Through my work in marketing and communications, I've found that creating a marketing strategy that incorporates diversity, equity and inclusion practices can bring more loyal customers and expose your brand to a much larger market. But without the right approach, you can alienate your audience.
Targeted marketing efforts can help you reach new audiences if you're aiming to diversify your customer base. However, these marketing efforts are the end result of a lot of behind-the-scenes work that marketers must do in partnership with a company's human resources, product development and leadership teams.
To be clear, a brand today means much more than a website and marketing messages; a brand is the message you communicate every time a customer or yet-to-be customer interacts with your company, whether that interaction is planned or not. This means the marketing team's job is a lot bigger than the confines of a brand's owned channels. The future is diverse. Consumers demand equity, and growth happens through inclusion. Is your marketing strategy ready?
Marketing must work on DEI with human resources.
Your brand's attempts to reach new and diverse customers and communities will fall flat if you fail to establish trust. This requires marketing teams to partner with human resources teams to take a more comprehensive approach to DEI in the marketplace. Simply translating a few marketing materials into different languages or using more diverse images (especially if they don't accurately represent your current staff or customer base) will not win anyone over.
I recommend marketers start by building trust with targeted audiences for both staff and customer recruitment. Seek cultural knowledge and understanding. Develop strategic community resource partnerships, and build an authentic outreach and marketing plan. Then, be visible and present.
Marketing must work on DEI with product development.
Innovation is not inventing a spaceship; rather, innovation is the result of progress made through thousands of small iterations to the best piece of equipment to make it a little bit better each time until you've made a machine that can travel to the moon.
Consider this in the lens of the products your company offers: Who do your products serve, and more importantly, who don't your products serve? Are you open to making innovative progress on your products to make them more inclusive to a more diverse audience?
For example, the research team at my company studied how credit unions could adjust lending programs to serve people loans. This small process adjustment, working in connection with internal risk, compliance, product and marketing teams, allowed credit unions to sell home, personal, auto and business loans to a whole new audience that was previously unserved.
Marketing must work on DEI with leadership teams.
Putting it all together between internal teams and external market outreach, the key to making this work successful is having committed leaders who will demonstrate from the top down that DEI is more than a tactic, more than a metric and more than ROI. From a study by my company, I learned that "it is important that inclusive environments in terms of both leadership and practices be fostered in order to draw out and effectively use diverse perspectives to enhance work processes and products."
To get the most out of their work, marketing teams have a clear incentive to align with leadership to foster greater cultures of inclusivity and equity within their organizations, especially in a world where many are no longer working together in a shared physical space and more organizations are encouraging remote work for the long term, according to Business Insider.
Marketers know that ultimately you need to drive results that lift your organization’s bottom line. But organizations that only focus on financial results are leaving a huge opportunity on the table. If you appreciate the balance between a people-focused bottom line and a profit-driven bottom line, your organization will benefit from an ever-expanding reach of people who are interested in what your brand can do for them. And when you include more perspectives on your internal teams, the products and services you produce will genuinely appeal to that larger external audience.
The natural tension of a business that serves people is how to provide the best solution while meeting financial goals — and as the stewards of the audience, the marketing team is responsible for bringing in leadership teams to understand the value of this balance.
This balance is struck by being inclusive with your internal team’s points of view, perspectives and demographics. The balance is maintained by creating a work environment where every perspective is equally valued and the culture is such that people are not encouraged to fit in so much as to fit out, meaning to bring up ideas that break out of the usual patterns and approaches.
Often, when the topic of DEI comes up in a business setting, it is unclear who “owns" it. While it is true that everyone can and should own the work, this is also a call to all marketers to see how in your unique role within your organization, you have the access to pull together the various functions to build strategies you'll need to survive long into the future.