in India has released a new commercial promoting gender equality (#GenerationEqual) and urging consumers to be mindful of gender stereotyping from a young age. In the 2018 Miss Universe pageant, the first transgender contestant, Angela Ponce from Spain, stated “I’m here to represent the diversity of humans in the world. My hope is for tomorrow to be able to live in a world of equality for everyone.”
Neutrality is one path toward gender inclusiveness. If a brand is not aligned with one gender or another, then by nature it is more inclusive and avoids decision-making based on dated gender roles. One growing offering is brands with gender-neutral positioning. In fact, 70 percent of 13–20-year-olds say they strongly prefer gender-neutral branding. A recent U.S. survey found that 20 percent of parents of children under age 12 who had recently bought kids’ clothing supported gender-neutral clothing options. Brands that have responded include the children’s retailer Nununu (featuring Celine Dion’s gender-neutral clothing line), Abercrombie & Fitch Kids, and even Target. Another example: Dr. Bronner’s soap is not designed with gender in mind.
Masculinity and femininity are still obviously relevant, but brands need to be more thoughtful in where and why they identify with gender. A masculine brand does not mean it’s only for males, or feminine only for females. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a traditionally male-perceived brand, is now targeting women. And of course it’s also still okay to create products for men or women as long as the value proposition is clear. For example, The Wing is a co-working community space designed to foster the advancement of women in business. At the same time, when designing female-specific products, brand marketers should avoid the so-called “pink tax,” referring to the practice of charging women more for products designed specifically for them. We believe gender equality should also apply to pricing practices.