Female health startups face many challenges when it comes to marketing their products. Not only is it often hard to reach consumers — who may not understand the product and the issue it’s targeting — but companies are also battling against social media platforms that frequently take down their posts and block their advertising.
It’s a problem that’s been going on for years, says Anna Butterworth, founder of Ultra Violet, a creative and trend forecasting agency specialising in femtech: “Posts about female health using words like vulva and vagina are taken down on Instagram and Facebook all the time — but then you can still find really horrible, abusive content on these platforms.”
For our Startup Life newsletter, we asked Butterworth, who was previously marketing manager at femtech leader Elvie, how femtech brands can market themselves in the current landscape.
Educate your audience
Many femtech products deal with health conditions that the consumer hasn’t necessarily had much prior opportunity to learn about or understand, so it’s falling on brands to lead the education on the topic. Before you launch a new product or brand campaign, take the time to feed educational content to your audience — for example, through Instagram stories or LinkedIn posts — to get them used to the terms you’ll be using.
Try to use language that isn’t highly technical, as this can be alienating to some consumers. If your company, for example, helps with pelvic pain — a lesser-known term — then use a more relatable word, like cramping.
Think of everyone
Consider how your message might be construed by different stakeholders and communities. If you're unfamiliar with a particular community — such as trans or non-binary people — spend time finding active and vocal leaders and advocates who actively speak out about their lived experience to learn from.
If you reach out to people on Instagram with a genuine desire to learn more about them, you could find yourself another advocate.
It’s important to talk to consumers who are suffering with the issue your company is aiming to help with — be it menopause, menstruation or pelvic floor problems. Talk to people (and be sensitive!) to gain useful insights and understand how your product is perceived.
How (and how not) to run a startup.
Meet your first customers digitally or in person, message the people engaging most in your content, follow the journalists who write about your topic and embed yourself in the community before asking anything of them. Once you’ve established an authentic relationship, it’ll be much easier to ask for something in return.
Learn the tricks to avoid censors
I like to take the stand that my content has integrity and I won't bend to the arbitrary and puritanical rules of a tech corporation; however, the commercial side of my brain also has some simple tactics to prevent accounts and posts from being removed. Self-censor with typos if you're using language we know raises flags such as "sex" and "vagina". Create videos outside of Instagram (say, on TikTok) and then post them to Instagram, as this ensures the platforms can't read the words you've used and flag them.
Other ways to get around the censors include working with influencers on social media and building brand partnerships where you can be introduced to new consumers on closed channels like newsletters. But in general, think about using social platforms as a funnel to your own channels where you have more freedom to use the right language.
On the subject of... Marketing a female health brand
🤔 What actually is femtech? Coined by Ida Tin, the founder of menstrual health tracker Clue, the term now encompasses a wide range of solutions in a market worth $25bn.
♀️ What’s wrong with the word ‘femtech’? This doctor makes a case for why the term shouldn't exist at all.
🔮 Where's femtech headed? 2021 saw femtech (finally) being taken seriously by VCs — here are the areas of women's health that will be focused on in the coming months and years. This trends report also provides useful insights.
👉 How do you get around ad bans? Over the last couple of years, Facebook and Instagram (sorry, Meta) have come under fire for their ad bans, which some say have sexist undertones. Can you get around the rules and is it even worth it?
🛠️ Are you really building tech for all? If your product roadmap doesn't include researching the needs of all genders and assumes men as the default, might it be better to rebrand as mentech?