Sector Spotlight: Femtech
Coming soon to a vagina near you: femtech – the emerging sector shaking up how women tend to their health. And how they talk about it.
You see, in the old days, women didn’t have health needs. Or so centuries of no one thinking or talking about them would suggest. Back then, advertising looked like this:
Are they selling… boats?
No wonder, then, that, as Caitlynne Hollis at Perifit puts it, women are ‘just fed up’.
Cue a raft of start-ups bursting onto the scene, offering everything from period pants, to pelvic trainers, to vaginal biome mapping. And it’s not just the products that are innovative. While traditional women’s health companies talk about ‘intimate areas’, and ‘life’s tricky moments’, femtech brands are using a much more honest and assertive tone to talk about women’s health. And we are here for it.
So join us (won’t you) as we dive into the language of this brave new world – what a femtech tone of voice looks like, the language challenges femtech brands face, and the waves all that’s making in the wider world.
Finding the words
One challenge for brands in the sector has been coming up with language to describe what they do. In fact, the name ‘femtech’, coined by Ida Tin, founder of Clue, has only been around since 2016.
‘The gender health gap’ is another handy new term – a neat catch-all for a disparity in men’s and women’s health outcomes that, as Juno Bio founder Leighton Turner explains, is ‘embedded through the entire chain of healthcare’.
Even things that have names can be tricky to talk about
For topics that have traditionally been taboo – like vaginas, periods, or incontinence – the available vocab tends to sound either clinical, coy, or jarringly up-front. Think ‘menses’ vs. ‘leaks’ vs. ‘period blood’.
Most femtech brands try to try to smash the stigma and call a spade a spade. But advertising platforms hate spades.
And by ‘spades’ we mean ‘vaginas’.
In a small study run by Intimacy Justice, 100% of femtech brands had one of their ads pulled by Facebook, and half had their ad accounts suspended altogether, for crimes as serious as mentioning endometriosis, discussing the menopause, and acknowledging the existence of a pelvic floor.
Another challenge? Inclusivity.
Are you talking to ‘women’, ‘womxn’, or ‘people who menstruate’? When you deal in gendered languages, like Spanish or French, this question becomes even more fraught.
It’s not easy to include everyone while also keeping messaging clear, and what feels inclusive to one person might not to someone else. It’s why brands need to stay in tune and make calls case-by-case.
Femtech Tone of Voice
Even if you’re already valiantly vaulting those messaging hurdles, there’s still the small matter of coming up with a tone of voice for your brand. For femtech start-ups, it all comes down to one thing: trust.
That’s partly par for the course when you’re dealing with health; you’re not going to let just anyone come poking around your bod with their swabs and their suppositories. And it’s partly because so many women have been burnt before – branding has to work doubly hard to win them round.
Making friends with consumers
One way to do that is to make yourself sound approachable. Which means getting as far from a ‘we know best’ attitude as possible. It’s why a lot of femtech companies position themselves as partners, and their audience as peers.
Which involves, as Caitlynne at Perifit puts it, ‘bringing something more than just a product, but also resources’ – whether that’s articles, podcasts, or events. The idea is to get past the old brand-customer dynamic – to give your audience useful content, and win their trust in return.
And the tone follows suit. Brands opt for the sort of casual language you’d use with a friend…
… and discuss health with words that are more caring than clinical.
A feisty few femtech brands choose to be challenging
Sometimes that means adopting an adversarial attitude…
… and sometimes it means taking on taboos…
Handled with care, a challenger tone lets a brand blast clean through stigma, and stand out from a sea of sameness among sound-a-like approachable competitors.
But it’s not without risks. Fumble the execution, and copy can come across as patronising or glib.
Almost everyone tries to be clear…
… which makes sense. Transparency shows you’ve got nothing to hide.
Plus, femtech is new. That matters for a couple of reasons. First, you might be telling an audience about a thing they’ve never heard of before, so it can pay to keep copy clean, à la Perifit:
Second, unlike other categories, most of the time, a femtech brand isn’t inventing a problem so it can swoop in and solve it. Usually, the issues femtech companies tackle are real and pretty pressing. Which means comms are less about crafting an emotion or an attitude, and more about, as Leighton at Juno Bio puts it, ‘communicating value in very clear terms, and matching it with a product that delivers very clear value.’
As competition builds, femtech marketing will need to work harder to stand out. Which means brands are likely to start staking their stance on more than the fact that their products work. Add to that bigger budgets, and we could see more creative messaging in more mainstream media (a.k.a. cool telly ads, like this spot we worked on with Bodyform, one of the few women’s health OGs swerving away from a traditional tone).
All of which might get us a bit more used to hearing words like ‘vulva’ out loud
If the sight of violently blue liquid being poured into a sanitary towel quietly taught a generation of women not to talk about their bodies, the starry-eyed optimist in us hopes femtech could help reverse that trend. Maybe hearing about things like periods, pregnancy and prolapse more regularly could start to sand down some of those old stigmas, and give us new, clearer, better ways to talk about women’s health.
Femtech cheat sheet
You’re at a cocktail party. A fellow guest sidles up. ‘What the hell is femtech?’ they bark. But you are unfazed. Downing your martini in a single gulp including olive and cocktail stick, you reply that it broadly breaks down into a few areas:
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