Rob Fields: What Two Guys Learned About The Importance Of Feminine Values

John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio on why we all need to upgrade to the “operating system of 21st century progress.”

One of the biggest cultural shifts currently taking place is the shift towards feminine values and traits on a global scale.  As noted in their forthcoming book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And The Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, Young & Rubicam’s Chief Insight Officer John Gerzema (above, left)  and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael D’Antonio pull out the data that underscores what they call a sea change away from the male-oriented, command-and-control systems that have been in place in so many countries for so long.

As was the case with Gerzema’s 2008 book, The Brand Bubble, the duo leveraged Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator, which is comprised of over 1.2 MM respondents and includes 50,000 brands in 51 countries, and has been measuring consumer sentiment about brands continuously since 1993.  To that, he and D’Antonio conducted a survey of 64,000 people in 13 countries, which account for 65% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.  Some findings:

  • 66% of those surveyed agree with this statement: “The world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”
  • 76% disagreed with this statement: “My country cares more about its citizens that it used to.”
  • As for this statement: “I’m dissatisfied with the conduct of men in my country,” there was agreement by 57% of adults, 54% of men and 57% of millenials.

Respondents wanted to see more of a focus on empathy, collaboration, listening, being vulnerableAthena Doctrine cover, being community-oriented, etc. That is, versus those traits perceived as more masculine such as aggressive, arrogant, driven, over-bearing, dominant, etc.  The authors came to believe that the qualities most favored in their study resembled the Greek goddess Athena, who was “venerated for her intelligence, skill, civilizing influence and fairness.”

When plotted against indices of leadership, success, morality and happiness, feminine traits scored higher.  Between the bookends of the methodology, findings and implications of The Athena Doctrine on business (innovation, organizational and change management, etc.), are examples from 13 countries that are indicative of how the Athena transformation is already well underway.

I sat down with John Gerzema last week, and here are some excerpts from our discussion:

The Athena transformation is being driven by young people. How so?

The millennial views are hugely important in this shift.  They just don’t see the world in such stark contrasts.   They can see leaders being more collaborative, more empathetic.  This doesn’t suggest people are soft.  Rather, they’re fierce.  They’re building interesting businesses.  They’re just realizing there’s a different path to doing it.  There’s nuance, listening, communicating, there’s being flexible.  Being patient.  People that were willing to give in and think about long-term implications of problems, rather than focusing on short-term expediency.

For example, there’s the lead city planner in Medellin, Colombia, who’s combating the violence that’s marred Colombian society for decades by devoting 2/3 of the city budget to people under 40.  Digital schools, free schools, free libraries, free healthcare.  Basically, anything that provides infrastructure for youth.

Or, in Germany, there’s Felleshus (a Danish word for “house for everyone”), the five nations embassy where countries pool resources, share support staff, and work collaboratively, both for economic development and public policy.

So what are the implications for brands?

Brands have to look outside their categories.  Brands that will increasingly command our respect have to be trusted and have integrity.  We’ve seen a 50% decline in trust since the global financial crisis and, at the same time, we’ve seen a 400% rise in kindness and empathy as a driver of brand differentiation.  Which means people want companies that actually care about them.  Marketing now is about aligning with your customers in order to sell them.  These days, consumers have perfect information and they are increasingly driven by ethics and values, and two-thirds or 72% of our survey respondents say they want brands that match their own.

It think that, increasingly, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and branding are becoming one and the same.

What do you mean?

CSR was always thought of as back of the house, i.e., doing good as a purely defensive posture.  But now I think it’s an offensive thing.  It’s a huge lever of cash register sales.  If your company is virtuous and you can tie that to what brand stands for it means a difference and it differentiates.  For example, among people who are aware of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation connection to [software corporation] Microsoft, Microsoft is 50% more trustworthy, has 40% higher levels of differentiation, and is seen as “caring for customers” by 30% higher levels.  People believe that, if I”m buying Windows 8, somehow a little bit of that money is going for malaria nets somewhere in Africa.  So I’m a firm believer that people shouldn’t divide those two things–CSR & branding–they’re really one and the same.

But what about very utilitarian categories?

We see brands breaking out of their categories all the time in the BAV.  Insurance company Geico is an example.  Progressive Insurance is a breakout brand, as is Southwest Airlines.  They’re all examples of brands who’ve escaped the confines of their category to offer something different.

The Athena Doctrine will be available on Tuesday, April 16.  You can find more information on the book here.

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