Over the past year, I've seen friends and others in my network lose their minds in anticipation of the premiere of Black Panther this weekend. I've seen their posts, the memes they've shared, watched them gush over the outfits the all-star cast wore to the premiere, and even giggled as they talked about how they would dress up for the opening day showing we all preordered tickets for.

Confession: I know nothing about the storyline of Black Panther. In spite of it, I'll dress up to attend the showing with friends here in Buenos Aires because I recognize the significance of such a movie.

I've never seen a superhero who looks like me on the big screen. I remember how powerful I felt as a woman after watching Wonder Woman, and I know the feeling will only be magnified after seeing the predominately black cast in Marvel's portrayal of this superhero and his entourage.

How businesses benefit from serving historically underrepresented communities

Representation matters, in particular to minority communities. And since the U.S. is on a trajectory to soon become a minority-majority nation, your customer base will only grow more diverse.

But even though it's right to have diversity, be inclusive, and do a better job of highlighting positive images of traditionally underserved communities, they also make sound business sense.

According to reports by NRG, Hollywood's leading tracking service, Black Panther is on track to have a monster debut in the U.S., with projections of opening weekend sales upward of $165 million. If those numbers are achieved, it would be the biggest February movie launch of all time.

Last year, worldwide sales of Wonder Woman topped $821 million, making it the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time.

Film industry expert Scott Mendelson likened the success of these two movies to "giving a starving demographic a prime filet."

And the companies that decide to serve these often neglected customer groups have been receiving big paydays as a result.

Rihanna launched her Fenty Beauty cosmetics line last fall, with 40 shades of foundation to accommodate women of different complexions around the world. Its strategy of being inclusive of as many women as possible paid off, with the brand earning $72 million in its first month alone.

The days of growing by only marketing to the masses are numbered. If you want to stay relevant and reach hungry and increasingly powerful minority customer groups, the time to start serving them is now. Here are three ways to get started.

1. Build a culture committed to serving minorities beyond a superficial level.

Serving groups of customers whose backgrounds are different from yours isn't about swapping out photos or putting a few token people in key positions in your company.

It will require deep commitment to learn about the unique and nuanced needs of each minority group. Without the willingness to do the work to understand how to effectively connect with these communities, you end up with missteps such as H&M, Pepsi, and Dove had recently. No bueno.

Your organization will need to develop skills in being empathetic and culturally intelligent, so you will be well positioned to deliver products and services that solve your customers' problem like no one else.

2. Build a team who reflect the people you want to serve.

They will help you significantly reduce the learning curve as you work to figure out how to connect with diverse audiences in an authentic way.

You could bring on new hires, or engage consultants or agencies with experience serving your new customers. 

Besides, a high-performing team is a diverse team. When you assemble a group of people with different backgrounds, ideas, and ways of viewing the world, and you tap into the strengths their diversity brings, you position yourself for higher-quality output.

3. Deliver products, services, and experiences that solve an unmet need.

Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Fenty Beauty didn't earn the respect and loyalty of their customers just because they showed up. They are reaping the benefits of their target customers because they delivered products that demonstrated they understood their unique challenges.

Nubian Skin is a fashion company that specializes in providing nude lingerie to women of color. Founder Ade Hassan started the company after being frustrated that she couldn't find nude hosiery that matched her skin tone. Since launching a few years ago, the brand's products have been worn by Beyoncé and her dancers on tour, as well as by the cast of the blockbuster film Hidden Figures.

There may be times when the unmet need will become obvious as you start to learn more about your customers. And other times, you'll have to dig deeper to uncover the insights.

But the more you work to find ways to add value and serve these worthy customers, in time you will discover solutions that are a win for all.

Published on: Feb 16, 2018