By Kat Castagnoli
“We need to diversify our audience.”
“How can we attract a more diverse supporter base?”
“Our audience is too white, too male, too [something].”
These may be among the thoughts you’ve been pondering in this “new” era of racial reckoning, where many organizations, rightly so, are considering who they’re reaching—and more importantly, who is being left out or excluded.
Brands are paying closer attention to how they portray inclusivity in their messaging and are featuring more diversity in commercials and marketing content than ever before.
But there’s still more work to be done. As of 2016, 37% of people featured in commercials were women, and 19% were minorities. Progress is trending in the right direction, but the road remains long.
Most consider gender and racial diversity to be the low-hanging fruit, or the first, most obvious boxes to check for inclusive brand marketing. But there are many other layers to diversity that inform a person’s life experiences and identity, including age, geography, sexuality, socio-economic status, disabilities, religion, marital status, parenting status, interests and hobbies among them.
Meeting all of those qualifications is a much bigger job than just making an effort to feature more women or minorities. But as diversity in marketing gets more complicated, it also gets more interesting. Brands have the opportunity to feature more well-rounded characters, to tell more nuanced stories about under-represented people and to make new connections via more inclusive brand marketing.
With all this in mind, how can you actually begin to reach more diverse audiences?
Check out these four tips below:
- Get real about where you are.
When increasing DEI efforts, every company has its own starting point. Some have more of a head start, but just about all have room for improvement. Getting very honest about where you are is a first step, according to Lorraine Twohill, senior vice president of global marketing for Google. In a blog post, she wrote, “Our products are for everyone, but our images were not telling that story… Our images had lots of racial diversity. But everyone looked like they worked in tech and lived in hip, urban neighborhoods.”
She said the brand’s marketing videos weren’t much better. Using machine learning algorithms that Google created in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute and USC, Twohill’s team analyzed their creative to determine just how diverse their videos were.
“The initial results surprised us,” she wrote. “Fifty-four percent of our images featured men—not as heavily skewed as we had feared. But in other categories, we were further off. A manual analysis showed that the average age appeared to be around 26, below the national average of 38. Only 10% of our web images featured Black or Hispanic people. We’re using this as a benchmark, so we can make concrete, quantifiable progress against our goals.”
- Build more diverse creative teams.
No matter how open-minded creatives believe themselves to be, everyone has cognitive biases based on their own experiences. At best, those biases lead to knowledge gaps. At worst, they lead to stereotypes, and neither is very helpful in diversifying brand marketing. Cognitive biases can’t be erased, but they can be mitigated when diverse people put their heads together, filling one another’s knowledge gaps with real-world insights.
“It is not just our own teams that matter,” Twohill wrote. “Agency partners are also critical. For example, all too often when meeting with our agencies, I found myself looking at a room full of men. So, we as a company started to ask why? And what could they do about it? It is our responsibility to make sure we’re always asking.” Make moves that are consistent in diversifying your team.
- Tell diverse stories.
It’s hard to tell a story that everyone can relate to, where everyone feels included or represented. The alternative is to tell lots of different stories, so there’s something for everyone. DEI-focused brands traditionally do this by weaving diversity into a variety of stories and campaigns.
Toyota did this when marketing the 2018 Camry, cramming as much diversity as possible into a single campaign. The automotive brand worked to create eight unique films about the same car, each spot featuring people of different ethnicities, races and lifestyles. Each spot was also targeted to relevant online audiences. There was one spot for African Americans, one spot for Asian Americans, two spots for Hispanic consumers and four “Transcultural Mainstream” films that featured a variety of races, genders and age groups.
Mark Turner, chief strategy officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the four “Transcultural Mainstream” spots, lauded Camry’s decision to seek diverse creative partners for a more inclusive campaign. As he put it, “I have people of other cultures and heritages in my department, but I do think the three other agencies bring a depth and history of experience with their markets that would be very hard to replicate overnight by going out and hiring a handful of people or half the agency.”
The more diverse the creative team, the more diverse the creative. And the more inclusive.
- Tell stories about diversity.
Modern consumers both expect and want brands to weigh in on social issues. Two-thirds of American consumers think it is “somewhat important” or “very important” for brands to take a stand on social and political issues, and 84% believe businesses have a responsibility to inspire social change on important issues.
Deloitte has put a lot of time and money into DEI research, using that data to start conversations about the importance of inclusion and the value of diversity. However, while data is great for changing minds, storytelling is usually the better tactic for changing hearts. That’s what makes Deloitte’s creative campaign, “Many Voices, One Song,” so impactful.
The film features members of the Melbourne community choir, alongside a diverse group of Deloitte employees. Matt McGrath, Deloitte’s CMO, said the film aims to “push boundaries” and showcase how other organizations can better meet their own DEI leadership needs. Of course, it also reminds audiences that Deloitte values diversity, and that message goes a long way in engaging diverse customers.
In conclusion, the goalpost for DEI keeps moving as each generation redefines what diversity means to them. But organizations that employ diverse creative teams, listen to their audiences and tell authentic stories don’t have to worry as much about missing the mark. They’ll be the ones leading the way on diversity, inclusivity and the best strategies to make everyone feel welcome and engaged.