American society isn’t just more diverse than it’s ever been – that diversity is now highly visible. More than ever, consumers are demanding marketing that pays attention to representation and shows the American public as it is: A huge and varied spectrum of races, bodies, genders and socioeconomic classes.
It’s understandable that some companies are struggling with these new standards – after all, things have changed rapidly in the past decade – but it’s time for anyone who’s been on the fence to start making an active attempt to create better representation in their marketing. Today, we’ll take a look at a few key questions that can help your team create respectful, inclusive and, ultimately, more effective marketing campaigns.
How is diversity defined?
First, let’s talk about what we mean by the term “diversity.” You might hear the word tossed around a lot, but what does it mean on a practical level? Diversity, as we’re going to be discussing it, is:
- Creating spaces and media that are inclusive to people of color, people with disabilities, people outside the gender binary and more.
- Acknowledging the existence of and representing these people in your marketing campaigns.
- Following established best practices for using language about race, gender, disabilities, etc.
- Avoiding harmful stereotypes and not using race, gender or disability as a punchline.
While these definitions will be helpful, it’s equally important to figure out what diversity means to your business specifically. It might mean fixing the representation in your ads when it doesn’t accurately reflect your brand’s demographics, or it might mean taking a stand on an issue that’s important to many people in your audience. For some businesses, it may even mean acknowledging harmful things that have been associated with your brand in the past and taking responsibility for them.
Why does diversity in digital marketing matter?
So, why is it so important that your digital marketing campaigns feature inclusive representation? Several different studies suggest that there are a variety of ways that diversity matters in marketing, including:
- 80 percent of marketers agree that using diverse representation in ads helps a brand’s reputation.
- Millennials and Generation Z consumers alike 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.
Diversity in digital marketing also has a defensive side. A solid grounding in diversity principles is important for reducing costly gaffes and potential PR disasters such as Dolce & Gabbana’s ill-advised campaign featuring a Chinese woman attempting to eat various American foods with chopsticks. Saying the wrong thing can be much worse than saying nothing at all, and having a diverse staff who are empowered to candidly call out a misstep is the best way to prevent that.
How can you make your digital marketing more diverse?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand to wave and create “instant diversity.” Inclusion has to be grown organically from a marketing philosophy that rewards and celebrates it, and that usually requires some long-term work. Some of the diversity steps that marketers can begin taking today include:
- If diversity is like growing a flower garden, you have to prepare the soil first, so the best way is to start with your team. Diversity-centered hiring practices are a subject unto themselves, and if you haven’t yet embraced them, that’s something to work on first. If you don’t have representation on your marketing staff, your representation in your campaigns will suffer.
- Businesses that already have a diverse team in play should remember that their minority team members aren’t there to rubber-stamp marketing materials as “certified unproblematic.” Make sure that they’re being asked to take the lead on plenty of projects, particularly ones that are aimed at a group they’re a member of.
- Robust market research can help identify demographics your brand may have been under-serving. Try to understand the specific concerns that motivate people from different cultures and how your marketing may have been missing a beat. Using social media listening services can be a great choice for discovering how a diverse audience relates to your brand on social channels.
- Curate some customer-centered diversity by offering customers a place to upload content related to your brand, such as a YouTube channel. And if you work with social media influencers in your campaigns, you have another great opportunity to improve representation by making the effort to reach out to a demographically varied group of relevant influencers.
Remember that 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. Keep a running list of improvements you’d like to make and don’t be afraid to add to it.
What mistakes can derail digital marketing diversity?
With issues as potentially sensitive as those surrounding diversity and representation, it’s no surprise that there are some important pitfalls to be aware of and avoid. Some key mistakes many brands make when they’re trying to create inclusion and diversity include:
- Using people as token representatives to pander to a certain group.
- Trying to wade into social issues that are out of your brand’s depth.
- Getting defensive (rather than listening and learning) when your marketing is criticized for lack of diversity or sensitivity.
- Using “victim/hero” language when discussing people with disabilities.
- Not aligning your message and your practice (such as publicly supporting transgender rights when the brand’s physical spaces don’t offer gender-neutral restrooms).
Representational diversity can be a fine line to walk, and it takes practice and commitment. Diversity in marketing is best created from the ground up by a team that already has a culture of inclusion in place. Without a foundational grounding in what it means to be diverse, your efforts will often fall short or backfire. That means that there’s no shortcut – only the hard but extremely rewarding work of building up your business as an inclusive institution.