Interview with Andrea Learned of Pyramid Communications

MB: With your background in marketing, understanding what motivates women to buy, and social responsibility in the corporate world, do you have a favorite marketing campaign focused at women that could inspire bicycle advocacy and bicycle manufacturers as a great template?

Andrea: Not so surprisingly, sports related brands have really been getting better at connecting with women – so the bike industry has some great examples to learn from. I'll share three examples with you: Nike Women, Luna's Team Luna Chix, and Prius.

MB: Can you spell out for us why these particular campaign worked so well and was so effective?

Nike Women celebrate girls growing into women with passion and playing by own rules. NIKE has long since been known for this approach and have been very successful.  First and foremost, their audience is people who are passionate about sports.

I’ve been a big fan of ClifBar’s overall marketing approach, and this Team Luna initiative is another great one.  It brings the professional athletes and the local communities of athletes into one “club,” and emphasizes learning from and encouraging one another.  Includes cause angle, one that was well-picked in the Breast Cancer Fund – which is all about research toward proactive prevention of breast cancer (as opposed to a focus on a cure, which "feels" reactive in comparison).

Priius for everyone. The story told in the ad reflects care for universe and other people along the way (from Melissa: note the bicyclists and the stopping for pedestrians at a crosswalk!) This, as opposed to most vehicle ads that are more traditional, with one sleek car and winding roads or one huge truck and heavy loads, where there is status in owning/being seen in one.  Those ads make connections with much smaller markets, and are about exclusivity (who is the coolest? The one who owns one of these sweet luxury vehicles or gigantic trucks).

Note that none of these ads are us vs. them, not women vs. men.  Nor, do you see flowers or “lighter” versions of anything in the sports-related campaigns.  It’s about passion and power – exactly what it is for any male athlete.  The stories are just told in a way that celebrates cheering one another on, rather than being the top rated or fastest.

MB: In order to seriously address the sedentary disease pandemic in this country we don't need to double the number of people riding bikes, it's more like we need to quintuple them, and women are the indicator species that we're connecting and getting the word out in the right way.

From a marketing perspective do you have some thoughts on what cost effective steps bicycle advocacy, bike shops and bicycle manufacturers could do to more effectively connect with non athletic minded females?

Andrea: Focus on taking the lycra and the speed/tech out of bicycle branding.  Approach women indirectly – via environment, health, fun time with kids.  It’s not “you need to get on a bike”.. but biking is part of things that are already really important to you:

  • Use spokes models who are normal looking women and who don’t mind if a bike helmet makes their hair look lumpy. 
  • Quote or tell stories of everyday women and moms (and not necessarily the extreme advocates) who are recent converts to getting around by bike. 
  • Emphasize the fun community that can come with getting more women on bikes (a la the Team Luna Chix). 
  • Show off the clothes/fashion that look great and work perfectly for biking. 
  • Leverage the culture around biking more than the features, bells and whistles or even the fact that you get super fit if you ride regularly. 

The benefits of bicycling to a broader range of women are about much more than exercise, but the fact that you CAN get your workout while running errands, going to/from work etc.. is just a fantastic side bonus.

MB: I've heard a rumor that there will be a City Bike pavilion at the Interbike show in Las Vegas in Sept (the largest bike show in the country). If you could wave a magic wand and create a female friendly pavilion adjacent to the City Bike one what would it look like? What would it contain?

Andrea: The people hosting the pavilion would be more women than men (but not only women, that doesn’t reflect reality!).  They would all be wearing regular-looking clothes (and cute clothes) that just happen to be bike-friendly. There would also be:

  •  No poster of a lycra clad woman or man anywhere. 
  • The bikes would be a variety of city/urban bikes that are the best sellers in the women’s market already (what has already attracted women to biking, will be the best way to start…). 
  •  Resources for finding the nearest support group/bike club in various localities would exist/be handed out. 
  • Women from across the country who are relatively new converts to biking errands or commuting would be some of the booth hosts, but also would be the main people speaking (if there were various events). 
  • The cool ways that people have integrated biking into their daily lives (nothing fancy) would be emphasized, so .. maybe the idea that one woman does a combination drive/bike commute to her job during the good weather months opens up a new possibility for some? 
  • Corporations who have had success with employee engagement and health initiatives around their bike-friendly/bike commuting efforts would also present and be on a list somewhere visible. 

I could go on and on!  Lots of ideas!  My key point would be to involve not just 100% women in such an effort.  There’d be lots of women to interview/engage, a balance of advocacy types and those interested from the practical or cultural side of things – women of all ages, races, body types (of course) .. but there would also be a strategy for including men who are involved in the same way (i.e. don’t emphasize their lycra rides). Part of the process of researching this would be to engage men and women from the industry in developing the booth, the narrative, so they then go back to their bike manufacturing companies or retail employers with all that they have learned.

MB: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about marketing to women that you coach clients to think differently about? Could this shift in mind set help both advocacy and bicycle manufacturers as well?

Andrea: The general marketing rule of thumb is that men tend to think more linearly and focus on fact/figures/features – or to lean way to heavy on “sexiness” if marketing to women (i.e. picture car ads that are supposedly trying to attract women but it is clear that a roomful of men thought it up – a la Cindy Crawford at her most powerful driving some sports car.)  Men tend to think – the point is to be at the top/to win/to compete around whatever the product.

Women, on the other hand, tend to think more relationally and focus on finding commonalities/building community/helping or sharing in something new.

I do not believe these stereotypes have to be the case, it’s just that our culture and traditions, and what society has rewarded men and women for in terms of behavior, has made the men-linear and women-relational path the most well-worn.  Each of us can break new ground – and I think more men and women are, especially related to sports, which is great and will only lay the groundwork for doing the same in their lives otherwise.

With marketing to women efforts, it continues to be too easy to fall into the “just paint the campaign pink with flowers” pattern.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Do a lot of talking with the women you’d like to reach and they will tell you what terms to use, what palettes are best and what types of community speak to their values.

And here are some thoughts on engaging women who are not athletic or haven’t seen themselves that way: Emphasize the environmental, the community, the freedom and all their other values about life and demonstrate how biking just FITS. 

 I’m not the greatest example, because I have always been athletic, but my reasons for getting into bike commuting are more practicality and impatience. The fact that I get a workout in along the way is icing on the top.

I first started in Portland Oregon in the early 1990s and even up through now, having just moved back to a city and needing to get in and out of downtown Seattle for work, my motivation is mostly about being able to get around on my own time, not look for parking and not be bound by bus schedules.  Plus, what you’ll hear a lot of us biking fanatics say – it is incredible how much you feel like a 12 year old with no responsibilities and only blue sky when you get back on a bike.

Two big issues that seem to keep women away – needing to transport kids and looking good (including hair).  To me the point is to get women started but by no means pressure them to embrace biking solely (the reality is the ones who get going are very likely to build their own momentum toward true biking dedication). 

If they have one day a week where they don’t have to transport their kids, get them excited to be a biker that day!  If they are concerned at how geeky they’ll look in typical biking gear – prove them wrong.  Deliver fashion that works and show a wide range of people who wear those clothese, in real life, to get around by bike.

About Andrea Learned

Andrea is Senior Social Media Strategist At Pyramid Communications, leading social media engagement strategy for Pyramid and its clients, conducting issue and influencer landscape analysis, identifying opportunities and appropriate tools and developing digital campaign strategies and tactics.

Earlier in her career, Andrea built an internationally recognized marketing to women expertise, which she shared in her book Don’t Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy – And How To Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market (AMACOM, 2004). Andrea has an MA in Sustainable Business and Communities from Goddard College and a BA in Political Science from the University of Michigan.

Outside of work, Andrea is literally… outside. She is an avid bicyclist, dog walker (hers is Zach), stand up paddle boarder and snowboarder.  Andrea is personally committed to urban transportation issues and the work of both the Garrison Institute’s Climate Mind Behavior initiative and the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future.

Andrea has worked as a writer, researcher and consultant in sustainable business and corporate social responsibility—finding creative and powerful ways to use social media as an engagement tool. Andrea’s social media experience includes leading workshops across the country and coaching media groups and university students on the psychology of social media and how to quickly build a networked presence.