The business world would be a simpler place if doing good always led to doing well. It’s not that they’re necessarily at odds most of the time, it’s just that being the best corporate citizen doesn’t always shore up the bottom line. Sometimes, however, they really are the same thing – the trick is recognizing such opportunities when they appear. Inclusive marketing is one of them.
Given the uproar that’s followed the murder of George Floyd, not to mention the economic crisis stemming from COVID-19, it shouldn’t be too surprising that brands are making unprecedented efforts to be inclusive. People are watching, after all, and it’s no secret that trust in organizations of all kinds has plummeted over the past few years. Nothing undermines trust like hypocrisy, and while folks may not remember the exact details of how brands respond to issues like COVID and BLM, they’ll remember how they felt about what brands did. Nor are consumer concerns tied solely to those issues; even in 2019, four out of ten Americans researched brands’ diversity & inclusion efforts before making purchases – and of those, a quarter decided against buying the brand they researched. Organizations that turn a cold shoulder to the pain of workers and communities will get cold shoulders themselves, and they’ll deserve it.
But the importance, and the value, of inclusive marketing doesn’t just stem from its utility in defensive branding. Inclusive marketing offers an unparalleled opportunity to reach out to new customers and markets. After all, every succeeding generation of Americans is more culturally diverse than the last. And for all the talk about exactly what year the minority-majority tipping point will be nationwide, it’s already the reality for younger Americans living in many states (and most large metro areas). Consumers expect marketing to look like the world around them, and for these folks, the world is vibrantly diverse.
Cultural change isn’t just a raw numbers game though; younger Americans of all cultural backgrounds, even those who politically identify as conservative, are simply more open to and hungry for cross-cultural interaction than their predecessors – and it’s redefining the cultural mainstream. Disney+ wouldn’t have released Hamilton over a year early if that hunger didn’t exist. Black Panther couldn’t have grossed over $700 million domestically if that hunger didn’t exist.
Views of how culture should be shaped are changing as well. 60% of Gen Z consumers say that businesses should take the lead in solving issues in American society, more than any other age group. The notion that brands should stay out of politics for fear of alienating parts of their customer base have passed – to younger Americans, neutrality on matters of vital concern is itself alienating. Anyone mystified by Nike’s continued attachment to Colin Kaepernick should take a look at the social views of Gen Z and Millennials.
Of course, it’s crucial to get the details right; even with the best of intentions, monocultural marketing departments leave brands open to wrong-footing themselves on rather basic matters. Fortunately, inclusive marketing that is matched by internal practices will create a snowball effect. Aggressively recruiting from communities that are more open to your brand will lead to a larger pool of talent from which to draw, and greater exposure to otherwise-hidden cultural phenomena – leading in turn to more ammunition for marketing efforts. Companies in the top quartile of executive diversity are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the bottom quartile. Greater marketing firepower helps explain why.
Truly embracing inclusive marketing will lead to tremendous and lasting opportunities. It means a broader appeal to a wider set of customers. It means seeing trends before they go mainstream. It means more interesting branding that will frankly be more interesting to work on. It means a larger and stronger pool of talent that wants to come work with you. Inclusive marketing offers an opportunity – for more profits, more fun, and more good in the world.