To Make Diversity Effective in Marketing, It Needs to Be Inclusive

Inauthentic efforts are obvious to consumers

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Marketing's future needs to be centered on diversifying. Getty Images
Headshot of Frederick Joseph

Marketing is an industry that constantly evolves due to the ever-changing ways in which people engage with content and campaigns. From the invention of the television to the frequent changes in social media algorithms, marketers have to stay up-to-date not only on the latest media and ways to market but also regarding who we’re marketing to.

Over the last few decades, marketers have placed an emphasis on diversifying target audiences, finding that there is a great deal of buying power beyond the white male consumer. Examples of this can be found in women and African-Americans: The purchasing power of women in the U.S. alone ranges from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually, and African-American buying power was roughly $1.2 trillion as of 2017.

More often than not, marketers have been charged with finding ways to convert these audiences into consumers of products and content that wasn’t created for them. But even this has changed greatly in recent years as brands have started diversifying what marketers are selling. Many believe we are beginning a global renaissance of diversity. The creation of content and products is slowly becoming less centered on white males and more inclusive of other groups in an attempt to drive organic consumerism.

Thriving engagement and growing buying power makes diversity a smart business move. Consumers want products and content they find relatable and significant to their lives. So, the question marketers ask shouldn’t be if they should market to diverse audiences, but how.

It’s also not enough to just have people on a team that check a box for quota; they need to be decision-makers, especially as it relates to their expertise.

The most successful marketers know the best way to engage with target audiences is by understanding who they are and why they do the things they do. What sets us apart as communities and people are our experiences; what sets great marketing apart from good marketing is tapping into those experiences.

That being said, the answer to how marketers should create campaigns and strategy for diverse groups is authenticity, and to do that, there must be a focus on being more inclusive from those groups.

Having a team of marketers conduct research about diverse target audiences and having a team of marketers from a diverse target audience are not the same and can often make or break a campaign or brand. It’s also not enough to just have people on a team that check a box for quota; they need to be decision-makers, especially as it relates to their expertise. That is the important distinction between diversity and inclusion.

Examples of inclusion and not just diversity being an asset can be found in the wildly successful film Crazy Rich Asians or the television show Pose. Both placed a premium on authentically tapping into the cultures and communities their content is about. They were successful because they intentionally had decision-makers in the room from these communities to drive the strategies and campaigns for both. This helped assure that the marketing efforts focused on embracing and platforming the experiences reflected rather than stereotyping and tokenizing.

When brands lack inclusive marketing teams it often shows, and the effects can be dire. A prime example of this can be found in H&M’s early 2018 marketing campaign, which had imagery that depicted a young African-American boy in a hoodie that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The ad sparked an outcry for what many felt was racism. Even celebrities such as LeBron James and music artist The Weeknd publicly spoke against H&M and said they would no longer support the brand.

H&M’s misstep wasn’t just a PR nightmare; many believe it played a role in the brand’s sales decreasing by over 60 percent in the first quarter of 2018. Had the company created a more inclusive team of diverse decision-makers, the ad could have likely been avoided or altered before launch.

The lack of inclusive marketing teams is an issue across the industry. A BrandLab study found that nonwhite staff makes up only 5 to 6 percent of marketing and advertising organizations nationally. Needless to say, the industry has a great deal of work to do.

There are countless case studies that show the present and future of brands is diversity, which means the present and future of marketing is as well. Having inclusive teams that drive the marketing strategies for these brands is the untapped treasure trove that will set apart the good brands from cultural and community staples.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 25, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@FredTJoseph Frederick Joseph is founder and CEO of We Have Stories.
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