From the moment it was released back in February, Marvel's Black Panther has been breaking records right and left. So many records have been broken, Disney, the parent company of Marvel Comics, released an infographic that chronicled them.

Here are a few of the accolades:

  • $1.3 million in global sales, making it the 10th largest global release of all time
  • $667 million in domestic sales, making it the 3rd largest domestic release of all time (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar are numbers one and two respectively)
  • Number one superhero movie of all time

The success of the film signals the end of long-held beliefs that movies with predominantly black casts and storylines wouldn't have mass appeal.

The good news is that the collective success of movies like Black Panther, Coco, and Wonder Woman show that embracing diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good for business.

What fully leaning into diversity looks like in practice.

Often, when companies talk about diversity, their focus is on creating diverse and inclusive teams. That's why there have been many companies that have publicly declared such goals as achieving gender parity by a certain year.

This is a great starting point, especially since studies show that more diverse organizations perform better financially than their peers. 

But you'll get even greater returns for your efforts when you build a diverse team, that is poised to deliver products, services, and experiences that speak directly to minority and underserved customer groups.

Often, companies' external diversity and inclusion efforts involve taking a rainbow approach, where people of different backgrounds are put in an ad, to celebrate how much more alike we are than we are different.

While those types of campaigns and products have their place, it is important to acknowledge and embrace our differences. When you do, you'll more easily see the need for the products, services, and experiences that speak directly to and celebrate those differences.

That's one of the reasons why Black Panther has crushed so many records.

Not only did it feature a predominantly Black cast, which was sorely needed in terms of representation in Hollywood. But the storyline was set around the fictitious African nation of Wakanda. It was a story about black characters.

Black audiences loved it. And yet, they weren't the only ones to go see the movie.

The Academy-Award winning movie Coco had an all-Latino cast, and told a culturally-specific tale about a boy learning about his ancestors in Mexico. Latino audiences loved it. And so did many people of various cultural backgrounds all over the world.

As you think about how to embrace diversity in your company, take time to tackle how to lean into it to better serve your customers.

For instance, last month I needed to get my makeup professionally done for a photo shoot. When I made an appointment to get my makeup done, I wanted to be sure the artist would be working on me was both proficient and comfortable applying makeup on women of color.

Thankfully, there were plenty of artists available who could serve my particular needs, and I walked away loving how the artist (who was not a person of color) glammed me up.

Marketing to multi-cultural audiences isn't an either-or decision.

It's an "and" decision.

I'm working with a client now on building a strategy to engage African-American customers. While the team I'm working with directly sees the business case and why it is important to speak specifically to this group as a component of their marketing, there has been push-back in other parts of the organization. The hesitation came from folks who wanted to ensure that targeting specific customer groups didn't mean abandoning their overall strategy.

Together, my clients and I are working to foster the cultural shift within the company that gets everyone to see that marketing to minority customers doesn't mean pushing aside all the work that's been done connecting with those in the mainstream.

When Nike produced their Pro Hijab line sportswear for Muslim women athletes, they didn't deviate from their existing strategy. The move advanced their progress toward achieving it at a broader level by speaking to the unique needs of a group they hadn't been able to serve well before.

Building a diverse team and marketing to diverse customer groups are smart business decisions. And as the population in the U.S. continues to head toward becoming a minority majority, it will become increasingly more important, and profitable.

The time is now to bring your diversity efforts to the forefront.