What Marketers Can Learn from Psychology


Harvard Social Psychologist and Professor Amy Cutty studies non-verbal communication. At least half of communication is done through non-verbal signals including verbal cues such as pitch and the speed of your language. She is very interested in power dynamics. She noticed a trend that tends to happen in very competitive environments, particularly in places like Harvard Business School.

Male students tend to dominate classroom discussions and women are more likely to stay quiet. Amy wanted to see if she could change that power dynamic. In the lab she had subjects adopt either high- power poses or low-power poses. Open, expansive postures that occupy space indicate power. Becoming small and taking up less space indicates low power. She found that hormones help tell our bodies we're powerful. The hormone testosterone (in people and in animals) and relatively low cortisol help us feel powerful, that's true for men and women. More interestingly she found that putting people in low-power and high power induce changes in those hormone levels. Women are 50% of the digital marketing workforce, but only 15% of leadership positions. In creative it's even lower at 3% according to The 3 Percent. I'm not here to beat the gender-equality drum, that has been expertly and beautifully accomplished by Sheryl Sandburg in Lean In. However, giving women in the industry the tools they need to succeed and move into leadership roles depends partly on how we, men and women, understand the dynamic and explore potential regardless of gender.

When junior resources begin that first level of mastery, men tend to be the ones that speak up to engage with clients, even when they aren't 100% certain of their answer. Women tend to wait until they have a cohesive answer or solution. Both approaches have an up and down side. That's not the point. The point is that the men's action is perceived by the client as an indicator of expertise and success and the women's action as a lack of confidence, rather than a desire to give information based on data rather than the power that comes from powerfully (and often loudly as Amy pointed out in her work) sharing an opinion. Larry Kim, CTO of WordStream, has written several well-balanced aritcles about furthering the cause of gender equality in marketing. Adwords accounts managed by women performed better. As leaders in agencies and brands recognizing the potential we may be missing out on because we're relying too heavily on an old paradigm of power can be an enormous untapped opportunity for growth.

How do you help your teams focus on gender unbiased leadership?

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