Aarti Shah 12 Jul 2021 // 7:17PM GMT
There’s been an explosion of interest in women’s health recently. The category, deemed ‘femtech’ by some, is currently a $700m market that’s expected to boom to more than $1 billion by 2025.
Of course, women’s health isn’t new and there’s been a steady stream of innovation around it: birth control pills, improved menstrual products, hormone replacement therapy, period tracking, to name just a few. So what, exactly, is different about today's momentum? That’s the question we asked in the latest episode of “License to Accelerate: Perspectives on the Future of Health,” in partnership with Allison+Partners.
This episode features Jess Graham, chief marketing officer at Hologram Sciences, a personalized nutrition company; Bulbul Hooda, brand creator and chief marketing officer at Vella Bioscience, which recently launched a women's pleasure serum; and Michelle Webb who leads the health practice at Allison+Partners.
Here are some conversation highlights or you can skip to the video/podcast by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
"If you’re not able to say vulva and vagina, it’s going to be rough times ahead"
As Webb points out, this space is seeing a huge boom in capital and, increasingly, women are leading the companies that are being funded. But that’s not to say there aren't challenges. For instance, does the moniker “femtech” marginalize women’s health and threaten to, once again, push the topic to the sidelines?
“Girl boss, femtech — they're problematic because they don't create the kind of gravitas that we deserve as full human beings,” Graham says. “They tend to put demographics in the margins...and we should just be commanding a full place at the table.”
There’s also the gap between the language people — or platforms — deem acceptable versus scientific and medical terms. For so long, euphemisms have been the norm when talking about menstruation, menopause, vaginas and vulvas, even orgasms and sexual pleasure.
“If you’re going to feel awkward using the word orgasm, I’m very worried — how you are going to sell it?" Hooda says. "We aren’t shying away from calling it what it is and that extends into the visual language, as well. It’s sexual and it’s time to normalize these conversations. If you’re not going to be able to say vulva and vagina, it’s going to be rough times ahead.”
But most of those words are restricted on Facebook and Instagram ads, as well as other social platforms. Google, meanwhile, allows far more options with its paid search.
“It’s also telling, what people are really looking for — I mean, it’s ‘am I even having sex correctly?’ " she says. “If you truly put your ear to the ground, you can see what [consumers] are looking for. We filter those searches and bring blogs on our website where there is correct information, all available in one place. We make sure that we are truly answering the questions people are looking for.”
"You look at the menopause search results on Google — it's a horror show"
Graham, who previously worked at Facebook and Instagram, notes that Silicon Valley and the creative industry are still dominated by men, who ultimately decide what’s acceptable — and women should push back and ask that some standards be reconsidered.
“Certainly, critical mass always helps and advertising dollars are important,” she says. “I suspect they’ve had to come so far to talk about period underwear with brands like Thinx, I suspect this new wave will also push them."
She adds, Hologram Sciences is also looking to provide women with information they’re not getting on Google. “You look at the menopause search results on Google — it's a horror show,” she says. “So, it is critical that our storytelling creates a bridge of empathy into the real suffering of women during this stage of life. And that in reality, there are solutions available.”
Inclusive product marketing can be somewhat narrowed when dealing with biological health. For instance, at this point, Vella Bioscience’s pleasure serum is being sold to women across a wide age spectrum — but only to cisgender women because the product has only been tested on vaginal tissue. For both companies, however, inclusivity is ensuring the traditionally narrow definition of womanhood is expanded, for instance, beyond being white, heterosexual or slender.
"We plan on being really bold"
When taking on such intimate topics, consumers are wary about being open. Vella Bioscience found that in discussing sexual pleasure with women, it typically took 45 minutes before a problem was even acknowledged.
“We are scared of being blamed as though it’s our failure, our body or mind is failing us,” Hooda says, noting the key was positioning the conversation around empowering women to take control of their own pleasure.
“We plan on being really bold and talking about these topics and really creating a space for women to have an experience that's quite different from the one that they're having today,” Graham adds. “It's really about demonstrating our empathy in real and meaningful ways that have us show up and provide solutions that matter.”
Watch or listen to the full conversation below:
03:08 More about Hologram Sciences and Vella Bioscience
06:38 Why we should examine the use of ‘femtech’
07:21 Medical terms vs. euphemisms for women’s health
10:16 Social media restrictions on feminine health
13:49 How to build trust around such intimate offerings
17:48 Inclusive storytelling on women’s health
21:26 How data is driving storytelling on women’s health
24:16 Combating ageism against women
27:10 Where is the conversation headed?
29:40 How to stand out in such a crowded, buzz-generating space?
"License to Accelerate: Perspectives on the Future of Health” is a series in partnership with Allison+Partners. Episode 1 focused on how the pandemic accelerated access and acceptance of mental health therapies.