Following the celebration of Pride Month and all the rights and respect our culture has achieved, don’t miss the tsunami of change that’s cresting right behind us. The cultural conversation is about to swoop past sexual identity — straight, gay or bi — to one of gender identity: Who we feel like in our own skin, regardless of what the doctors in the delivery room labeled us. As one person recently expressed it to me, “Most days I feel 75 percent male and 25 percent female, but that can flip-flop depending on, well…anything!”
Call it gender fluidity, gender spectrum, gender diversity. Or talk about non-binary or non-conforming identities. But regardless of terminology, the message is the same. The concept of male vs. female is becoming increasingly antiquated and irrelevant. An incredible 50 percent of Millennials say gender is a spectrum (Fusion poll), and 20 percent of Millennials say they are something other than cisgender (having a sense of gender that corresponds to one’s birth sex), compared to 7 percent of Boomers (Harris poll). This will gain momentum, and in the future, gender fluidity will be the norm, not the exception — and those who aren’t, will want to be. The generations coming of age today and in the next decade are open-minded and authentic: They won’t be put into binary boxes.
This radical transformation of identity will morph brands and marketing. Imagine: Your target consumers won’t want to be told, in stores or online, that a sweater is for women, they’ll make up their own minds. There are already dozens of gender-neutral clothes, like those from 69 and One DNA, and some brands are using gender-fluid and trans models, like those seen on the reality series “Strut.”
This shift will impact one category explosively — CPG brands in the intensely gendered personal care and beauty space. Did you know that Target heard from a customer this past winter saying, “It would make me and many others like me super thrilled if you would replace the word ‘feminine’ (on ‘feminine protection’ products) with ‘menstrual’ or if you worry that would be too ‘icky’ for the masses, you could go with ‘period.’” Many others chimed in supporting this. Get used to your new customer. And get ready. Here’s how:
Ask why a product is gendered in the first place. Why are men’s deodorants and women’s in separate sections? Is there a medical reason why we need different formulations? Are “powder fresh” and “sport” truly the scents that Millennials and Gen Z want encircling them? In a world where people are increasingly living outside of gendered constraints, what we think of today as “targeted marketing” by gender will soon become irrelevant at best; exclusionary at worst. You need to understand this emerging direction of consumer culture to sustain your viability — the stakes are incredibly high. Will you be the brave company to break free first and pioneer entirely new and future-perfect product lines and distribution channels?
Reinvent the consumer conversation. If you want a glimpse of the future, head to YouTube and watch some of the how-to videos by the hot, Millennial-focused beauty brand Milk. The company shows how to create non-gendered makeup looks with names like Sonic and Theater with non-binary models. Study and synthesize the style and the message. Now look at your brand portfolio and how you are messaging to consumers. What will you do differently to entice an audience that defines itself as neither male nor female? You will need deep insights and strategic vision to help them express their unique and often evolving identity.
Let tech light the way. Right now the marketing world is largely using the same segmentation they’ve used for decades. Women or men. Older or younger. But as AI advances, marketing will become more personalized than ever, allowing brands to adjust their messaging on the fly and appeal to people based on their changing moods, personalities and identities. You’ll be able to know in real-time if an individual wants to express their female or male side, or something in-between. Or if they’d rather be completely asexual. You’ll know their sentiments and be able to respectfully offer them the tools and products they need at any given moment. Get the right guidance and forge the right partnerships to capitalize on this new future.
The pivot isn’t simple, I know. But this is an opportunity — not just a challenge. As marketers work to connect with this new consumer, there will be a learning curve, complete with missteps and public criticisms for some. Don’t let that keep you on the sidelines, perpetuating the status quo.
The Futurist in me knows that the businesses and brands that can shift nimbly will find themselves with a huge and intensely loyal consumer base made up of people who live at every point along tomorrow’s gender spectrum.
Faith Popcorn is founder and chief executive officer of Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve.
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