In Content marketing

Content marketing that accurately reflects the diversity of our society is now at the forefront more than ever before. The article below shares how content marketers can be more deliberate in delivering more inclusive content. CK

Article written by Ann Gynn originally appeared in Content Marketing Institute on June 5, 2020. 

A content marketer searches for a stock image to accompany a blog post titled The Top 10 Business Lessons Every Young Professional in Our Industry Should Know.

The first result for “business” appears:

Knowing the importance of diversity, the marketer scans the image.

  • Women? Check.
  • Men? Yes.
  • African Americans? Yes/probably.
  • Whites? Yes/probably.
  • Other minorities? Maybe.
  • Young people? Yes.
  • Middle-age or seniors? No.
  • Office workers? Yes.
  • Industrial workers? No.

Satisfied with the racial and gender mix and OK with the lack of age and worker-type diversity given the topic, the marketer includes the image with the article. Now, that’s an image that will appeal to the target audience and allow the post to demonstrate the brand’s commitment to diversity.

Not so fast. Truly diverse and inclusive content – the kind that resonates consciously and subconsciously with your audience – requires far more than an image. It requires thinking more deeply, from your audience research to your team structure, from your style guide to your user experience.

Truly diverse and inclusive #content requires more than an image, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #inclusion #diversityCLICK TO TWEET

Why content marketers should care

Your audience members want to see themselves in your content and no single image can convey that. More importantly, they want to know that you see them – physically, geographically, psychologically, etc. They want to make sure you get their needs, their pain points, their thoughts.

But your audiences aren’t always thinking about themselves. They want to see more than one type of person or voice in your content. A 2019 consumer survey by Google and The Female Quotient revealed that 64% of all respondents took some action after seeing an ad they considered to be diverse or inclusive.

64% of consumers took an action after seeing an ad they considered to be diverse or inclusive. @ThinkWithGoogle @femalequotient @ipsos via @cmicontent. #diversity #inclusionCLICK TO TWEET

With some segments of consumers, that percentage was higher: millennials (77%), blacks (79%), Latinos (85%), and LGBTQ community (85%).

“We found that highly relevant ads go beyond winking and recognizing diversity and inclusion … These ads enhance brand perception, increase brand effectiveness, and significantly lift purchase intent and loyalty,” Carlos Santiago, co-founder of Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing, says in the report.

As Michael P. Krone explains in his oft-quoted piece, Diversity Marketing & Cultural Awareness:

If your customers are different than you and they feel unrecognized, you will begin to lose them.

If your customers are different than you and they feel unrecognized, you will begin to lose them, says #MichaelKrone #DiversityCLICK TO TWEET

Diversity and inclusion are not synonymous

Rita Mitjans, ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer, says: “Diversity is the ‘what’; inclusion is the ‘how’.”

#Diversity is the what. #Inclusion is the how, says @ADP chief diversity & social responsibility officer via @cmicontent.CLICK TO TWEET

She continues: “Diversity focuses on the makeup of your workforce — demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, just to name a few, and inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive. Inclusion requires that everyone’s contributions be valued.”

Read Rita’s quote again and substitute “audience” for “workforce.” Then ask whether your content marketing demonstrates that your brand not only sees the importance of diversity but embraces inclusion?

Salesforce is a great example. It even created inclusion as a segment topic in its online learning system (Trailhead) for developers learning to code for its platform. In announcing the module, called 6 Principals of Inclusive Marketing, Salesforce offered a helpful definition of what inclusive marketing is:

We define inclusive marketing as creating content that truly reflects the diverse communities that our companies serve. It means that we are elevating diverse voices and role models, decreasing cultural bias, and leading positive social change through thoughtful and respectful content.

In the message, Salesforce says its marketers have the responsibility to create and promote messaging that resonates with people of all backgrounds, race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, religion, ability, sexual orientation, etc.

But Salesforce went even further: “(T)ruly inclusive marketing can elevate the stories and voices of people that have been typically marginalized or underrepresented, deepen connections with customers, and even influence positive social change.”

Imagine what a differentiator it would be if your content incorporated voices from people who haven’t seen their faces represented or been heard in your industry.

Imagine what a differentiator it would be if your #content included voices from people who haven’t seen their faces represented or been heard in your industry. @anngynn via @cmicontent #inclusion #diversityCLICK TO TWEET

You need only look to Unilever’s Dove Real Beauty Pledge, launched in 2004, to understand the power of inclusion. Over 15 years, the campaign to appreciate women of all ages, races, sizes, etc. has evolved into a brand differentiator, one from which the company still garners positive media attention and customer praise.

How to achieve real diversity and inclusion

You don’t need to view diversity and inclusion as a lofty goal or something you need to accomplish all at once. In fact, you should never be done with the topics – always keep an open and questioning mind to make sure your content reflects your evolving audience.

Dig into your audience

While you should respect everybody, inclusion in marketing doesn’t mean you have to address groups that have no relevance or interest in your company’s products or services. For example, women would not be the primary audience for a beard-care product company. And college students would not be the primary audience for AARP.

But research your audience. Look at the available data to understand representation that can be documented such as gender, income level, geography, race, etc. Then go deeper. Ask front-line team members, go to industry events, conduct focus groups in part to better understand those characteristics that are not easily tracked, such as a physical ability or a point of view.

Develop or update your audience personas to ensure that they reflect the diverse characteristics that are important to your audience and/or your business. Most importantly, ensure that you don’t operate from a single, homogeneous persona.

Look at your team

How well does your content marketing team reflect the diversity of your audience? If it doesn’t, how can you make it more inclusive? I’m not suggesting you fire someone. But when you hire your next team member, first think about what characteristics and qualities are missing from your team. For example, if you’re hiring a new content creator, think about who can deliver a fresh voice or unrepresented perspective that will resonate with your audience.

But you don’t have to wait for the next vacancy on your team. When you hire freelancers or contract with agencies, think about what voices they can provide that your team doesn’t have. Or be more inclusive by creating (and listening to) a diverse editorial advisory board (internal or external members) who can share ideas, react to your team’s plans, and inspire you to think differently.

As Del Johnson, a principal at Backstage Capital, says in the Google research report: “The more distance there is culturally between your team and the market, the less ability you will have to execute. We all fall into particular biases. That’s why you need to have culturally competent people in the room who have the power to affect decisions. By bringing in the talents of those who have traditionally been overlooked, you unlock true creative expression — and build an organization able to check its biases.”

Inclusive cultures make a difference, as detailed in this recent article: “(A) Deloitte report noted that organizations with inclusive cultures were six times more likely to be innovative and agile, eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets.”

Inclusiveness also can help thwart potential cultural mistakes. One needs only look to Gucci in 2019. Shortly after apologizing that its balaclava-style top resembled blackface (the black turtleneck was designed to be pulled up on a person’s face and had red fabric around the mouth), it had to atone for another cultural mistake – turning Sikh-like turbans into a fashion statement. The garment adorned their runway models and was sold as “Indy Full Turban.”

Perhaps if its team had included people of color and/or the Sikh faith who knew their input would be welcomed, these scenarios would have turned out differently. At a minimum, a team should be sensitized and trained to ask tough diversity and inclusion questions and encouraged to consult with those communities where a possible problem or misunderstanding could arise.

Sikh Coalition


.@gucci @Nordstrom The Sikh turban is not just a fashion accessory, but it’s also a sacred religious article of faith. We hope more can be done to recognize this critical context. 

Gucci’s ‘Indy Turban’ criticized for cultural appropriation

Gucci first received public criticism for the turbans in February 2018 when it used them in a runway show during Milan Fashion Week.

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