The Real Difference Between Multicultural and Inclusive Marketing

Marketers need to reimagine who they think of as their audience and look deeper

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The future of marketing is inclusive marketing. A lot of brands still develop “mass” market strategies for the mainstream, but it’s important to note that the general market is now multicultural.

However, there is a difference between multicultural marketing and inclusive marketing.

General marketing is in the past, and the accountability to represent the consumer of today lies with all marketers. The question now is, how can marketers challenge themselves to drive more inclusion?

The real difference

Multicultural marketing involves targeting specific segments based on race, culture or ethnicity. However, over the past couple of years, we have seen many brands evolve their strategy into a more inclusive marketing approach designed to connect with people of all backgrounds. This includes people of all races, ages, genders, incomes, sexual orientations, abilities, religions and more.

The shift comes as brands recognize the need to incorporate a more inclusive approach as consumers, Gen Z in particular, choose brands that authentically reflect their identities and align with their values.

Brands like Target and Dove have executed this particularly well. Over the years, Target has showcased racial diversity and people with different abilities in its inclusive marketing. In its size-inclusive swimsuit line, its ad not only featured models of different races and body types, they included model Kiara Washington, who has a prosthetic leg.

Dove launched their first “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004 to feature and celebrate real people—people of color, of all ages and body sizes. More recently, Dove launched its Real Virtual Beauty initiative to advocate for more inclusivity and change female representation in gaming by making it a more positive and inclusive space for women and girls.

Beyond one-dimensional stories

Multicultural campaigns can sometimes produce one-dimensional stories that lead to exaggerated caricatures and may alienate intended audiences. They can make one story the only story, which isn’t accurate of people’s lived experiences.

But there are brands that have done exceptionally well in understanding how race and other identity markers intersect to shape the experiences of consumers and create inclusive marketing campaigns.

Such is the case with Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which was created with the promise of inclusion of all women by “focusing on a wide range of traditionally hard-to-match skin tones, creating formulas that work for all skin types and pinpointing universal shades,” as stated on the Fenty site.

Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie line, is “made for every body” and has disrupted the industry. An example of the brand walking the walk was the Savage x Fenty Vol. 2 fashion show on Amazon Prime, which included people of different genders, races, abilities and body sizes. It also included performances from artists of different genres and languages, like Travis Scott and Bad Bunny.

The road to inclusive marketing

Marketers need to reimagine who they think of as their audience, and they need to see them in a deeper, more nuanced way. Here are six questions that marketing leaders should ask themselves when building their inclusive marketing initiatives:

  1. How is driving inclusivity guiding the work?
  2. How should it change the way audience research is being done?
  3. How does it change the messaging?
  4. What are the types of perspectives needed to build an inclusive campaign?
  5. Who are the vendors and consultants that can be partners here?
  6. How is it influencing the creative?

Driving change

To drive change, it’s imperative that we recognize the current systems are not set to be inclusive. Brands need to develop systems, processes and policies that will help drive a more inclusive strategy. Brands need to evaluate how they are empowering storytellers, creators and artists with different identity markers who have been historically excluded.

A common mistake those of us in marketing make is that we are too focused on looking for the differences between audiences when instead we should be looking for the commonalities.

Representation matters

Growing up as a bilingual Latina from a working-class family of immigrants, I rarely, if ever, saw those parts of my identity authentically reflected in ads, television, film and other media.

That’s why it’s important that marketers go beyond data and insights and get deeper into understanding human experiences by incorporating diverse perspectives in the room from the beginning of campaign creation. In turn, brands will get a better understanding of their consumers’ lived experiences.

As marketers, we must put in the work to become leaders, disruptors and changemakers in this space. How are you working to be more inclusive in your marketing campaigns?