These days, it might be moot to report that the pandemic has changed consumer expectations in a myriad of ways. From shifting requirements in customer service to the reliance on AI in retail and the rise of remote-work zoom cities, some of these changes have been predictable. Businesses of all types have spent the past two years adjusting with the times, adopting new strategies to meet the moment and keep up with the evolution of their customers.
But one change, that has been long overdue, seems to have snuck up on most businesses and the marketers that fuel them. The pandemic placed a very stark spotlight on the realities of inequity and discrimination that exist today, and consumers are now using their pocketbooks to demand accountability.
According to Facebook, 71 percent of consumers believe that brands should prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their online advertising. This is especially true with Gen-Z. A whopping 72 percent of Gen-Z consumers are more likely to support brands that deliver authentic advertising by embracing diversity -- not only in their advertising, but also in the makeup of their employee mix and leadership teams.
In fact, businesses that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in their internal and external actions today are 1.6 times more likely to satisfy and retain customers than their counterparts who do not. But 75 percent of companies don't even require DE&I training during leadership development and it's predicted that 80 percent are "just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable" to any DE&I goals.
Not only does this seem irresponsible, but it's also a missed opportunity. According to McKinsey, organizations that lack diversity or a clear DE&I strategy continually underperform against their peers by an average of 19 percent. But only 22 percent of companies believe their customers even recognize them as leaders in DE&I. The remainder are either resting on their laurels or expecting their marketing teams to improve their image.
So what can a marketer even do about diversity, equity, and inclusion?
When businesses treat DE&I as a compliance issue rather than an opportunity to improve the quality of their employee and customer experience (and therefore, drive growth), their marketers are left holding the bag. As consumers continue to seek out companies committed to DE&I, 73 percent of marketers don't feel comfortable enough about their company's DE&I strategy to deliver authentic campaigns. As a result, 70 percent of marketers surveyed don't plan to address social, cultural, or diversity issues in their marketing strategies this year.
But ignoring the problem won't make it go away. If you're among the majority of marketers uncertain about your own company's commitment to DE&I, it doesn't mean you can't meet the moment.
1. Align on values and make them part of your messaging.
Fifty-seven percent of marketers surveyed feel that they don't have a clear sense of their brand's values across social, cultural, and diversity issues. Without alignment with a brand's values, it can be extremely hard to deliver compelling and authentic messaging to your audience. Therefore it's imperative that marketers take the time to define their brand position and messaging through the lens of DE&I first.
Identify at least three core values that your brand adheres to and use them to inform your external communications strategy going forward. AirBnB's "Belong Anywhere" campaign, for example, displays its core value to "champion the mission" -- which they define as being "united with our community to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere."
2. Show your commitment to DE&I in your advertising.
In a test of Facebook ads, diverse representation drove ad recall in more than 90 percent of the simulations run. But some marketing teams can easily miss the mark when producing representative content, as 64 percent lack confidence in their ability to be empathetic marketers.
This fact seems to be stalling marketers in their tracks. For example, while multicultural consumers account for over 40 percent of the marketplace, only 5.2 percent of total ad and marketing spending centers around multicultural media. Marketers can shift this dynamic by delivering content that is representative, both visually and in its messaging. This doesn't mean simply including diverse imagery in all advertising. Instead, consider speaking to underrepresented groups directly.
Oreos did this with their Proud Parent campaign in 2020. Through visual storytelling, Oreos spoke directly to the LGBTQ+ community and the families that love them with the message "a loving world starts with a loving home." Gillette followed suit with a series of videos showing proud fathers teaching their trans sons how to shave. Considering the fact that 71 percent of LGBTQ+ consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand that positively represents them and they command more than $3.7 trillion in buying power, this focused advertising really works.
Through direct communication with, and positive representation of, the diverse and underrepresented segments of your audience, you can accomplish far more than simply displaying alignment with diversity in your broader marketing campaigns.
3. Gain a deep and real understanding of your customers.
To be authentic, you must have a deep understanding of your customer. But only 42 percent of marketers report conducting market research to better understand their existing customer base. This lack of awareness is showing.
When marketers don't understand their customers, they are prone to play into stereotypes. In fact, 66 percent of African-Americans and 53 percent of Latinx people report feeling that they are portrayed stereotypically in advertisements. Facebook ad studies also found that stereotypes in advertising run rampant. For example, ethnic minorities are two times less likely to be shown as members of a family in advertising when compared to Whites. Men are 1.3 times more likely than women to be shown working in ads and 1.6 times more likely to be shown in an office setting.
To succeed in diversity marketing today, it's essential that marketing teams truly understand who their customers are and what motivates them.
Rather than waiting for leadership to catch up, marketers should take the lead.
Embrace diversity marketing in your external communications in tandem with building diversity among your team, rather than waiting on one to inform the other. By displaying a commitment to DE&I in your external messaging, your internal audience will take notice. Businesses are bound to move down the paths their customers demand. Prove the myriad benefits of diversity marketing in your organization, and positive change will be far easier to come by internally.