Society is more diverse and inclusive than ever before. With that, consumers are demanding that marketing pay attention to and represent people as they really are: A huge varied spectrum of race, bodies, gender, and socioeconomic classes. As these standards have rapidly changed over the past few years, some companies struggle to keep up. Today, companies that fail to make a real effort to create better representation in their marketing, are likely to fail in many other areas of business as well. But there is no clear-cut formula to representational diversity, it can be a fine line to walk, and mistakes can easily be made. It’s created from the ground up, by a team that’s fully engaged and committed to the process.
What is Diversity?
The term diversity is widely used and tossed around today, but many are unaware of what is means on a practical level. In this context, diversity means 4 things. First, creating spaces and media inclusive to minority races, people with disabilities, people outside the gender binary, and more. Then it means fully acknowledging and representing these groups of people in marketing campaigns. When they are represented in campaigns, it also means following established best practices for using language about race, gender, disabilities, etc. Lastly, it means completely avoiding harmful stereotypes and not using said race, gender, disability, etc. as a punchline.
Why Does Diversity in Digital Marketing Matter?
Many small brands have a very tight and focused marketing persona, which can work in some cases, but as a brand grows it needs to evolve to appeal to a full range of customers. A shallow and out-of-touch message will produce poor results and an array of other negative side effects. For example:
- It may be offensive. Lack of diversity or addressing a group in the wrong way can potentially offend future and even current customers.
- Missing out on potential customers. People are much more likely to buy from brands that they feel are addressing them directly and that they can relate to.
- Your message may be uncomfortable. Changing to a more diverse marketing approach can be difficult, but not doing so, especially when your competition is, can be even more difficult to explain.
Not only does diversifying your marketing efforts help to avoid these negative outcomes, it also helps to produce many positive ones. Several studies have shown:
- 80% of marketers agree that using diverse representation in marketing helps brand reputation.
- Millenials and Gen Z consumers prefer media with diverse casts, view ads with diverse representation more favorably, and are more comfortable with brands taking social stances.
- Aiming products and campaigns at previously unserved markets can create great new revenue streams, as the story of Fenty Beauty’s expanded foundation range shows.
- Diversity and representation are top drivers of engagement with content and Black millennial audiences have actively asked for more in surveys.
How to Better Incorporate Diversity in your Marketing:
As we said, there’s no one-size-fits-all, clear-cut formula to creating instant inclusivity and diversity in a company. It’s grown organically from an internal philosophy that rewards, celebrates, and values it. This is something that takes long-term effort and commitment.
Diversity has to start with the team and diversity-centered hiring practices. If you haven’t yet fully embraced that yet, it should be the first step to work on. If you don’t have representation on your marketing staff, representation in your campaigns will suffer. Companies that already have a diverse team established should make sure those members are taking control of projects, especially the ones aimed at the group they’re a part of.
When it comes to developing actual campaigns, outside perspective is essential. Consider hiring remote workers or outside consultants who aren’t immersed in your brand every day to get the most honest feedback. Make sure diversity is in the ideation process. It helps to include many team members throughout the entire process. Making empathy your ultimate and overall goal is important. Your customers should feel like they can relate to your ads, even if they are edgy.
These aren’t one-and-done tricks to score some easy points. It’s critical to approach diversity as a constant process rather than as an achievement.
Common Mistakes/What to Avoid:
- Using team members as a token representative to pander a certain group or to rubber-stamp marketing materials as “certified unproblematic.”
- Taking stances on social issues out of your brand’s depth.
- Getting defensive when or if your marketing is criticized for lack of sensitivity, inclusivity, or diversity.
- Using victim/hero language in the context of people with disabilities.
- Not completely aligning your practice with your message.
Today, brands can play an important role in social conversations and movements. When advertising is well executed it has the potential to shift the mindset of the public and help shape the viewpoints of the world. Companies that champion diversity and keep it at the forefront of people’s minds will be leaders in creating change. Change can be uncomfortable and takes time, but it’s happening whether brands like it or not. Those that embrace it stay ahead of the curve, and those that fail to do so are seen as out-of-touch and irrelevant and will slowly fall to the waste side.