Dami Adenaike
Dami Adenaike

Race. Gender. Sexuality. Class. Immigration status. Ethnicity. Religion. Ability. What do these factors have to do with marketing? Only recently have brands utilized all the above to drive brand strategies as opposed to relying merely on target demographics based on perceived characteristics or stereotypes like “Baby Boomers” or “Working Moms.” For years, brands have used aspirational imagery to sell products, but now, a growing number of consumers prefer authentic advertising that not only represents the world around them but is also aligned with their values. According to the 2018 Accenture Holiday Survey, 70 percent of Millennials are more likely to choose one brand over another that demonstrates inclusion and diversity in their advertising, company culture and business objectives.

What is inclusive marketing?

Inclusive marketing is simply marketing that goes beyond a demographic’s perceived persona and includes important factors like age, race, income, sexuality, language and religion. Inclusive marketing involves creating content that truly reflects the diverse communities that brands are trying to target. It means elevating diverse voices, decreasing cultural bias and inspiring positive social change through thoughtful and respectful content.

Getting started with inclusive marketing

Because of our social media age and the power consumers have today, brands are forced to adopt inclusive marketing, or risk being ostracized. For one, inclusivity and diversity have become increasingly popular topics: from the representation of different body types in the fashion industry to the inclusion of different races and sexualities on television, brands are choosing to break stereotypes and give consumers the opportunity to see themselves.

And thanks to social media and the various options presented to them, consumers are now able to communicate their needs and boycott a brand without having to give up a product or service entirely. Brands like Pepsi and Uber have been under fire recently for their poor choices in advertising and ignorance to issues that matter to consumers. On the other hand, beauty brand Fenty Beauty, for example, has been well received by consumers for launching a full range of skin color-matching products that previously hadn’t been an option for people with albinism or very dark skin tones. The Internet showed so much support for the brand that the beauty line sold out instantly. Now, other makeup brands have been called out for failing to offer similar products. This just shows how much inclusivity matters and how adequate representation of our society can be advantageous for brand growth.

Importance of inclusive marketing

As our society becomes more diverse and interconnected, it’s ever more important that brands remain genuine and make thoughtful decisions in their messaging, images, voices and values in a way that shows consumers they’re listening.

A big advantage of utilizing inclusive marketing strategies is the ability for brands to reach a wider audience. As competition rises between brands, it has become relatively difficult for brands to stand out from one and another. Inclusive marketing gives brands the opportunity to attract more consumers, thereby increasing sales, brand awareness and store or website traffic.

Another advantage of inclusive marketing is the ability to shape brand perception and image. With inclusive marketing, brands are able to communicate their support for various communities or a stance on social issues. Research from Accenture shows 51 percent of younger Millennials are more likely to shop at a retailer that demonstrates awareness of social and political issues with regards to inclusion and diversity.

Additionally, not only does inclusive marketing help communicate a brand’s image but it also helps avoid PR nightmares. Brands are urged to research their target audience and a gain deeper understanding of the cultural environment in which they operate. Having a clear picture of their consumer base allows brands to utilize inclusive marketing the right way, thereby avoiding PR disasters.

How to leverage inclusive marketing

One of the most important things brands have to keep in mind when utilizing inclusive marketing strategies is being aware of “intention vs impact.” Although brands may have positive intentions with their marketing strategies, the impact of their actions is what they’re held accountable for, and in turn, needs to be taken into account in every aspect of their business. Below are key strategies that marketers could use to enhance inclusive marketing:

Think beyond target demographics. Oftentimes, brands market themselves to a specific demographic without considering people outside that demographic. Expanding your audience can be a worthy investment. Taking the time to research and truly understand what your consumers are looking for allows brands to adequately create content that’s aligned with their brand messaging. For example, the brand Third Love recently featured a model in her 60s in its “To Each, Her Own” campaign and the response, especially from Millennial consumers, was overwhelmingly positive. Even though their ideal customer isn’t woman in her 60s, they were able to use inclusive marketing to create a campaign that resonated with their audience.

Authenticity is key. Brands have to actively choose inclusion by making deliberate efforts and investments into how they can be more inclusive. Inclusivity doesn’t just happen overnight; brands have a duty to create environments in which consumers feel they belong. Not just creating a perception that they are inclusive by adding different ethnicities in marketing campaigns but making sure that their audience is truly represented by showing passion and dedication to inclusivity at the core of everything the brand is and does.

Hire a diverse team. The first question that comes to mind when a negative marketing campaign is launched is “who was in the room when the campaign got approved?” Hiring a diverse team that represents the target audience you’re marketing to allows different perspectives on ideas and creates opportunities for different ways of doing things. Identifying a culture fit for your company and pushing boundaries to avoid hiring same-minded people with singular perspectives, backgrounds and demographics. Brands should aim to have diverse hiring panels to encourage open discussion of various cultural biases especially in the early stages of a marketing campaign.

Inclusive marketing is no longer a differentiating factor but a consumer expectation. In today’s social and political climate, consumers demand brands let go of the façade and aspirational imagery and develop diverse content, images and product lines that feel true and resonate. If fully executed, companies should expect inclusivity to aid in attaining their business goals and growth strategy. In a sense, doing well by doing good.

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Dami Adenaike hails from Nigeria and works as a social media strategist in Marketing Maven’s Los Angeles office.