SYDNEY: Brands may be guilty of underlying gender biases which not only obscure real needs and satisfactions among men and women but also cede competitive advantage to rivals.

This idea is explored in an ESOMAR paper, Gender bias in brands and business: Using gender bias for good, not evil, written by Amy Fridlund, Insights Curator APAC Brand & Shopper, Kantar TNS, and Nikki Feld, Senior Consultant, Kantar TNS, Australia.

They pick up TNS research which found that designing better advertising for females led to better advertising with men and hypothesise that this is true not only for advertising, but also for other aspects of products and brands from product innovation to customer service to retail environments.

"Consumers may not realise that their lack of connection with a brand may be the result of an ingrained gender bias, but they may feel its effect nevertheless," they say, which leads to lost opportunities for brands.

The authors argue that those brands that "take a step back, check their own biases, re-evaluate touchpoints in light of new understanding, and then re-design their businesses 'to the edges' [rather than creating for the average], are likely to unlock a large proportion of the female dollar and deliver to a greater part of the male wallet while they are at it".

A series of semi-structured qualitative expert interviews, with marketing academics, creative agency practitioners and C-suite business executives, validated their basic hypothesis that gender bias exists but that it is often unconscious.

Subsequent interactions with Australian consumers via online bulletin boards revealed that people are more likely to recognise gender bias in customer service touchpoints.

"Customer service, being an interactive and dynamic touchpoint, may be more frequently reported due to availability bias, where human interactions are more prominent and more easily judged than, for example, having the ability to determine that a product or in-store environment could be designed differently to better meet the needs of a gender," Fridlund and Feld suggest.

The final, quantitative phase of the research is yet to be completed, but the authors aim to quantify the impact of gender on brand preference. "Any market share gap between males and females can be interpreted as an indication of gender bias," they say.

Data sourced from ESOMAR; additional content by WARC staff