By Emily Tackett
At its best, inclusive marketing invites different perspectives to the planning table, speaks to marginalized audiences, and makes all potential customers feel valued. At its worst, it is culturally insensitive and exploits the groups it’s aiming to reach.
Sadly, the latter is the norm. Despite the social, consumer, and financial benefits of inclusivity, brands have been slow to adapt. A quick glance at some of your favorite brands on social media will reveal that marketing campaigns often treat underrepresented groups as afterthoughts or special cases.
Inclusive marketing is an attempt to reverse that trend and expand a brand experience to make it accessible and respectful to all customers. With some of the most recognizable brands in the world still failing to do so this past year, it’s evident that inclusive marketing needs to be more than a half-baked strategy. It must be a genuine effort and a priority that starts at the core of an organization.
What Can Marketers Do to be More Inclusive?
First, we must understand what inclusive marketing is. It’s marketing that is cognizant and respectful of diversity within any given audience. It’s being thoughtful about creating copy and content that respects individuals regarding gender, race, language, income, sexuality, age, religion, ability, and ethnicity.
Diversity mandates and checking boxes aren’t substantial enough. Inclusivity can’t happen as a shallow attempt to be relevant or gain business – this leads to tokenism and exploitation. As marketers and media creators, we have a social responsibility to represent people from different backgrounds with compassion. The messaging we create and put into the world has the power to perpetuate stereotypes or diminish them.
Why is it Imperative for Brands to Make Inclusivity a Priority?
Genuine inclusivity efforts lead to better marketing. It’s beneficial to consumers, businesses, and society. Considering a wider audience when creating messaging will expand the reach and impact of your marketing content. The more potential customers you include, the more people feel represented and valued in an increasingly diverse marketplace.
Rihanna’s beauty brand, Fenty, is a great example of a brand doing inclusive marketing well. It has a full range of skin color matching products and showcases that range with diverse representation on their social media accounts. This has garnered social shares and organic brand awareness because the marketing isn’t a mere attempt to be relevant or trendy. It’s a reflection of a company that creates products with a diverse audience in mind.
Despite intentions to create campaigns that celebrated diversity, Pepsi and Dove had problematic ads in 2017. Ads that were intended to be inclusive evoked racist imagery and exploited real pain. Both received harsh criticism and had audiences questioning whether there was any diversity in the planning room.
How Do We Get Better?
With major brands missing the mark in campaigns and failing to adapt, it’s evident that a pivot in strategy isn’t enough to create empathetic and inclusive marketing. Audiences see through quick fixes and denounce exploitation. There must be a culture change. Inclusion starts at the core of an organization. Here are a few things to keep in mind to begin fostering a community of inclusivity in your company and marketing efforts.
- Diversify your team. Hire interns, staff, and leadership with diverse backgrounds. Invite a range of perspectives to the planning table and include them at multiple levels of review. Also, look outside your team for feedback and review when it makes sense. Not only will this help eliminate blind spots, diverse, inclusive teams also make more effective business decisions up to 87 percent of the time.
- Create inclusive copywriting. Language, styles, and word choice carry subtle messages that could include or exclude audiences. Consider when it’s appropriate to use gendered or non-gendered pronouns and be conscious of your word choice.
- Start with people you have missed. Who have you left out in the past? Are there people you have excluded that you don’t even realize? Start there. Look at who you’ve missed, and do your part to represent them better.
- Do the research. Educate yourself and do what you can to stay updated on inclusivity efforts that resonate with people. Follow brands on social media that are doing it well and consider reaching out to organizations making strides in the industry to learn from them.
- Ask tough questions of yourself. What are your biases? What issues are you uninformed about that could negatively influence the content you’re creating? Even brands with good intentions have hurt people in efforts to be inclusive. Introspection can help prevent good intentions from turning into problematic ads.