Stress Is Not A Contest: Marketers And Martyrs

Half Truth: Women are stressed.

Whole Truth: Women are stressed, but they aren’t above playing the pity card.

Marketers recoil when women bemoan how busy they are. To many, women’s Martyrdom conjures the annoying and unappealing image of a whiner. (And that’s not the picture of the customer they want to have.) So often, when we show videos of women mired in Martyrdom, marketers get pulled into their quicksand of complaints. Additionally, this Half Truth of Martyrdom puts marketers, especially male ones on the defensive. We can tell this is happening when male clients start citing all the examples of how in their well-balanced families, men do all the heavy lifting.

As a marketer, beware of competing with women’s stress, especially if she’s your customer. As we love to say, ‘Stress is not a contest.’ Even if it were, you’ve got to let your customer win. Women can be incredibly empathetic, but they love to play the pity card, so successful marketers need to base ideas on solving stress rather than compete with it or amplify it. The first step is getting the facts, not just the feelings.

A business that’s plagued with consumers’ stress management is the airline industry, and some brands have navigated this better than others. While both men and women business travelers will trumpet the very true Martyrdom refrain, ‘I’m so exhausted by business travel,’ women, especially those with kids waiting at home, take the indignities of travel personally. Continental Airlines was the first to roll out the red carpet at check-in (in their case, it was blue) so that all Elite members, even the straggling latecomers, could bypass the long line of nonmembers. The blue carpet practically shouted, ‘We know you travel constantly, so here’s one annoyance you can take off your plate.’ They also seem to be the most aggressive about filling any empty business class seat with worthy upgrade candidates, again a life raft for a woman on the edge.

Listen to the Whole Truth behind her Half Truth of Martyrdom to learn how you can redefine your product in her terms and you may find you can reposition your current offering into a Whole Truth winner.

Want to learn more about half and whole truths? This post is straight from our book, What She’s Not Telling You: Why Women Hide the Whole Truth and What Marketers Can Do About It. Read the first chapter online HERE, and grab a copy for yourself from Amazon.

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Women Are Compassionate But Self-Critical? Duh.

Self-compassion (aren’t hyphens handy?), is the newest buzzword on the block. The New York Times profiles the phenomenon, starting with a 2007 Yale study and progressing to two books published this year. The consensus appears to be that Americans, immersed in the society of “hard work will get you everywhere,” are working too hard and engaging in too much self-criticism and condemnation, to the detriment of their mental and physical health—measured in terms of depression and weight gain.

What You See Isn’t What You Get.

The article (available HERE) includes the following phrase barely a paragraph along:

“People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.”

How, exactly, is this surprising? It sounds like most women we’ve interviewed.  The profile of a person who is a compassionate, caring listener who holds herself to unreal standards to her ultimate detriment isn’t revolutionary. It’s the common profile of a mom, a female friend. It’s like looking into a mirror.

Where Are The Men?

Truly surprisingly, the research claims to analyze people in general. But the cited study was done among female undergraduates, who unknowingly submitted themselves to a study about food guilt.  Women with existing food guilt who were explicitly cautioned not to feel bad for eating a doughnut at the study’s beginning—as everyone had to eat them—ate less overall and felt  guilty about doing so.  What a shock. A more interesting version would have included men.

It’s an unusual case of reverse projection. All women are people, but all people aren’t women. Just like marketers who target women to the exclusion of men, these studies project their striking findings from a female cohort onto the half of the population whose own results may not be so nuanced. Assemble mental health and weight-loss data at will, but remember that conclusions can be only as broad as the research. Hyphens don’t solve everything.

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Junior High DejaVu

In today’s email I received video footage  from a recent conference sponsored by Girls Inc regarding young women’s stress issues.  A panel featuring author Jessica Weiner, designer Dana Buchman, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide chair Shelly Lazarus, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive and health expert/radio host Dr. Jennifer Wider weighed in with answers to what stressed them out as young girls. Interestingly, nearly all harkened back to 7th grade where the compulsion to fit in was at its height.

“From a very young age, I wanted to be liked,” said Jessica Weiner, “to please, to have the perfect body, the perfect grades.” This desire to fit in is the hallmark of Approval Seeking, a behavior that sticks with women way past their youth. Funny enough, just an hour ago, I was interviewed by Kathleen Hays of The Hays Advantage on Bloomberg Radio and she said that our identified motivator of Approval Seeking reminded her of “junior high.” Exactly right, except that it sticks. But when consumers resort to it as a crutch for giving the ‘right answer’, and marketers succumb to believing it because it’s the answer that they want to hear, the result is a kind of double jeopardy.

Another interesting element of the piece related to the book, (Yes, “What She’s Not Telling You” our NEW BOOK which is out today…just click on the right and order now!) was their revelation of the origins of the Half Truth motivator: Ego Protection. Shelly Lazarus recalled that even though she was good at math, she underplayed it and went to after-school remedial classes to appear cool, as did Cindi Leive who purposely sabotaged a test to get a lower, ‘cooler’ score.

The reason that Half Truths are hard to break is that they are long held and deeply felt, often nurtured for good or bad, at an early age. Detecting them takes skills that can crack the code. (Yes, they’re in the book!)

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April 13, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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