No Woman is an Island, and Neither is any Brand; What Makes Women Tick and how to Market to them Using Brand Partnerships

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Exec summary

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that women make more than 80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. But it’s less acknowledged that 91% of women say advertisers don’t understand them. And because of this, only 13% admit that marketing is the chief influencer in buying from a brand. It makes you realise that most marketers are getting it woefully wrong.

We commissioned this report to get to the bottom of what really influences women to buy a brand, what makes them tick, what marketers can do to connect with women, and how brands can tap into this important market effectively and powerfully – using brand partnerships.

38% of respondents told us that the most important factor in purchasing was a recommendation from someone they know (which is five times the number who rated a brand’s marketing activity as the most important factor). They turn to friends firstly, then their children, mothers, and then partners and ‘recommendations from other brands’ jointly.  ‘Trusted brands’ are almost as influential as partners; a big vote of confidence for brands that build powerful loyalty mechanisms.

The survey findings also point strongly to the fact that brands need to be mindful of how they speak to women, what they say – and crucially, at what time in a woman’s life they say it. And that requires in depth knowledge of your customer and developing trust; essentially it’s a five-step approach:

  • Listen to what she wants
  • Give her something to talk about
  • Create experiences she can share
  • Make it easy for her
  • And be real

In a crowded marketplace, where every brand is clamouring for attention, we need to learn to listen, to respond, to stimulate discussion and encourage sharing of information. Finding the right brand partners and working with them in the right way can help your brand.

Most marketers don’t get women – how brand partnerships is uniquely placed to get it right

91% of women say that advertisers don’t understand them, only 13% said it is very likely that marketing activity will influence what they buy. Yet women make more than 80% of all consumer purchasing decisions. Most marketers are getting it wrong, badly wrong.

By starting with what your brand needs, what your category rules are, what customer behaviours you need to drive (or create) to hit your sales or profit targets, most marketers are making a fundamental mistake – before they have even begun.

We all have a ‘friend’ who talks only about their agenda and their needs – the one who doesn’t listen, doesn’t ask what you need, doesn’t make you feel good – we all secretly hate that friend – why do marketers think that by replicating that behaviour professionally women will flock in their droves to their brands, become loyal customers and, most ludicrously of all, become advocates and tell all their friends about how great you are? When, in real life, does that ever happen?

At Cherry London we believe that, in order to really connect with a woman, you have to ask her what she wants, listen to what she tells you (and what she doesn’t), suggest things back, listen again and continuously evolve and change as she does. You have to ‘get’ her. As Bridget Brennan so aptly puts it in Why she buys “Pink is not a strategy”.

In order to help us understand better what women really want, we asked them. We asked 1,000 UK women which was the most important factor in influencing the brands they choose: 38% told us that the most important thing was recommendation from someone they know – that’s 5 times more than those that said that a brand’s marketing activity was the most important factor. No woman is an island…

And who are the most important people within that special circle of advisors? Friends came first, then their kids, then mums, then partners and then, just fractionally behind, came “recommendations from other brands”. Trusted brands are almost as influential as partners… wow.

We also learned that the influence of mum declines with age. 18-29 year old women were more than twice as likely as older women to say that their mum was the most important influence in choosing the brands they love (12.2% vs 5.2% average). And partners have the most influence on women aged 30-39 – they are twice as likely as other age groups to cite their partner as the most important influence.

The survey raised a challenge for marketers too – the social tendencies of women decline with age – they become more ‘island-like’ the older they get – with social sets, marketing activity and brand recommendation becoming less important with age – a woman aged over 60 is 1.5 times as likely as an 18-29 year old woman to say she is an island.

So, what does that mean? If a woman’s social set is so important to her, how can brands use this knowledge to get better at marketing? We admire the brands who are getting it right and we want to share our top tips for how brands can connect with, excite and engage real women using the power of brand partnerships.

How brand partnerships is uniquely positioned to help marketers connect with women

Brand Partnerships, done the Cherry Way, has 2 key characteristics that other marketing disciplines don’t.

  1. We always start by identifying what our customer really wants in life, beyond our client’s brand or the category in which they operate. Only by understanding what women really care about, what’s really important to them, what they really need, can we identify the big insights and opportunities that will cut through; real life, real world insights. Then, and only then, do we identify and unite the right brand partners, across whatever category or sector is needed, to meet that need, bringing brands together to complement each other, and act as catalysts for each other.

  1. Because we specialise in brand partnerships, we are experts in collaboration and building meaningful relationships that last: brand to brand, brand to customer. Brand partnerships can help you acquire friends of friends. Engage and have conversations with people you couldn’t normally reach, make yourself more appealing and acquire customers more cost effectively than you could on your own. It helps you become part of a woman’s trusted inner circle - those important trusted brands whose recommendation means so much. These trusted brands can help you build credibility and change perceptions. Another brand can enhance your appeal through positive association and help you deliver your message more credibly.

This is how brand partnerships, done the Cherry Way is different, and how we are delighting women across the brands we work with.

Five ways to successfully connect with women through Brand Partnerships:

1) Listen to what she wants and give it to her

By working with the right brand partners a marketer can gain a far richer insight into what women really want in life rather than just in relationship to their brand or in their category. A marketer can also then partner with the right brands to give her what she wants, when and how she wants it.

With O2 we work relentlessly to understand what our customers want and then to give it to them. 49% of Priority customers are women. We give those women access and rewards to the things they love, things which O2 couldn’t offer on its own. We find out what their passions are – film, music, food and drink, fashion, beauty – and then we develop amazing rewards that will delight them.

We have just completed a big piece of research, the most comprehensive of its kind done to date, with O2 Business Intelligence – we looked at thousands of Priority experiences, offers and rewards across a four month period across millions of Priority customers. We identified 13 individual characteristics that can drive the success or failure of a Priority reward and overall engagement with the programme. We now know exactly what combination of offer characteristics drive success and which don’t.

For example, we know that free treats are one of our most loved rewards – so we’ve developed long-term partnerships with Hotel Chocolat and Caffé Nero to give away treats such as a sweet Valentines gift or a hot coffee when women needed a boost.  Getting the passion right, along with the right combination of offer characteristics, can make an offer 13,000 times more successful than getting any one of those factors wrong. We now know exactly what passions our customers want us to focus on and how to continue to engage and delight them, with just the right kind of reward. As Mark Stevenson, Head of Priority and Sponsorship at O2, says, “Investing the time and effort to understand what our customers want and then giving it to them has always been the main difference between Priority and other reward programs in the marketplace”.

2) Give her talking points

Women like to talk and technology has fuelled the conversations – it is now faster, bigger, bitesize and often typed not said. Women want to be informed but they also want to be interesting. 30% of women in the US use social media daily (vs only 26% of men). More also use the all the biggest social media sites more (Facebook, twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram). Giving women interesting things to say and share is a key way that brands can connect.

By connecting to bigger insights and working with the right brand partners, the conversations a marketer can fuel can be richer, more genuine and have more longevity than they could on their own. Malibu had a challenge on their hands – the women they wanted to love Malibu thought of them as a little uncool, something they only drank in a bikini on holiday. We helped Malibu address this problem – by identifying the power of ‘the getting ready moment’ for their target audience – the rituals, the excitement and importantly the conversations that happen. We brought together Toni&Guy, ASOS, Look magazine and Nails Inc to create the ultimate dressing room for a girls’ night out. Tens of thousands of women visited pop-up Malibutique events in shopping centres in UK cities, and millions connected and shared their experiences via social media. We quadrupled their Facebook fan base year on year, fuelled thousands of real conversations and dramatically shifted brand perception.

The diet Coke partnership with fashion designers is another great example of a brand finding out what matters most to their customer and creating a powerful and credible brand partnership to give women talking points. When Gaultier was announced as Diet Coke's first designer creative director, it was done through the creation of three videos of the designer giving Diet Coke puppets a makeover during a 72-hour time period. The videos were released during Paris Fashion Week, helping to generate excitement and intrigue around the limited edition launch – creating huge hype and millions of conversations. This was then extended to the product through designer bottles, retail activations and exclusive events and coverage – a powerful way to get women talking about and drinking diet Coke. The campaign has continued from strength to strength.

3) Create experiences she can share

In ‘Inside Her Pretty Little Head’, one of the defining books on how to market to women, Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts explain how women are driven by what they describe as the “Altruism Code” – women are naturally altruistic, nurturing and ‘others’-focused. Women love to share, to give, to their friends and family.

Brand Partnerships is naturally collaborative – shared marketing expertise and resources as well as shared experiences. By working together, brands can create bigger experiences and rewards, reach more people, engage new and bigger audiences and help women to become advocates for their brand. What better way to encourage brand advocacy and that all important recommendation than by offering a women a reward she can directly share with a friend or family member?

In our recent research with O2 we have found that the rewards that have the highest engagement levels are those that are shareable. By working closely with the right brand partners we have been able to develop offers that women can share with the people who matter most. In 2014 some of the most popular offers have included family tickets to the premiere of Rio 2, free Mother’s Day Cards from WH Smiths, access to tickets for Lady Gaga and, of course, free chocolate from Hotel Chocolat – a ‘Valentines Mini Slab’ to give to the one to you love. Women love to share, they love to give.

That need to share goes beyond their direct social circle too. Women also care about society and love to give to others. M&S and Oxfam’s Schwopping campaign is one of the best examples we’ve seen of a brand connecting to women through this code. It launched in April 2012 with huge support from Joanna Lumley and has since recruited Zoe Ball and Abbey Clancey to help broaden its appeal to all age groups. So far, Oxfam has received 6.9 million items of clothing, worth £4.5 million for the charity. In 2013 it even won a Big Society Award. David Cameron said the scheme “shows how a simple and innovative idea can inspire people, making it easy for them to make a contribution to their community and the wider world.” A powerful and credible way to give women what they want, based on a deep understanding of what that is – with the right brand partners working together across categories to give it to them.

4) Make it easy

In a recent Adweek panel, Sarah Bailey, editor-in-chief of Red Magazine, described her audience as “hyper-connected busy fried women”. Women have more pressure on them than ever before, self-imposed, friend imposed, family imposed and society imposed. Marketers can and do make this worse. We are all familiar with the press ad for the beauty product which sells itself to us by promising the ‘perfect look’ when what it is actually doing is playing on our insecurities – or the great ‘free offer’ you get excited about – until you realise you can only get it if you visit 3 websites, enter all your personal details including your waist size and write and post a cheque… when you didn’t even know people still used them, let alone where your cheque book is.

Faith Popcorn got this, even back in 2001, in the days before smart phones and the digital world we now live in which has exacerbated it beyond imagining. In her book EVEolution she talked about a fifth truth of marketing to women: Walk, run, go to her, secure her loyalty forever. She talks about women being “caught in the rinse cycle of daily life” and how brands who crack “convenience” will win women’s hearts.

Brand partnerships enables brands to make it easy for women. By working with the right brand partners you can engage women in the right place, at the right time, in the right moment, in the right media. You can be ‘native’ to what they are already doing, become naturally part of a brand partner’s experience that women already love and understand. You can also leverage a partners assets to make the introduction seamless and easy.

With Aviva, our client, one of the biggest challenges we face is influencing the household decision maker to consider Aviva for their insurance needs. More often than not, the decision maker is a woman - extra challenging in a sector that is used to communicating in a traditionally masculine manner. We have to understand what women want and how they want it, and for Aviva’s customer loyalty programme, Aviva Advantages, we strive to develop and deliver partnerships and rewards that make it easy for her to connect with friends and family.

Our most successful Aviva Advantages campaign to date ran at Christmas 2013, and featured a host of partners targeting families with a deliberate focus on women. The top performing partners were hampers from Fortnum & Mason, a Thompson and Morgan plant giveaway, and Dancing on Ice tickets, receiving tens of thousands of engagements. We made it easy - we ensured the promotion communication, entry and prize redemption were effortless, and perfectly timed to make their Christmas even more special. We engaged more women than ever before, and we kept it simple.

5) Be real

Become part of their social set and talk how they talk about things they care about. According to Rohit Bhargava in the Non-Obvious Trend Report, 2014 was going to be the year of Lovable Imperfection “one way people seek out signs of true authenticity is by searching for and valuing the minor imperfections in products, personalities and brands themselves – and rewarding that realness with attention, loyalty or even greater trust.” He cites Jennifer Lawrence and the imperfect heroes of Despicable Me as embodiments of the trend. He was right.

Brands have to be real to connect to women nowadays – they have to speak as women want to be spoken to and they have to be genuine and authentic. By working with the right brand partners, a marketer can make their brand more appealing, borrow credibility and change perceptions of their brand. The right brand partner can enhance your appeal through positive association and help you deliver your message more credibly. Sport England understand this better than most.

They are facing a challenge – how to engage young women (14-17 years) in an effort to positively shift their perceptions about sport and drive interest and ultimately a long term goal of participation in sport. Statistics show that only 12% of this age group is active – a trend that needs reversing for the sake of the nation’s health above all else.

With this group of young women, there are many barriers that negatively impact their perception of sport – from embarrassment at how they look whilst playing, it’s competitive and ‘play to win’ nature, and the feeling that it is aimed at a different type of girl. However there are lots of motivations too – the social benefits, the desire to be fit and healthy and the sheer fun of it.

With Sport England, we are doing something very different. The BloominGirls social media campaign and event this summer will unite the brands these young women love with non-traditional barrier free versions of several sports (Netball, Football, Hockey and Touch Rugby) in a common goal – to make young women see sport in a new light.

We are bringing together the coolest brands (, MUA, Batiste and Babyliss to name a few), Sport England, the national governing bodies for Netball (AENA), Football (FA), Hockey (EH) and Rugby (RFU) and the celebrities that these young women relate to. Our headline ambassadors are British Girl Band – Neon Jungle. Traditionally known for their music and fashion they bring credibility fronting the campaign as they all participate in sport as a means to stay fit.

We are presenting sport in a totally new way – in their speak, in their style, in their social set, outside of the school environment, in a completely fresh, real and genuine way.


We believe strongly that marketers should focus not on what they want, but what the women they want to engage with their brand want. It should be a guiding principle, a mantra, not an afterthought or a stage in the process. You have to ask, listen, talk, try, ask again, listen again and change what you do continuously.

To be successful in connecting with a woman, a marketer needs to listen to what she wants and give it to her, give her talking points, create experiences she can share, make it easy and be real.

We believe that Brand Partnerships is the best positioned of all marketing disciplines to be true to this because it has to look at what matters most to the audience first – what matters to women most and then, and only then, should the right brand partners be united around that need. It is also a discipline which is expert in building meaningful relationships that last. It can help a brand engage and have conversations with customers it couldn’t normally reach, make your brand more credible and enhance your appeal through positive association.

In Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, they talk about credibility being “hard to achieve outside of our trusted circles - friends, family, experiences and faith. Trying to persuade a sceptical audience is an uphill battle against a lifetime of personal learning and social relationships. Tapping in to authorities with credibility is one sure fire way of gaining credibility”. They aren’t talking about brand partners, but they could be. Finding the right brand partners can help your brand get into a woman’s trusted inner circle and ultimately help you earn your place in her heart and in her head.


Cherry London Research, Nov 13, survey of 1000 UK adults, demographics: age: 18+

Cherry London Research, Feb 14, survey of 1000 UK women, demographics: age: 18+

Cherry London Flipboard Magazine “No woman is an island, what makes women tick and how to market to them”

Cherry London Pinterest Board:

Cherry London and O2 Business Intelligence Priority Analysis, 2014

Sport England Research, numerous, 2008-2014

Inside Her Pretty Little Head: A New Theory of Female Motivation and What it Means for Marketing, Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts

Daring Book for Boys in Business, Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts

EVEolution, Faith Popcorn

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping, Paco Underhill

The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine

Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B Caldini

Why We Buy, Paco Underhill

Consumer.ology, Philip Graves

Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath

Nudge, Thaler & Sunstein

Buzz, Emanuel Rosen

The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz

Celebrity Sells, Hamish Pringle

Why she buys, Bridget Brennan

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