As marketers, our job is to explore the ways in which our clients’ products or services will connect with target audiences. Considering most audiences are diverse, it may seem like a no-brainer to have a marketing team made up of individuals from different backgrounds and races. People want to be understood, and what better way to understand someone than valuing their viewpoints and experiences?
Two examples immediately come to mind of industry giants who failed to embrace diversity, even when their consumer base is a mixture of people. Dove posted an advertisement on its Facebook page that had a black woman turning into a white woman after using Dove body lotion. Immediately, there was immense backlash, with nearly 3,000 negative comments and a call to boycott Dove’s products. Dove apologized and issued a statement that read, “This did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened.”
At the beginning of the year, the second largest retailer in the world, H&M, pictured a five-year-old boy, who is also black, modeling a hooded sweatshirt that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” Considering the boy’s race, and how many know that this term can be used as a revolting slur, the repercussions were — as they should have been — massive. However, what’s particularly interesting from a marketing standpoint is how H&M’s audience, and even the celebrities that work with the brand, including The Weeknd and G-Eazy, weren’t represented at all by the retailer’s internal culture, which is comprised of an all-white board. In response, H&M tasked Annie Wu, their global manager for employee relations, to head up diversity and inclusiveness initiatives.
If these two examples prove anything, it’s that businesses and marketers need to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to diversity. Instead of just talking about it, firms need to make inclusion part of their principles.
The first step in doing so is including people from different backgrounds, ages, races and genders in high-level executive positions. Businesses can also welcome diversity by supporting causes that are important to their audience. Companies that have done an excellent job at this are MailChimp, which is looking to improve the inclusion of minorities in Atlanta’s tech firms, and Starbucks, which makes inclusion the cornerstone of their workplace culture.
Not only is having a diverse workplace the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. According to a recent survey by McKinsey, out of 1,000 businesses surveyed, the firms with diverse executive teams reported bigger profits than those who don’t. Those with ethnically diverse workforces were 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability, and gender diversity resulted in above-average profitability of 21 percent.
Being different clearly makes us stronger. How can a firm expect to speak to their audience if everyone making the decisions are from the same background, the same race or the same gender? It’s impossible, because to really know and understand your consumer is to walk in their shoes. Only someone that has experienced a similar life will know what will speak to the customer. Inclusive work cultures foster creativity by bringing together varied perspectives and directly results in more thoughtful campaigns.
Inclusion can mean so many things, but no one wants to feel alienated. From high school cliques at the lunch table, to looking at an advertisement, we want to feel like we belong. Chevron CEO and Chairman John Watson made a very poignant statement when speaking about his upcoming retirement. When asked what he’d do differently if he had to do it all over again, he responded by saying, “The sooner you learn about reading people, listening to others and building relationships, the sooner you will be more effective.” The easiest way to read others is to know them. To know others is to embrace diversity. And, by embracing diversity, a team can produce their best work.
Katie Kern is partner and COO of public relations and marketing firm Media Frenzy Global.