Consumers Are Wary of Brands Who Seem to Be Trying to Check Off a Diversity Box

It's obvious if inclusivity isn't a genuine priority

If errors were made, consumers would prefer brands be forthright and transparent about it. iStock
Headshot of Laura Radosh Butt

Open dialogue about what makes us different and alike is paramount now more than ever. We need to feel celebrated for our differences, not singled out. What does this mean for brands? They also have an opportunity to be the change in the world, but only if they take a moment to walk in their diverse target’s shoes and not just do a quick social media post.

When was the last time you saw an ad featuring a couple that wasn’t either biracial, gay or biracial and gay? Does this seem to be a lot of box checking right there? (Said by someone who is half of a biracial couple.) In my line of work, I find that every year or so a new hot button issue arises that often signals companywide “fire drills” that lead to revisiting missions, ongoing strategies and even a company’s overall make-up.

Sometimes the issues that arise are flippant and fads, such as customization like Burger King’s “Have it your way.” But other times they point to something bigger that was perhaps missed, like a true lack of diversity. And with the vast reach and popularity of social media and the growing importance of word-of-mouth and influencer marketing, if you happen to be an organization that is considered “behind the times,” you may have difficulty pivoting if how you now embrace diversity is considered disingenuous.

Clients are tapping us more and more for multicultural qualitative research studies. Their need to be inclusive, diverse and culturally sensitive to their entire target market has been amplified. And in the wake of a revived women’s movement, marketers should be particularly focused on how their brand is speaking to women.

Consumers are craving inclusivity, but they want it done in an authentic way.

Here are a few tips for setting the right tone.

Be it, don’t just say it

This is the golden rule of multicultural marketing. Consumers are craving inclusivity, but they want it done in an authentic way. When consumers look at a brand’s history and it shows that they are now just considering diversity in their externally-facing communications, they can come off as insincere and trying to be trendy because they have to be. This makes the act of inclusivity trivial, forced and not something the brand may be behind or actually care about.

Consumers want to be involved in the conversation

It is important to understand that multicultural marketing is a process that starts by understanding your core audience from the lens of their culturally-diverse background and context. Consumers do notice when companies are interested in learning from them, and they greatly appreciate being included in the conversation. If you aren’t engaging your customers to talk about diversity, it’s time to get started.

Brands often make mistakes showcasing stereotypes

Unfortunately, brands often exacerbate ethnic and gender stereotypes via their talent casting choices. Diversity is not just about making sure there are people of color or gender in your campaigns. One must also consider the diversity within the diversity, or else your brand can appear culturally ignorant. Consider the shapes, sizes, styles, actions and gender identities of your customers today and make sure they see themselves, their friends and families in your campaigns.

Believe in the power of influencers

Influencer marketing has been all the rage over the last few years, with celebrities and social media stars coming out of the woodwork to back new brands or products. Like in ads, your consumer is looking for an influencer who is like them in every sense of the word, including culturally. Ensuring your audience has someone to look up to who has had similar experiences and backgrounds creates and nurtures trust and acceptance.

Deep down, consumers are forgiving

Being transparent about the unintentional error of a brand and communicating this quickly with consumers is critical. It’s OK if you are working to become more inclusive when someone can tell it truly matters to you. This can offer a taking-off point for your brand if done well.

At the end of the day diversity deserves to be addressed and must be done carefully. Listening to, communicating with and learning from your target audience is the first step in righting your course if diversity up to now has been an afterthought. Be the change, and do it right.

Laura Radosh Butt is the founder and president of LBR Insight.
Publish date: January 24, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT