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Getting To Grips With Diversity And Inclusive Marketing

Getting To Grips With Diversity And Inclusive Marketing

What visuals accompanied your latest big campaign? Were there beautiful people doing beautiful things with your beautiful products? Probably. Were those people around the 18 – 30 age group? Almost certainly. And did anyone have a visible disability? Probably not.

Marketers are coming under fire as the spotlight has turned on the lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry. With these issues a ‘trend’ for 2018, it’s only natural that the wider community demands we become more inclusive in the images we present, looking to represent people who are more realistic and relatable than the airbrushed beauties of yesterday.

Aside of presenting an inclusive image to be more relatable as a brand, there has also been a strong business case for improving diversity in marketing. The Maltesers brand grew by 8 per cent after it’s ads focussed around disability were released, apparently the single most successful campaign for any Mars brand in around a decade.

However, simply popping a disabled person or two in your ads is probably not enough to replicate this success and could be seen as condescending (remember the ‘token black guy’ of the 80’s movies?). Chief of marketing at Mars said that diversity should be considered ‘the cake, not the icing on it’, suggesting we need to put inclusive marketing messages at the heart of what we do.

But it’s not all roses, as you might expect. As well as being a resounding success for Mars, one of these ads ended up becoming one of the top 10 most complained about ads for the year, with people saying it was ‘offensive to disabled people’.  It seems that you definitely can’t please all of the people all of the time, but sometimes simply stimulating a debate is a reward in itself.

Here, we’re going to take a look at what including marketing is all about, who’s responsible for it and what you can do as a business to become more inclusive in your messages.

What is diversity and inclusive marketing?

Diversity and inclusive marketing is about shattering those preconceptions about people and issues that had traditionally made campaigns very narrowly focussed. It’s about being relevant to today’s customers, about being more innovative and achieving better business results. It’s a huge issue in today’s business environment and should run through everything we do and produce as brands.

So, who’s responsible for diversity an inclusion in your business? If you’ve already got a specifically created Diversity and Inclusion team, great, because you’re already steps ahead of the majority of the businesses out there. For most of us, it’s a floating issue which nobody really wants to take ownership of, which is why so many brands are failing to achieve their diversity and inclusion ambitions or are perhaps skirting around the issue altogether.

In a study by Bigdog, 33 per cent of employees believed the responsibility for diversity and inclusion rested with the HR department. While this may be true in terms of recruitment, why shouldn’t it sit within more departments and more outward looking activities such as product development, marketing or PR? Having marketing take their share of the diversity and inclusion agenda will make for more appealing advertising which resonates with a greater segment of the community, and that’s got to be a good thing, right?

And it’s not just the advertising itself that makes for a more diverse, inclusive brand. Recruiting the best talent for your team, regardless of age, gender, race or ability is a powerful strategy, and one which can pay dividends in results terms too. A recent report by Deloitte, their Human Capital Trends report, discovered a direct correlation between inclusive talent recruitment and profitability, to the tune of 30 per cent higher revenue per employee.

What can you do about it?

In our hearts, none of us want to be non-inclusive. Morally we all recognise the need for equality, but all too often we also harbour unconscious bias towards some sectors of the community. There’s no quick fix to harnessing the power of inclusivity in your marketing efforts, but by taking one step at a time, we can move closer to a more diverse outlook. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a more diverse team

Inclusive teams have been shown to make more effective business decisions up to 87 per cent of the time, so make sure you are focussing on hiring the very best talent regardless of age, gender, race or any other difference. Having people with different viewpoints around the table will give you insight into different needs and points of view, so encourage people that think differently to contribute at every opportunity.

  • Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone

Creating inclusive campaigns can put you in a lot of positions you may never have been in before, not to mention having conversations you never thought you’d have to have. Whether it’s casting for disabled actors or talking about ethnicity, some of these conversations are not going to be easy for you. Trust in your good intentions and be bold, as change has to begin with you.

  • Step away from stereotypes

Stereotyping of any kind is the quickest way to demonstrate to your users that you have no clue who they are or what they represent. Across the marketing world, only 37 per cent of ads feature women in leading roles. And, as you might have guessed, the majority of these ads feature women in stereotypical roles. When women don’t believe your ad reflects their real-world selves, how you can expect them to buy from you?

  • Take a stand

In the past, brands have been discouraged from taking a stand on political or social issues for fear of alienating potential customers. However, in our modern world, brands who are prepared to stick their neck out and stand up for what they believe in could benefit as a result. Challenging stereotypes and presenting a more diverse outlook is always going to rub some up the wrong way, but you’ll develop a loyal following too. In fact, research has shown 44 per cent of consumers will purchase more from brands who stand up for social issues they feel strongly about.

  • Don’t do it just to tick a box

If you think you can stick a few people from difference races and genders in your ads and ‘tick’ your diversity and inclusion box, think again. True diversity and inclusion comes from a more hard-won strategy, where you’ve thought about geography, economic diversity, abilities, sexuality, age, relatable jobs… representing real people means representing the rich tapestry of life outside our doors every day and takes more than just number crunching to achieve.

  • Educate yourself

A historical lack of diversity has created something of a catch 22 situation. We need more diversity in marketing, but without diverse marketers leading the campaigns, how can we really learn to be unbiased? Education is the key, so take the time to learn about different cultures, people and issues, and invest in educating your team to eliminate the unconscious bias we all are guilty of harbouring.

As Google said at the Diversity in Marketing and Advertising Summit earlier this year, it’s not the diversity part which is hard. After all, businesses can simply ‘fill quotas’ for a more diverse image. The hard part is nailing down the inclusivity issue and changing organisational cultures to genuinely be a more inclusive environment.

From the make up of your team to the messages and images you use in your marketing, nailing down the inclusivity of your culture has been proven time and again to make your brand stronger. Understanding the differences in aspirations, values and motivations in different target sectors is crucial if you are to create campaigns that really resonate with your audience.

There’s still a long way to go to really achieve diversity in marketing worldwide, but progress is being made, and for your business, doing something is 100 per cent better than doing nothing.


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Vanessa Simms
Vanessa writes on a range of subjects for the Search South blog, but has a strong focus on her core interest area of Google AdWords management best practices.