What's often lost amid the current debate around women needing to "lean in" on the one hand or go for that "Mrs." degree young and fast (Princeton Mom), is the fact that women today have never had it so good.
This may not be the politically correct thing to say, but it's true. Women have never been in a stronger position in society than they are today in America. A lot of hard work has gone into shaping this new reality, and there's more work to be done, but it's a fact: Our world has changed.
As women have increased their economic power in society and taken on more and more leadership roles -- and leading on their own terms, not men's -- we are seeing a culture-wide embrace of traditionally "female" values, such as empathy and community.
What we are seeing is the birth of a new era in American society and culture: The New Matriarchy.
The New Matriarchy is signified by this culture-wide set of values and traits traditionally associated with women but currently prized by women and men.
Driven by their historic gains in the public and private sectors, women are setting the cultural tone in our society. And as the culture moves, so does great marketing.
While technological innovations in digital and social marketing are often said to drive the current trend toward fostering brand "relationships," it's the increasingly feminine values of the culture at large that have created a supportive environment for our freshest thinking on how to build brands.
The best marketing today does a great job speaking to and building brand relationships with women and with men, because it resonates with a culture that is increasingly driven by women and women's values.
The rise of the new matriarchy
Today, women have unprecedented control of the family purse strings and unprecedented dollars to spend. We have unprecedented choice in the kinds of lives we want to live, and we have risen to unprecedented heights, as highlighted recently in Vanity Fair's photo biographies of female leaders across the globe.
As women have gained power, and as our society has shifted from a manufacturing to a service economy, the skills innate to women, such as listening, working in teams and building relationships, have become valued more and more across the board (and in the boardroom).
$137.8B U.S. ad spend for top 200 advertisers
The "rise of women" is so profound that it has been linked to "The End of Men" by Hanna Rosin.
Ultimately, however, the rise of women is not an "us vs. them" story of which gender will seize control of society. Instead, and in keeping with traditionally female approaches to leadership, it's the story of both genders, and the culture at large, embracing values that ideally will work better for all of us.
Marketing in the new matriarchy
Traditional marketing started out supremely authoritative and broadly driven by salesforce-thinking closely tied to the manufacturing function. Then, during The Golden Age of Advertising, we inched closer to a more "womanly" approach -- emotional appeals became paramount in persuading consumers, and authoritative marketers started donning velvet gloves.
Now, in The New Matriarchy, we have moved fully into the feminine realm. We've gone from "persuading" to "fostering long-term relationships."
As marketers, we now talk about engaging in dialogue with our consumers. We cede control to customers. We want to help them create communities around our brands and causes. We strive to engage vs. persuade. We focus on aesthetic value and visual cues across every touch point so we can break through.
Today's top brands are leveraging these values to appeal to their audiences -- no matter the gender.
While sports are typically about competition and winning, Nike turned a seemingly authoritative "'Just Do It" tagline into a rallying cry for self-improvement. It's created real relationships with customers through its products and made Nike+ a thriving community based on encouragement and reaching personal goals -- not just being the best and beating others.
Every year, Doritos cedes control of its brand in the biggest marketing venue available by letting the public create and vote for its Super Bowl ads.
Patagonia promotes consciousness and honesty -- even admitting its own flaws -- while selling gear for the most traditionally "manly" of pursuits.
And Honda recognizes individual owners on a bigger scale by truly listening and reciprocating their "love."
Smart brands like these reflect and build upon the cultural and societal values surrounding them.
As The New Matriarchy continues to impact our society, I look forward to the day when women's values are not only reflected in great brands and great campaigns -- our agencies' output -- but are also reflected in our agencies' cultures. Who leads, how we hire, why we hire, how we promote and reward. But that's a topic for another time.