Commentary

Tapping Key Emotional Drivers To Fuel Passion For Footwear Brands

Buying shoes is more fun than buying tires, but for most people, buying a pair of either is driven by the same motive — replacing ones that have worn out. In fact, 60% of shoe shoppers say replacement is their primary reason for buying shoes.

But that doesn’t mean the purchase is solely practical. Emotions, both conscious and unconscious, play large roles in the shoe shopping decision.

Especially for women, shoe brand choices may represent a statement of their values. And, with each successive generation, what a brand stand for plays a bigger role — 75% of Gen Z say it moves them! 

So, what are the (sometimes hidden) emotions that can get women to try on your brand for size? Consider the following.

  • Unisex shoes are gaining headway. As the demand for inclusiveness grows and gender identity becomes more fluid, the appeal of genderless shopping is also growing in everything from kids’ toys to high fashion. While Chuck Taylors and Vans have long been worn by both men and women, styles from Nike, Reebok and other more niche brands also appeal across genders. These choices are as much about the wearer’s values as the shoe’s attributes.
  • What it’s made of matters. Preference for non-leather shoes is about more than animal welfare. It’s also often driven by environmental concerns. In response, some casual and athletic shoes (e.g., Adidas and Rothy’s) are not just animal-safe; they’re made from recycled plastic bottles — including ocean debris. Adidas is taking its environmental stance further with paper bags in retail stores. Other brands are replacing synthetic rubber soles with ones made from recycled tires.
  • Brand value comes from more than the shoe. Beyond sustainable components, shoe brands are seeking credit for their overall proposition. Toms gets props for donating new shoes to needy children one-for-one for every pair sold. Timberland is planting trees, and numerous other casual brands are touting their philanthropy plus fair employment practices or fair-trade sourcing.
  • High heels fall from grace. There’s no greater tipping point when it comes to shoe choice as a statement of personal values than the rebellion against high heels. Sure, this literal downward trend in heel height is based on comfort, but there’s more involved. Increasingly, women are opting for lower or chunkier heels as a way to thumb their nose at fashion’s gender norms. 

Designed today for the male gaze, high heels alter body angles in ways that can be perceived as sexually suggestive. No wonder they were once required attire for successful women — especially in male-dominated businesses. Instead, in Silicon Valley today, fuzzy wool Allbirds sneakers are the norm for women and men, and feathered or furred Birkenstocks are gracing runways.

We’re seeing the power of the behavioral economics at work as more women dress for the female gaze and their own definitions of what makes them look and feel good. For generations, the herding tendency we have as humans led them to squeeze their feet into stilettos despite the foot and back pain that persisted after the shoes were off. Today, that same principle of social herding is helping them buck those old “dress for success” rules.

The female gaze is more than a moment. Women increasingly are making choices based on what’s right for them personally. Charting and leveraging the emotions fueling values-driven shoe purchases will keep your brand growing ahead of the competition.

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