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Marketing Medicine: Women Finding Their Right Place In New Economies

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY CHRIS HARRISON


Book launches are always exciting. Particularly so, when someone you know and respect has committed themselves to print. So I am eagerly awaiting the publication of Authentic African Leadership by my old friend Gail Cameron, founder of South Africa’s Image Excellence Group.

The book comes out this month and is a compilation of true stories of leadership from corporate and institutional South Africa. Gail’s role as a top executive coach has given her access to some extraordinary figures in public life. And it is a pleasant surprise to see how many of them are women.

 The business guru Tom Peters, writing in his essentials collection on talent has emphasised the importance of accelerating women into leadership positions. He says for too long we have recognised women’s rights, but ignored their strengths.

 Gail Cameron believes that women’s exceptional faculties are designed to meet the demands of the 21st century economic community in Africa and beyond. “They are talented with words and often better at languages. Women win the international speech contests”.

Women are much better than men at reading non-verbal behaviour; and are emotionally sensitive and have more empathy generally than men.

And at work, the very best women prefer co-operating to commanding. They readily accept ambiguity and honour intuition over rationality.

Today women earn one third of all science doctorates. And in the US women have outnumbered men in college for more than a decade and now more are receiving bachelor’s degrees in science fields too.

“We live in the era of the ascendancy of people-oriented leadership. It is primarily a relational and participatory approach that requires a commitment to listen and understand – strengths of women leaders.” Comments Cameron.

And yet many marketers and male dominated leadership in many industries ignore these realities.

Consider also the buying power of women in. And not just as consumers. In the US women own 10.6 million businesses. They employ 19.1 million people. Their revenue exceeds Germany’s GDP – 2.4 trillion dollars.

Some designers and marketers are now beginning to design with women in mind. The manufacturer of Dutch Boy Paint in the US has shown how a simple, women-friendly design change can work. Their paint container is easier to carry and easier to store – it makes painting a lot less messy.

Mattel, the manufacturers of LEGO is now producing blocks for little girls to include plastic squares, balls, triangles, squiggles, flowers and sticks in pastel colours with rounded corners – this goes beyond the linear play patterns for boys.

Wells Fargo, the Bank, has earmarked an extra $5 billion for its women’s loan programme – that’s on top of $10 billion that Wells Fargo had previously committed. Merrill Lynch has set up a multi-cultural and diversified business development group this year to target women and ethnic investors.

Here in Africa, marketers have long targeted the housewife as the purchaser of fast moving consumer goods brands. But the financial services sector was probably the first to recognise women, in groups and as individuals, as target markets for tailored products.

Now we are beginning to see women-centric communication for property development and mortgage products. A sure sign that women audiences are being considered more seriously.


Chris Harrison has 30 years experience in marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. To comment on this article, send a Tweet to harrisoncj on

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