Inclusivity is one of those buzzwords that can start to lose meaning the more we hear it thrown around with wild abandon. As a result, as brand managers and marketers, we might lose sight of the fact that practicing inclusivity is a multi-faceted process — much more than ensuring your latest ad campaign features a diverse range of actors.
Indeed, building an inclusive brand is more than just a passing trend — it can make your brand more accessible, broaden its appeal to new audiences, and boost its reputation.
In this article, we’re going to look beyond the buzzword and break down how you can get inclusivity right for your brand — outlining what goals you should strive towards and what pitfalls you should avoid. So without further ado, let’s begin.
First things first, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page — so let’s begin by going through a definition of brand inclusivity.
In essence, inclusivity means that you’re considering diversity in all its forms and attempting to remove any barriers to participation that might exist. Diversity in this instance includes people’s appearance, age, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, the languages they can — or can’t — speak, and their physical or mental abilities and limitations.
Ultimately, all consumers should feel that engaging with your brand is a matter of choice and not decided for them based on characteristics they have no control over. Beyond that, it’s vital to interrogate why certain groups might share a lack of preference for your brand and what you can do to be more welcoming.
In practice, there are numerous paths to building an inclusive brand and, while it’s no easy feat, it really is worth the effort and can gift your brand with a range of benefits.
The Benefits Of Building An Inclusive Brand
Imagine your brand as a physical store located on a busy street. You’d want that store to be visible and accessible because, otherwise, customers wouldn’t enter and spend money inside. So, of course, you would take the necessary steps to ensure it looked open and inviting. The more inclusive you could make your store, the more people you’d empower to shop there.
This is one of the central benefits of building an inclusive brand — it opens up your services or products to a wider audience.
There are times when achieving inclusivity is simply about stepping outside of your own bubble of experiences, considering how others might interact with your brand, and making small changes to remove barriers.
However, there are also cases when striving towards inclusivity requires extra investment. It’s fair to wonder whether the investments made would positively impact enough consumers and empower them to engage with your brand, that you can consider the whole practice commercially viable. At this point, you also have to consider the positive impact on your reputation that being an inclusive brand can gift you, as well as the negative impact that might result if consumers far and wide feel that your brand isn’t inclusive.
Ultimately, inclusivity is about fairness. It’s why consumers feel so passionate about it. Our own Ethics in Marketing Report found that 74% of the general population felt that their purchasing decisions were influenced by their ethical beliefs — meaning that as inclusivity continues to be an important consideration for consumers, your brand’s reputation in regard to this topic could heavily influence whether it is perceived positively or negatively.
Don’t just take our word for it though.
A 2018 survey by Shutterstock found that “88 percent of Generation X and 90 percent of Millennials believe a diverse representation in a brand campaign can improve that brand’s reputation.” While a survey by Google and The Female Quotient found that “people are more likely to consider or even purchase a product, after seeing an ad they consider to be diverse or inclusive.”
5 Considerations To Help You Get Inclusivity Right
1. Authenticity Matters
One of the most crucial things to remember when building an inclusive brand is that it isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. Getting this right takes a lot more than just showcasing a broader range of demographics in your marketing collateral. If your efforts don’t feel authentic, consumers won’t be convinced — “90 percent of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support.”
Of course, it helps for people to see themselves reflected in your brand’s messaging but being seen counts for nothing if peoples’ experiences are still not factored into the overall brand experience.
However, authenticity is a hard thing to quantify. Indeed, it’s difficult to point out exactly why Nike’s “Until We All Win” campaign lands so much better than Pepsi’s infamous “Live For Now”. One big factor is that Nike’s campaign feels informed by the real experiences of a diverse range of athletes, while Pepsi’s ad trivializes and romanticizes the struggles marginalized people face.
A good example of what to avoid is Burger King’s now infamous International Women’s Day tweet in support of a campaign aimed at making kitchens more inclusive to female employees.
While their intentions were sincere, their shock-jock approach undermined this sincerity. The campaign would have felt a lot more authentic if they’d led with their mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry. Instead, they led with a tongue-in-cheek reference to a sexist stereotype.
We’ll come back to some good ways to achieve authenticity later when we cover user-generated content.
2. Consider The Diversity Of Diversity
Building an inclusive brand means thinking about the experiences of a broad range of demographics. No matter who you are or what your background is, it’s important to take the time to think about the scope of diversity and the myriad ways your brand’s messages might be interpreted. Essentially, check your blind spots!
Remember that while characteristics like gender identity, religious belief, or ethnicity (to name just a few) are important to acknowledge and account for, your efforts to achieve inclusivity also need to take into account that no group is homogenous. And, on top of that, some individuals may experience multiple, overlapping barriers to engaging with your brand.
3. Think About The Diversity Of Your Own Teams
Creating an inclusive brand can be much easier if your business’s activities are informed by the broad range of experiences that comes with a diverse workforce. Indeed, an inclusive brand should ultimately be a reflection of an inclusive company culture.
If this isn’t the case, not only will your own business potentially miss out on untapped talent, but you’ll likely struggle to get the message right when reaching for an inclusive campaign and could end up damaging your brand as you try to broaden its scope.
A perfect example is Samsung’s “Night Owl” campaign. The ad Featured a woman running alone at 2 A.M. in the morning and, while the message was intended to be empowering, it received a wall of criticism for being tone-deaf. Esther Newman, editor of Women’s Running Magazine commented that “the ad was not empowering and instead was “shortsighted, naive and comical”.
As criticism for the ad built, the focus turned to the nearly all-male team at Ogilvy New York, the agency behind its inception and creation. Had this campaign been developed with a more diverse range of voices behind it, the tone would likely have been very different and the message may have landed with a positive impact instead of a negative one.
4. Embrace User Generated Content
Capturing the entire breadth of consumer diversity would be a struggle even in the biggest of teams. So, small marketing teams can hardly be expected to have the first-hand knowledge required to create a truly authentic and inclusive brand.
This is where the value of having a strong brand community comes to the fore — as you can enlist your own customers to share their experiences while also tapping them for user-generated content.
For most brands, enlisting your customers to help bring your next campaign to life is almost guaranteed to bring about diverse results and you can rest assured that the results will be authentic.
A strong example comes from swimwear brand Andie, which cast real customers for a 2022 campaign that highlighted how their flagship swimsuit could perfectly fit anyone.
While this type of content can be extremely valuable in building stronger emotional bonds with consumers, an extra level of care must be taken when using content that has been created by your customers.
Always remember to get their consent first!
A 2022 campaign by the Spanish Equality Ministry made huge mistakes in this regard when it launched its summer campaign, intended as a positive message that was “supposed to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to be proud of their bodies.”
Again, while the intended message was a good one, the execution did more harm than good. Three women featured in the ad came forward to complain that their images had been used without consent and even altered — with one model’s prosthetic leg edited out completely.
5. Accept That Inclusivity Is An Ongoing Process
Being an inclusive brand isn’t something that can be achieved overnight, and consumers are aware of this.
Looping back to the importance of authenticity, when confronting inclusivity in relation to your brand it’s often more productive to be honest with consumers about where you’re at, what you’ve implemented so far, and what you’re doing to improve.
No brand will get every aspect of inclusivity down perfectly, especially on the first try. However, highlighting that you’re taking actions to improve, changing guidelines, and taking feedback into consideration will help demonstrate to your audience that you’re committed to continually improving inclusivity in your brand.
Incorporating inclusivity into your brand is something that will bring a range of benefits to your business, though it can be daunting when considering just how many experiences might need to be taken into consideration.
Investing in brand tracking can help you measure how well your brand resonates with certain demographics and could point you in the direction of areas where your brand might be undeserving certain groups and putting up barriers to engagement. You can then keep track of how your brand is performing as you make improvements and change your brand’s message — seeing whether this is having a positive impact on the number of consumers who consider or have a preference for your brand.
But, ultimately, when incorporating inclusivity into your brand, nothing can compare to actual input from individuals within the groups that you are targeting. Listening to these people and considering their experiences is the most surefire way to ensure you make positive progress on inclusivity and achieve authenticity.