Are automotive brands accidentally alienating the female market?

Erminia Blackden, head of strategy, PAA at Engine Group, explains the importance of understanding what women value and what they want.

woman driving car

Women are in the driving seat for 85% of all purchases. Yes, this includes cars and, in the US, it also includes trucks. And yet the industry as a whole seems woefully ill-equipped to serve its current and growing female customer base.

The 21st Century Woman research project by Engine Group, the UK’s largest independent marketing and communications agency, reveals that 80% of UK women believe that the automotive industry as a whole is not doing a good job at representing women, and 88% of UK women do not see themselves represented in the sector’s advertising or websites. Shocking yes, but surprising no, given that today, in the 18th year of the 21st century, only 16% of all employees in the UK automotive sector are female and only two women – Mary Barra at GM, and Linda Jackson at Citroen – are sitting in the driving seat globally.

Long-term sales

But does it matter? Well yes, if you want to continue to secure long-term sales in a declining market, which is becoming increasingly female. It’s not new news that the average age of a first-time driver is increasing as new car ownership is in decline, and that women are not only more likely to hold a driving licence, but they are also more likely to buy new cars over used. Stats from the US reveal that 62% of new cars purchased on 2017 were bought by women.

Despite manufacturer’s best attempts to change, dealer environments remain masculine and un-inviting to the average female buyer, so women prefer to shop online. But how female friendly is your website? The global web design and development community is still predominantly male. 73% of coders are male, 88% of web designers are male, and 93% of developers are male. Layer on top the fact that automotive designers, product managers, marketers and CEOs are also male and the problem starts to emerge. You don’t see it yet? Let me explain.

Aesthetic value is not inherent in objects but is a product of empathy between the object and the receiver. Empathy is a product of cultural frame, which is largely a product of unconscious bias; the cultural cues and mores which shape the way we think, and behave. To that end, male led design and build will vary from female led design and build because their influences and experiences differ.

Websites created by women are markedly different to those created by men from the same brief, and research has shown that on average the websites created by men are preferred by men, and the websites created by women are generally preferred by women. It’s no surprise then that Engine’s research has revealed that 58% of women feel that websites have poor navigation and 53% feel that websites need to be more intuitive.

For automotive brands to really connect with women they need to start marketing to them, and to do that you need to understand what women value and what they want. Our own research has revealed that women look for different things to men when buying cars, they value different aspects of the design and often articulate their needs very differently to men. If automotive brands are to succeed in an increasingly challenging marketplace they need to start moving with the times and looking beyond the metal to understand and communicate what matters to women.

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