20 April 2015

What Women Want: Part 2 - What's in their heart?

By Shaziya Khan, VP & Executive Planning Director (JWT Mumbai)

What holds the answer to this puzzle – what is in women’s hearts? It is not rocket science, I can tell you, but just a few core values that mean the world to her.

The quantitative data we gathered on this topic was brought alive poignantly by a consistent pattern of qualitative ‘stories’ we heard in parallel. These stories related to a daily event, common across most Indian households.  An event most people take for granted. The  exceptions being a few, loving folks who embraced the event, in a fresh way. In case you’re wondering well, what is it, the first clue is lies in the numbers, the second in the unpeeling of ‘stories’.

One in two women across Asia (India, China, Indonesia) believe that a husband who is respectful and supportive is the key to a happy marriage.  When women were asked what are the Top 3 factors for a happy marriage? They replied in a consistent pattern:
Firstly,  a husband who is respectful
Secondly, a husband who is supportive
Thirdly,  a husband who shares responsibility.

These are the top 3 factors cited by almost 50% (one out of every two)  women across Asia – India, China, Indonesia ( women 20 -45 years, SEC A, B).

Interestingly, with the exception of China, in other Asian markets, getting along with in laws is a factor of  relatively lower  importance for a happy marriage, and was cited by less than 20% of women (1 in 5 women).

A happy marriage relationship based on respect and support is a consistently stated and explicit aspiration of today’s women. This aspiration is a solid foundation for brands to build on, by asking how these can be manifested and enabled in fresh ways. Cueing at least 3 related points of departure for future enquiries by categories and brands as a next step.

1. Firstly, how is respect and support of the wife expressed through the lens of a particular category – applying the category or brand filter to these values is a vital next step. For instance how does food or finance or even beauty categories, to mention a few, apply this finding. For instance, several financial brands support a daughter’s future / foreign education. That is not surprising because as our study reveals - 65% of women aged 20-24 years want to become financially independent and advance their careers. However, the study also reveals that close to 45% of women who are 25 – 45 years want to become financially independent too! Across all age groups, 55% of women in India want to be financially independent, and over 45% of women want to buy a home and a car! Cause enough for brands to dig into how these desires can be better fulfilled or enabled for women. Beyond continuing to support daughters’ education & career, time to dig into what cues support and respect of the wife, financially speaking?

2. Secondly, there is scope for understanding what are the deal breakers, deal makers, and hands down winners, when it comes to respect, support and teaching values. For 80% of Indian women, the number one factor of being a good mother remains ‘Teaching your children values and helping make them better people’. And for 60% of Indian women it is a struggle to find a balance between maintaining tradition and their desire to be independent and assertive. The struggle is more intense in China and Indonesia where over 80%  of women find it difficult to balance tradition with independence. Tradition vs assertiveness, balancing vs struggling, making the effort to teach values to children are evocative zones of respect and support to be understood and advocated by brands, each in their unique way. One might ask, for the progressive matrimony brand or evolving mother brand or modern local brand in Asia, what’s the next step that advances respect and support in marriage and values in children?

3. Thirdly, exploring the new bridge of shared responsibilities between His & Hers. As home making and working responsibilities evolve, and parenting becomes more hands on, what is the emerging geography of chores? It is a fascinating and layered topography  which is a mash up of what used to be simply his and hers. Now, there’s his, hers, and ours, either, swapping, to be decided, in flux, training, experimenting, trial period, surprise zone, learning area, still adapting, tough times, “firsts”, getting used to it, still …signs of what can become  a fascinating insight mining exercise. That it is desired, more - required,  is validated by another telling finding: 70% of women agree that usually “women are depicted as men would like to see them rather than as we really are”.

In sum, love and its expressions of respect, support, understanding & sharing of responsibilities continue to be some of the deepest desires of women.  With 50% of women across Asia affirming their importance, there is much to be gained from addressing them actively, in fresh ways.


Moving onto sharing a “story” that brings alive what the numbers reveal. It is a story we heard consistently in focus groups. Across similar socio econonomic strata, with both younger and middle aged married women in India.

When women are asked what is the one thing that would delight your heart, and give you much happiness… initially with shy smiles, then hesitant, tender expressions and finally with irrepressible giggles – we heard them give a unanimous answer: we wish if our husband would occasionally surprise us by making the cup of tea for us!

A cup of tea?!

How could “wish he occasionally makes a cup of tea for me” hold so much meaning for the wives, we wondered initially! As we probed further, we learnt, that “wish husband occasionally makes the cup of tea for me” phenomenon, emotionally speaking ‘works’ for wives at several levels.

1.    Husband understands the wife’s need for a break: he understands that his wife needed a break from her unchanging routine and he steps in and gives her that much needed break. In her eyes, through the simple, and occasional gesture of making her a morning cup of tea, in her eyes, he symbolically communicates a deep empathy towards her. Also, needless to say, as mornings are a very busy time in most homes, it is a break at a very relevant time as well. A true moment of respite and togetherness.

2.    Husband provides wife an open and genuine expression of appreciation: it is seen by her as a gesture of appreciation for all that she has done; a welcome pause of acknowledgement and appreciation from him, in what can otherwise by weeks, months, even years, of an always-on assembly line of chores (completed yet unremarked upon, unless if there is a mistake, but rarely, if ever appreciated when it goes off smoothly each time)

3.    Husband embraces a supportive stance towards role  expansion: When he makes her the cup of tea, the woman sees tangible evidence, not just living room conversation, that her husband happily encourages and embraces a certain amount of role expansion for both himself and his wife, in keeping with modern times.

If there is so much emotional meaning triggered by an occasional cup of tea, made for the wife, imagine what more can be unpeeled as more aspects of shared responsibility are tapped.
IN SUM: Respect, support and shared responsibility is what matters most to wives.  We’re all reminded, it IS about these few core values when it comes to understanding what women want. That’s not rocket science. But it rarely is!
Especially when we’ve set out to understand what’s in their heart!

(While you ponder that quietly, we are putting together the third module on what’s in their pocket)

This article was first published in Hindu Business Line 27th Feb, 2015

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