Can brands engage women by addressing the self-esteem gap?

by Guest Contributor Amy Cashman | May 01, 2019

Author: Amy Cashman

Amy Cashman
co-CEO Insights Division UK

Over 100 years after women in the UK won the right to vote, women’s sense of self-empowerment still lags behind that of men. Women with lower self-esteem are motivated by different values then their high self-esteem peers. Closing the self-esteem gap could help improve how all women feel about themselves… but also change the brands they buy.

As part of the #WhatWomenWant? project Kantar undertook in 2018, we commissioned a research programme examining self-esteem and gender – and its link to brand perceptions. Despite many advancements for UK women, we uncovered a significant difference between genders when it came to self-esteem. Sadly, only a fifth of women rated their self-esteem as “above average” (vs. two fifths for men). Why should marketers care? Because brands that are gender balanced are worth almost a third more than male-skewed ones.

“Self-esteem” is about feeling that you can achieve what you want to achieve in a way that makes you feel happy. Why do some women lack self-esteem? When we compared those with above-average self-esteem to those with below-average self-esteem, the more self-confident women rated financial autonomy highly (similar to men) but being socially-networked was of greater importance for those with low self-esteem. Self-esteem forms part of the lens through which we view the world – as such, it has an impact on our view of brands.


An examination of 40 brands (across eight sectors) found that, when women rated brands as more “for me” or “against me”, there were large differences in how brands fared between women with high self-esteem and low self-esteem, suggesting a commercial opportunity if brands could better “include” those with lower self-esteem. Closing that gap could also help close the gender gap, but it will take more than talk to do so. Even if your advertising talks about female empowerment, your customer service, product range or sales collateral may still leave people feeling excluded.

So which brands have successfully closed the self-esteem gap? Retailer Boots has high scores among both groups of women. Our research finds Boots makes successful connections across genders and levels of self-esteem, and performs very well across a range of brand strength indicators.

Online investment service Nutmeg’s ads portray women as they want to be portrayed, and what is most significant is that the brand has the smallest gaps between women with high and low self-esteem. The brand has successfully engaged lower-esteem women, which feels like the right strategy to grow their business and challenge legacy financial services brands.

Some brands exclude people by design, others by neglect. If you are alienating women, is there a good reason to do so? Or are you missing a commercial opportunity? In which case, can you bring less confident consumers into the fold? To do so, you may have to appeal to a broader set of values.

Why do more brands not try to close the self-esteem gap? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Amy Cashman, May 03, 2019
    Thanks for taking the time to read & comment Jeremy. Couple of different questions you ask here so will take each in turn. Firstly, we do see in other work we do evidence that supports women having lower self esteem than men. One example would be the higher incidence of stress and anxiety in women than men which has been seen in work by our Health division. Also, I unfortunately didn’t have time within the blog to go into further detail as to the drivers behind that gender difference, but one that is key is sexual/body autonomy (i.e. feeling comfortable and in control of your own body). This is more of a driver of self-esteem for women than men which fits with the higher likelihood that female bodies are the ones objectified in media and communications. Secondly, I don’t believe self-esteem is an issue for all brands necessarily, I think it needs to fit within the wider context of the category in which the brand is operating and who it sees as its target. Fashion as a category was very interesting as we did see big gaps for certain brands between those women with higher and lower self-esteem. It could be for some of those brands they are comfortable with only having women with a higher body image as customers, but we felt there was a commercial opportunity then untapped by making a wider range of women feel included in the brand. You can see commercial success being driven through this approach in other categories already with things like Dove’s ‘campaign for real beauty’ and Sport England’s ‘this girl can’ work. Please do feel free to get in touch with me directly if you would like to discuss further – very happy to do so!

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