Knowing your target audience is the cornerstone of good marketing. But what if your business focuses too much on its core audience and, therefore, holds itself back from new growth opportunities?

Brand perception and loyalty constantly change, largely due to consumers’ shifting lifestyles and product consumption behaviors. We want to buy from brands that we relate to and that provide products and services that align with our beliefs, values, and ways of living. While lifestyle encompasses many things, gender is one facet that is changing rapidly and, in turn, changes the way some companies grow their brands.

Why changing consumer perceptions of gender impacts go-to market strategies

Brands have marketed their products based on gender for decades. But new research reveals that gender now means something very different to consumers and, in turn, can actually harm brands if they overuse it in their marketing, advertising, and product development efforts.

It’s no surprise that 56% of millennials and 50% of Gen Z-ers believe that traditional gender norms are outdated. However, research also shows that all demographics agree gender is not binary. These consumers, especially Gen Z, value brands that do not try to confine them to gender roles and boundaries, especially for products that do not have a direct relationship to biological makeup.

Although consumers eagerly embrace gender-neutral and gender-fluid brands, some companies are doubling-down on traditional roles of men and women in their business strategies. Two-thirds of cisgender respondents agree that media depictions of men and women often keep them in traditional roles (68%), while almost three-quarters of LGBT+ respondents agree (74%), according to a BigEye Study.

Gender-based marketing can make sense for some categories. However, brands that provide toothpaste, crayons, and even laundry detergent will be at a disservice if they go too heavy-handed with this approach. Instead, brands need to understand how they’re perceived among key audiences, look for latent opportunities, and find creative ways to broaden their appeal.

How brands embrace the gender shift

We looked across the brand landscape and found that there are several brands that had female-dominant customership in 2018 and are now seeing equal representation by men and women in their customer base.

The lifestyle shifts of the pandemic undoubtedly sparked this shift among personal care brands. People’s priorities changed, and personal care and wellness are now linked. Burt’s Bees, Clinique, and Sephora are just three brands that capitalized on these new lifestyle realities to grow their businesses. But make no mistake: other brands, from Starbucks to Crayola and Better Homes & Gardens, saw similar shifts.

But let’s dig into Sephora specifically to illustrate how demographic lifestyle shifts led to new business opportunities. Over the past two years, the retailer has done a fantastic job of expanding its brand and product portfolio to lengthen its reach. For one, the company brought on HAUS Labs by Lady Gaga, a brand designed for both men and women who express themselves through makeup. Clinique is also a big brand partner and expanded its brand marketing to spotlight men’s products.

Although Sephora made some big swings to broaden its reach, the retailer still remains true to its heritage: most consumers largely associate Sephora with the “feminine” attribute, which ladders up to “sophistication,” reaffirming that you can build your brand without veering from your core identity.

How one Health & Wellness brand identified opportunities to broaden brand appeal

One BERA customer in the Health & Wellness space conducted in-depth research to understand how its brand resonated among key demographics. The brand realized that overall brand equity (its BERA Score) was dropping among its core, female audience – especially when looking at meaningfulness and uniqueness. However, the brand found that equity was rising among men in these areas.

The data pointed to a clear opportunity for the brand to strategically target male consumers. But how would the brand capitalize on the opportunity without alienating its female consumers? The brand focused on four KPIs measured within the BERA platform: meaningfulness and uniqueness, as well as familiarity and regard. Then, it looked for shared equity drivers among both males and females to identify ways to effectively resonate with both audiences in a meaningful way.

Competitive uniqueness helped Lululemon increase familiarity among men 18-24

In 2016, Lululemon set a goal to grow its men’s business to $1 billion over several years. Starting in Q3 2017, the brand saw a steady build in competitive uniqueness thanks to its unique voice for men. Concurrently, familiarity among this audience steadily increased.

By focusing on function and lifestyle, Lululemon inspired men to lean in, ask more questions, and learn more about what the brand could provide them that others simply could not. Although providing insight into the technical makeup of men’s apparel was a slight departure for Lululemon, the company’s former COO Stuart Haselden shared, “we also see an opportunity to build on the DNA of the company as rooted in yoga, to build on the notion of mindfulness and how that is gaining traction in the world, and certainly connecting that to performance.”

As a result, more than 20% of Lululemon’s sales were to men last year, and sales rose about 30% to $1.45 billion, far exceeding expectations.

Use audience prioritization to uncover new growth opportunities

Brands of all sizes and across categories can use the BERA platform to go through an audience prioritization size that looks at usage and share of wallet among any customer segment, whether it be age, gender, or other demographic and geographic variables. This process enables teams to see how brand perceptions influence consumers’ use of a brand.

By looking at these relationships, brands can understand:

Want to learn more? Watch on-demand as BERA experts discuss the importance of audience prioritization, especially as it relates to gender preferences. You’ll discover how to follow the lead of Lululemon and other top-performing brands and uncover new opportunities for brand growth.