Designing For Women — Advice From PepsiCo

By Kelsey Alpaio |  May 16, 2017

Empathy, understanding the consumer, and human-centered design are all increasingly hot topics in the world of corporate innovation. But Erica Eden, Director of Global Design Innovation at PepsiCo, points out that building brands for women and men is not the same thing.

Erica Eden, Director of Global Design Innovation at PepsiCo

“As innovators, particularly in fast-moving consumer goods, we don’t really treat women like people,” Eden says.

Eden explained some of her principles of “Designing for Women” at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston last week, touching on topics such as where women’s brands go wrong; how men’s brands aren’t afraid to create “tribes”; and the steps companies should take to better understand and appeal to their women consumers.

How Not to Design for Women

In researching innovation in women’s brands at both PepsiCo and in other industries, Eden says she has found a series of mistakes that brands make.

They include being:

1. Generic

“Women’s brands often lack identity… There’s no point-of-view. It can still follow all the rules of good design, do a good job, and have all the right things, but if it’s generic, no one really wants it. No one believes that it’s for them or from someone.”Eden used the humorous example of stock photos of “women laughing alone with salad.” “These women don’t exist,” she says. “They’re stock. But we try to innovate against them. We try to find solutions for them.”

2. Hyper-feminized

“We tend to lean on hyper-feminized stereotypes that range from unattainable to offensive. The easy observation is that there’s a ton of purple and pink and a lot of wavy, curvy lines in the way that we communicate. There’s people out there that like that, but not all of us like that. More importantly, there’s a lot of messages about perfection, beauty, and youth, and that seems to be a ‘shortcut’ to get to women. ‘If we just talk about our product being thin or…having low calories, that will appeal to women.’ It’s too much of a short-cut. It’s only skin-deep.”

3. Functionally-focused

“Innovation teams are very educated, very smart bunches of people. They’re inquisitive, and they want to know things. And one of the first things we do in food and beverage…is try to understand what makes men different from women, or any group different from another group. For men and women, the easy thing to observe is that nutrition is different for men and women. And you can prove it. You can find data that women need more protein or women tend to lack magnesium…It’s very data-derived and heavy, and very true….But just because [a product has] functional benefits, doesn’t mean that people will want it. In the moment of truth, whether you’re at a vending machine, at a shelf at the store, or in your home.. you’re going to pick something that is appetizing and exciting and looks delicious. You’re not going to pick something that delivers you functional benefits. We’re human beings, we have emotion. We’re not machines, we’re not robots, we don’t think this way… [Functionality] is a selling point, but it shouldn’t be the first selling point.

Benchmarking PepsiCo’s “Men’s Brands”

Eden says that Pepsi’s male-centered brands — which include Gatorade, Doritos, and Mountain Dew — tend not to make these types of mistakes.

“Men’s brands are fascinating,” she says. “They’re powerhouses, they are bold, they are fearless. They are not afraid to be trend-setting, aspirational, or deliberately exclusive. So how can we learn from that and apply that same thinking to our women’s innovation pipeline?”

Eden says that the biggest difference is that the men’s brands solve for “tribes.”

“[PepsiCo’s men’s brands] don’t solve for consumption targets…They solve for tribes of people,” she says. “Real human beings. Real groups of people that exist in the world. Not women laughing alone while eating salad… If we identify the tribe, we can understand them, go talk to them, and identify what their experience is and what the opportunities are for them.”

One example Eden gives is Doritos, and the tribe they design for: “Hyperlifers.” This tribe is made up of “bros” and “dudes.” They all love Xbox and the X Games, and they all dress similarly. And according to Eden, the Doritos brand is dedicated to this tribe and this tribe only.

“They make no bones about it,” she says. “They are not designing for me…And that’s OK. They’re deliberately exclusive.”

Tribes Versus Consumption Groups

So how can innovation teams better connect with women’s tribes? Eden says it comes down to understanding the difference between a tribe and a consumption group.

“Let’s say we want to go after millennials,” Eden says. “It’s too big and too broad. You can’t innovate off of a millennial target. That’s too many people. We have to narrow it down… Pick one and got after that one.”

One example of a millennial tribe are the “SoulCyclists.” Again, Eden says that everyone in this tribe dresses alike. They have messy buns and patterned capri pants. They drink Starbucks and SmartWater.

“These are the definition of a tribe,” says Eden. “They buy the same stuff. And if we can tap into that mentality, that aspirational lifestyle, we can design things for them…The tribe represents the aspiration for the masses. We design for them, the rest will follow. And I know it works because it’s working with the men’s brands.”

Designing for Women — The Right Formula

Often women use a three-step process in making decisions, Eden says. They look at a product and say, “It’s for me, I want it, and it’s also a good choice.”

In keeping this decision-making process in mind, Eden and her team put together three female tribes that certain Pepsi brands are designing for:

1. Motavators – Motavators are adolescent girls who follow the YouTube star Bethany Mota. They watch a lot of YouTube, and that’s their main source of information and inspiration. The flavors they love are delicious and indulgent. They’re not as focused on health. The things they love are whimsical, playful, and Instagram-worthy. This tribe is represented by PepsiCo’s Izze brand.

Photo by Jake Spurlock

2. Boss Ladies – Boss Ladies are usually 30-to-40 years old, and they put a lot of effort into themselves. Everything is about being “presentation-worthy.” Everything needs to look sophisticated, but not precious. Healthy means real and familiar. They’re not risk-takers. They want to know that something is going to work. They love things that are powerfully feminine, polished, poised, and classic. Boss Ladies don’t chug things; they sip. She doesn’t scarf down food — she takes small bites. This tribe is represented by Starbucks Refreshers, a lightly-caffeinated fruit beverage developed in partnership with Pepsico.

Photo by Mike Mozart

3. Eat, Pray, Lovers – Eat, Pray, Lovers are established empty-nesters. They are happy about the fact that they have time on their hands. They want to travel, explore, and discover. It’s about learning and new experiences that make them feel excited and feel like themselves. They’re conscious consumers. This tribe is represented by PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf Tea.

How to Find a Tribe

Eden says that the best way to find tribes is to go out and spend time with consumers.

“We go talk to people, and we identify options,” says Eden. “If we’re going after millennials, we find out who their influencers are. Who do they follow on Instagram? Who do they look up to? Who do they aspire to be and who do they learn form?…And then you study that net of influencers and see who has staying power. You see who has relevance. Who’s going to stick around? And then go shopping. Go to the store and look around in your category and see what tribes are being represented.”

Eden also warns against conflating the idea of a consumer target market and tribe.

“Make sure that your tribe is real,” she says. “It’s really tempting to abstract them into ‘strivers’ or ‘optimizers’ or into a persona. Personas are really easy to please, they really like your ideas… But they don’t exist. Tribes are hard to please because they are real people and they are complicated, and if you try to appeal to them, they will tell you that they don’t like your ideas and you’re wrong. And that’s hard to hear, but try not to make it too generic. Tribes have Instagram accounts, they meet up in person, and they have names. You can call them. It’s really hard to call up a ‘striver,’ because they don’t exist.”