How to turn tough topics for women into trending topics

No matter how unapproachable the topic - body odor, sex, finance - our job as marketers is getting people to talk.

I had a great conversation last week with an intimate group of women about sex and money – and it wasn’t over cocktails.  It was actually in a more prosaic setting: a panel I moderated at the 11th annual Marketing to Women Conference in Chicago. 

The panel, Turning Tough Topics into Trending Topics:  Learnings from Masters of Marketing to Women, examined how marketers can engage women around topics (and related products) such as body odor, bladder leakage, or dandruff.  I know these topics pretty well as the Secret deodorant, Poise, and Head & Shoulders brands are my agency’s clients.    

Given how some women naturally share many details about their lives, you would think that getting them to open up about these topics would be easy. Not so much.  When it comes to talking about personal topics, every woman draws the line somewhere. She won’t cross it to tackle those issues with anyone – not her best friend, mother, or even the professionals who can best advise her.    

No matter how unapproachable the topic, our job as marketers is getting people to talk.  Engagement and sharing are increasingly our success metrics because it’s no longer what a brand says about itself that matters; it’s what people say about the brand.  

My fellow panelists were Marina Buatti, VP of Fidelity Investments’ Women Investors initiative for Personal Investing, and Bruno Alves, senior brand manager at Reckitt Benckiser, who is responsible for the K-Y brand.  Both agreed that sex/intimacy and financial investing fall into the category of tough topics because they are so personal.  In fact, a recent Fidelity survey found that women would much rather talk about almost everything else in their lives, including career, health, and even sex, rather than their financial investments.

No matter the topic, we found there are some important ways to get women to talk and share.  Key is getting under the target’s skin, understanding what is important to her, and speaking in relevant language. 

Helping women understand they are not the only ones struggling with a tough topic creates conversations.  For example, Fidelity is one of the few financial services firms to offer investment seminars for women.  After the presenter at these seminars is finished and asks for questions, there is always an uncomfortable period of silence, Buatti said.

"But after one hand goes up, everyone has a question," she said, "Then they don’t stop!"   

Finally, we agreed that getting women to experience the product for themselves helps them open up.  Alves noted that when his team sends influencers K-Y lubricants with advice on how to create a romantic date night with their partners, many share their experiences online.  The reason?  They want to help other women.  That kind of endorsement, Buatti added, is "so much more beneficial than paid advertising could ever be."

Diana Littman Paige is EVP, consumer lifestyle and health at Marina Maher Communications.

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