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.

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 you 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 company-wide “fire drills” that lead to the revisiting of missions, ongoing strategies and, at times a company’s overall make-up. Sometimes the issues that arise are flippant and fad-like – like customization for instance – think Burger King and “have it your way.” But, other times they point to something bigger, something 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. Through multicultural research for clients like McCann Erickson who represent Cigna, the U.S. Army and Ulta beauty, as well as Indego Bike Share of Philadelphia and Allergan Pharmaceuticals, we have learned a thing or two about getting the diversity message right and wrong. 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 ITDON’T JUST SAY ITThis 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 simply “trendy” because they have to be. This makes the act of inclusivity trivial and forced, and not something the brand may particularly be behind or care about.


CONSUMERS WANT TO BE ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS 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.


QUITE OFTEN BRANDS MAKE MISTAKES SHOWCASING STEREOTYPES: Unfortunately, often brands 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.


INFLUENCERS GO A LONG WAY: 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.


CONSUMERS ARE INHERENTLY 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 so 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. Do it right.


About the author:

Laura Radosh Butt is the founder and president of LBR Insight, a full-service qualitative market research company based in Philadelphia. She helps leading creative agencies and consumer and healthcare brands to optimize their advertising strategies. Laura is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, a RIVA trained moderator and certified LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator.