Over the weekend, Dove found itself in the middle of an uproar over an ad they posted on their Facebook page. Screenshots of the ad spread rapidly with many accusing Dove of being racist in their depiction of women of color.

See the original ad here:

And here's the image that spread like wildfire outraging those on social media.

Dove quickly removed the post and issued an apology:

They later expanded on the apology, noting that the ad "did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened."

Why the Dove ad received such fierce backlash

When I first saw the screenshots of the ad, I cried. But they weren't happy tears. They were tears of pain in response to what seemed like a brand I loved telling me there was a problem with my skin.

Unfortunately, for many years Black women have been shown images that have implied both overtly and covertly that our dark skin is not beautiful, and indeed that there is something wrong with it.

Thus the images in the screenshot brought up painful memories and views that Black women have fought to overcome for years.

This isn't the first time Dove has had this problem. Back in 2011, the company received backlash for an ad that seemed to express a similar sentiment.

Business is about belonging. And the businesses that are able to consistently earn loyal customers are the ones that create deep emotional connections with their customers. When I first saw Dove's campaign for real beauty years ago, I cried. They were happy tears because the brand hit the mark.

As brands make the attempt to speak to an increasingly more diverse customer base, there will be growing pains. And like it or not, we live an age where missteps, and perceived slights spread like wildfire on social media.

Thus brands who aren't experienced talking to diverse audiences can find themselves in a difficult position of wanting to be inclusive, but struggling with how to do so.

Here are four quick ways to effectively market to diverse audiences, in a way that draws them to you, rather than repels them away.

1. Commit to marketing to diverse customers.

Don't make it an afterthought. It is easy to mark promotional materials as "multi-cultural" or include people of color in photos to make them seem more diverse. But that is marketing at a superficial level, that only leads to mistakes.

Instead, make it a point to consider diverse audiences from the beginning. And then build products and campaigns that meet their needs. Fenty Beauty did this recently with their new makeup line that comes in 40 shades. Customers responded by buying the products and sharing widely about them.

2. Practice empathy, by understanding customers not in the majority at a deeper level.

You have to walk a mile in their shoes if you really want to understand what makes them different, and how to speak to them in a way that shows that you get them. Spend time talking to your customers.

3. Diversify the voices on your team.

The more you have people on your team with varying backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking, the stronger your work will be. And when each of those voices is welcome, and is able to speak up and share their thoughts, ideas and even disapproval, you'll be better equipped to produce products, services, and messaging that hits the mark.

Diverse audiences are growing bigger. And brands that want to grow by reaching these audiences have to find a way to market and speak to these customers in a way that meets them where they are.

Doing this may be new for your brand, and there may be mistakes here and there along the way, as there is with most new initiatives. But if you commit yourself to the three principles above, you will eventually get it right, and earn a new crop of loyal customers in the process.

Published on: Oct 9, 2017