Inclusive marketing: The issue is probably bigger than just your ads

There are many times we see an ad and think, “Did a woman on the team even look at that before it went out?” In many cases, there might have been. But the problem could have been that they simply weren’t empowered enough to have their voices heard. While inclusive marketing is really about creating content that truly reflects the diverse communities in existing societies today, it is also about getting the voices of your employees heard.

During a panel discussion on inclusive marketing at Salesforce Connections held in Chicago, Heather Geisler, Hyatt Regency’s VP, global brands, full service said this sense of empowerment needs to be organisationally entrenched because while hiring a diverse team is important, it is equally important for existing employees to feel they have a say and be advocates for the best marketing.

Nonetheless, the lack of diversity present in teams today is still astounding, according to Stephanie Buscemi, CMO of Salesforce. “In marketing roles across industries in the US, only 22% are African American, Latino and Asian individuals. There isn’t even enough people at the table to have diversity conversations,” she said.

The power of marketing

She added that marketers have the responsibility to represent communities and reflect back on what is seen, but unfortunately, in her view, this is lacking globally.

“I look at a lot of marketing today and think it’s not truly diverse of populations or reflective. I think as marketers we have the opportunity to change that. I think a lot of times as companies, we get so wired into the product and services that we lose sight about empowering somebody,” Buscemi said.

Adding on to the conversation was Kaleeta McDade, group creative director of Deloitte Digital, who said marketing has the power to infiltrate homes and stories through social media and TV. But before conversations around diversity are had on the team and in ads, brands must ask themselves if they even have the permission to talk about the issue.

“Nike’s [Colin] Kaepernick ad saw a positive movement. But just because Nike did it, doesn’t mean its for everyone. Brands need to understand where they are with their customers because you may not even need to have the conversation at this point,” she added. Knowing where you stand also allows you to try out conversations in a smaller scale to help raise awareness. “You don’t jump all the way up. Have your quick wins,” she added.

Meanwhile, Brent Allen, associate publisher, sales and marketing of Hearst, said as a publication, it is aware of the responsibility media brands have. “At Marie Claire, for example, we say we celebrate the complexity of women’s lives and that means all women.

We know when  our audience comes to us, they want to be seen and want to be seen by us,” she added. Today, the magazine ensures women from all walks of life are represented and interviews are kept in first person or told in direct transcript to ensure they are represented, how they want to be, rather than through the journalists’ lenses.

At the end of the day, inclusive marketing is a necessity and it becomes even more powerful and authentic when it is connected to the purpose of the organisation. “It doesn’t just become a story that is told, it is connected to who you are and that leads to more purpose and focus,” Allen added.

6 tips to inclusive marketing

Often the intention of ads might be pure, but the impact it generates doesn’t reflect the intention. “We have the right intent but impact is what we are held accountable for,” said Alexandra Siegel, senior manager, equality content, narrative and marketing at Salesforce.

“Marketers were probably thinking the ideas were good, but when launched, the impact might not be the same depending on environment,” she added.

  • Start with the tone: Subjects should be shown in their best light, and what is the message being delivered and consider the potential impact.
  • Be intentional with language: Think of language as more than just words. It also consists of symbols and metaphors. Think about how different phrases mean something different around the world.
  • Ensure representation: It’s important the representation is authentic. Don’t just have a variety of people in the room for the sake of it. It has to be authentic stories and personalities.

“Today there is an appetite for diverse storytelling as we can see through Hollywood with hits such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. There is a hunger for it. People don’t just want to see themselves reflected, they also want to see communities represented,” Siegel added.

  • Consider context: Context can be tricky but it is important to consult the communities you represent in your diverse ads. It takes extreme thoughtfulness and ensure you are not twisting history to sell product.

“Stock photography still has a lot of catching up to do. Many times when you type in manager and employee, you have a man standing over a woman. That often can imply that the man is a manager and the woman is an employee,” she added.

  • Avoid appropriation: A lot of conversations come up in the fashion industry around appropriation where people wear turbans or headscarf.

“It is all about power dynamics. Is it a majority culture drawing from a minority culture? Do we have an appropriate representative from the culture? We have to honour and not exploit the culture,” Siegel explained.

  • Counter stereotype: If we can start changing the stereotypes we see in the media, this is where we can influence positive change. It shapes how we see ourselves.

At the end of the day, Deloitte Digital’s McDade said to really push the boundaries on inclusive marketing, brands need to:

Be comfortable with the uncomfortable and know what you don’t know.

“Whenever you step into this air, it will feel awkward and if you don’t know something, ask. If you want to be a change maker, ask and speak up.”

Salesforce paid for the journalist’s trip to Salesforce Connect, Chicago.