In March, Disney-Pixar's animated film "Coco" won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. In addition to a slew of awards, the film has also grossed more than $750 million worldwide.

The movie, set in Mexico, features a culturally specific story of a young boy learning more about his ancestors and family history. In his Academy-award acceptance speech, th film's director Lee Unkrich spoke to the heart of why the film was so well received by audiences around the world:

With 'Coco,' we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do. Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.

Representation does matter. And increasingly the companies that have figured out how to do it well have earned not only the attention and loyalty of the customers whose needs they've pushed to the forefront, they've earned their money too.

Marvel's "Black Panther" topped $1 billion in worldwide sales with a movie featuring a nearly all-black cast. And Rihanna's makeup line Fenty Beauty made $72 million in its first month alone, after launching a foundation with forty different shades to accommodate women of different complexions around the globe.

As more companies are starting to realize both the moral and business benefits associated with serving diverse and historically underserved customer groups, there have been a number that have approached multi-cultural marketing the wrong way.

Heineken, H&M, Dove, and Pepsi are just a few of the companies that have publicly missed the mark as of late.

But not to worry, there are plenty of businesses who are thriving in their quest to engage and serve diverse customer groups. Here are three lessons from Disney-Pixar's approach to making "Coco."

1. Enlist advisors to increase your cultural intelligence.

Ideally, the people on your team will reflect the customers your business serves. As you work to build a diverse internal team, seek out advisors, consultants, or other experts who can provide the cultural insights needed to help your team make the right choices.

Back in 2013, when Pixar was early-on in the process of making "Coco," they thought the film might be named "Dia De Los Muertos" or "Day of the Dead," a Mexican holiday where families honor their ancestors. When the company tried to trademark the name, backlash was swift, as many people felt Disney was trying to exploit their culture.

Disney soon withdrew the application. After seeing how their efforts could go wrong so quickly, the company enlisted the help of multiple cultural advisors from the Latino community.

2. Immerse yourself in the world of the communities you are serving.

In their efforts to produce a movie that was culturally authentic, Unkrich and the Pixar team took several trips to Mexico. They wanted to carefully study the visuals their team would work hard to accurately reproduce. They also spent time with families to help them get a better understanding of the cultural dynamics they were attempting to capture.

Often, the temptation of brand teams is to only do behind-the-glass market research to better gain insights into different customer groups. But the best way to get a pulse on the people you are serving is to spend time with them.

The time invested will give you and your team the degree of intimacy needed to deliver products, services, and experiences that will make your customers feel like they belong with you. 

3. Push representative voices and imagery to the forefront.

When you are a part of a minority group, particularly one that isn't always presented prominently in the mainstream, it can be difficult to express the impact of seeing people who look like you, and who have backgrounds that are similar to yours on a big stage.

That's why attending a historically black college and university was so critical to my personal and professional development. Being surrounded by an abundance of positive images of people of color, particularly in the business world helped me see what was possible for me.

Coco's all-Latino cast has done the same for many people of Latino descent. In addition to adding to the authenticity of the characters in the film, featuring people whose cultural experiences were similar to a large portion of the audience seeing the movie added a degree of specialness to the production.

You can make your customers feel like they belong with you. Even the ones whose backgrounds are different from yours. But first, you've got to commit to engage in proven practices that will help you draw these customers to you, rather than pushing them away.

Published on: Mar 29, 2018