I saw the question in the title of this blog post on a professional discussion forum. Here is my reply.
As a marketer, the obvious answer is to give your customers what they want. If they want differentiated products, differentiate. If they don’t, then offer gender neutral products. For instance, due to social conventions, men and women tend to want shoes in very different styles and materials.
The key, here, is not the gender but the social context, and it is important to be aware that conventions are changing, in some markets more than in others. For instance, in some countries, there is a move against the gender-stereotyping of toys (you can read more about it here). Gender stereotyping is deemed to not only limit children’s learning experiences, but also to perpetuate gender roles where girls / women are home makers or do social work, and boys / men build things and work in technology.
This movement has led some customers to favour toy stores and manufactures that categorise toys by theme, rather than gender; and the public shaming of companies that perpetuate the ‘soft and pink’ vs. ‘rugged and blue’ stereotype. One recent example was Hasbro’s set of Star Wars figurines, which excluded Rey, the (strong) female protagonist of ‘The Force Awakens’. While Hasbro never explained the omission (as far as I am aware – please correct me, if I am wrong), it suggests that a) the company thinks that girls do not like Start Wars and b) that boys do not want to play with ‘dolls’. The outcry was such that even J. J. Abrams, the film’s director, called it ‘“preposterous and wrong.” You can read more about it here.
The other trend to take into account is the increasing awareness that products aimed at women tend to be more expensive than the same, or very similar products, aimed at men. This is sometimes referred to as the pink tax. See, for instance, this study by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The pink tax has resulted in dissatisfaction and boycott / public shaming by the press, equality groups and even politicians. For instance, in the UK, Boots was forced to review the prices of numerous products, following a petition and accusations of price discrimination (for example, see here)
Female consumers are an important part of the market, and increasingly buy ‘big ticket’ items. But I would suggest that rather than focus on female vs. male product, marketers should look at shopping experiences (again, with cultural nuances in mind). Moira Clark discusses (some of) the differences here.
What is your view?