Today Essence Ventures announced the creation of its $20 million Essence Creators and Makers Fund. Essence Ventures is the parent company of Essence Communications, a brand that for decades has served black women across its platforms, including the flagship print magazine, television specials, and Essence Music Festival.

The fund was created to support and partner with creators and makers of color, who still face significant uphill battles in obtaining capital needed to get many of their projects off the ground.

Funding in the venture capital world has been a particular challenge for women, with data showing they only received 2 percent of the venture capital dollars in 2017. But for women of color, black women, in particular, the numbers are far worse. They were awarded a mere 0.02 percent of venture capital funds over the same period.

The Essence Creators and Makers Fund seeks to change that narrative by investing directly in women of color who will produce projects in film, television, digital and documentary-style content that depicts the lives and experiences of women of color. 

Not only will the fund help support women entrepreneurs, but it will help the women they are serving who are still underrepresented in media, see more frequent, and more authentic versions of themselves reflected in the content they consume.

While this announcement is a big step forward for women of color, they aren't the only ones who can benefit from this news. 

Why Marketing to Women of Color Is Good for Business

Let's recap a few wins some notable companies have had when they started marketing to powerful customer groups most businesses ignored. 

Earlier this year, Beyonce was the first black woman to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Her show, which was live streamed on YouTube, became the most viewed Coachella performance ever, and the most viewed live music festival performance ever on YouTube.

Last year when Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty, her ultra-inclusive makeup line, products flew off the shelves and quickly sold out. The brand earned $72 million in its first month. But it wasn't just because of Rihanna's star power. It was because the brand launched with a foundation that came in 40 different shades, to accommodate women with different complexions all over the world. It was a major win for women of color, who'd previously struggled to find makeup in their shade.

And earlier this year Black Panther smashed a mountain of box-office records, becoming the fourth largest movie in gross sales in U.S. history. The movie featured a nearly all-black cast and had a storyline based in Africa. People from different backgrounds all over the world flocked to go see it, especially people of color who don't often get to see powerful imagery that reflects their self-image on the big screen.

Women of color are a hungry, vocal, and increasingly more powerful audience. And they are waiting to bestow their attention, income, and loyalty to the brands that cater to them in an authentic way.

How to Effectively Engage Women of Color

Skip superficial engagement. I'm working with a client now on their African-American engagement strategy, and one of the things I've advised them about is that incorporating photography that includes women of color isn't enough.

Develop a degree of intimacy that helps you understand their needs, and how their journey is different from a more general customer avatar. And then commit to serving women of color over time. Not just for one campaign, or during black history month.

One caveat to note, that I've had to address as I've talked to clients and others is that choosing to focus on minority groups that have largely been underserved doesn't mean you have to change your strategy or ignore the customers you're already serving.

It just means you're creating a space for everyone to have a seat at the table, and to feel like they belong there. That is important because business is about belonging.

In addition, there are plenty of brands such as McDonald's, Ford, and General Mils who've developed marketing campaigns with African-Americans as their lead consumers. The campaigns included cultural nods that drew African-Americans closer to the brand, without alienating any of the other consumers who were engaging with the promotions. 

There are numerous ways to be inclusive. You just have to make doing so a priority.

There are many customer groups who have largely been underserved for far too long. Women of color, particularly African-American women are one of them. And if you make a sincere and authentic effort to solve their problems like none other and make them feel like they belong, you will be rewarded with their loyalty. It is a win for everyone all around.

Published on: Jul 11, 2018