Why is diversity important in marketing?

Marketing campaigns should reflect the diverse customer base of an organization.

Diversity marketing makes customers feel heard and offers business benefits, such as increased personalization and brand loyalty. Organizations that do not accurately represent their audience in marketing campaigns can alienate customer groups and increase churn. However, organizations that engage in diversity marketing should avoid negative stereotypes and match their inclusive advertisements with internal diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.

What is diversity marketing?

Diversity marketing, or inclusive marketing, is a strategy marketers use to reach diverse audiences and promote social inclusion. The strategy requires marketers to understand and represent different groups within their audience, such as LGBTQ+ and Indigenous communities, which have historically been underrepresented in the media.

A diversity marketing strategy can address different types of diversity, such as the following:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • The level of education.
  • Gender.
  • Political beliefs.
  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Veteran status.

Benefits of diversity marketing

As marketing teams better understand different customer perspectives, they can improve personalization efforts, attract new audiences and increase customer trust.

1. Improve personalization

Marketing personalization — the act of tailoring advertisements to specific customers or segments — improves marketing efforts because not all customers have the same needs or interests. Diversity marketing can improve personalization efforts by encouraging marketers to better understand their audience.

Marketers who know the specific needs, problems and customs of their audience can create more effective campaigns. For example, candy manufacturers know that more people eat candy on Halloween, so they increase advertising in October. Similarly, a candle company might tailor an email campaign around Diwali — a widely celebrated holiday where people light candles and exchange gifts.

Diversity marketing encourages organizations to learn about different groups and subgroups within their audience. As a result, this strategy makes customers feel welcome and valued, while helping marketers find new ways to personalize outreach and sell products.

2. Connect with millennials and Generation Z

Younger generations, such as millennials and Generation Z, are more diverse than previous generations and tend to respond positively to diversity marketing. These young consumers also expect organizations to take a stand on social issues.

To communicate with millennials and Gen Z, marketing teams can represent different messaging groups and ads. However, these consumers are wary of false marketing tactics, so organizations should pair inclusive campaigns with internal efforts to affect social change, such as initiatives to DEI. These initiatives may include internal hiring practices that address unconscious bias or mentoring programs that help workers from underrepresented groups advance in their careers.

Millennials are approaching their prime spending age — mid-thirties to mid-forties — and Gen Z will follow. A diversity marketing strategy can help organizations align with these consumers and position themselves for future growth.

A chart showing the six key elements of diversity initiatives: leadership support, software, funding, culture, data and training
Organizations need leadership support, funding and the right technology to sustain diversity initiatives.

3. Increase brand loyalty

Organizations that successfully establish themselves as DEI-forward through inclusive messaging and internal initiatives create brand loyalty. Brand loyalty — a strong customer commitment to a brand based on its products or value — helps organizations improve customer retention and reduce acquisition costs.

Consumers who show loyalty to a brand continue to do business with that brand, even if competitors offer lower prices or higher quality products. Customer and brand loyalty has become increasingly important in the age of social media as they create brand ambassadors who share their positive experiences with friends and family online. These sponsors offer free word-of-mouth advertising, which helps organizations expand their reach.

4. Fostering innovation

Marketing leaders who implement DEI practices and build diverse teams improve innovation and overall performance. Diversity in marketing teams drives innovation by equipping teams with a balance of different perspectives to see and solve problems.

For example, a Canadian marketing company may want to enter the Chinese market. The research team may participate to learn about Chinese culture, but the live experience offers a more authentic perspective. In this case, a marketing team with Chinese marketers on staff is more likely to understand the target audience and create an effective campaign.

Diversity marketing challenges

Marketing diversity has various social and business benefits, but marketing teams can expect to face challenges.

1. Bluewashing

Diversity marketing can negatively impact a brand when marketers engage in bluewashing — deceptive marketing campaigns that exaggerate an organization’s commitment to social responsibility. The term bluewashing plays on the idea of ​​greenwashing and refers to the blue color of the United Nations flag.

Organizations may face accusations of bluewashing if they promote themselves as DEI-forward but do little to create social change. For example, an organization that uses actors from diverse backgrounds in all of their advertisements but rarely hires people of color for senior positions may face accusations of bluewashing. These accusations damage the brand’s reputation, destroy customer trust and reduce profits. Organizations can develop internal DEI initiatives to prevent bluewashing and publicly report measurable data.

2. Negative stereotyping

Marketing teams must ensure that their campaigns do not reinforce negative stereotypes, which can happen when marketers do not understand their audience. For example, fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana ran an ad on a Chinese social media platform depicting a Chinese woman struggling to eat pizza and other Italian foods with chopsticks. Although the marketers intended the ad to connect with their audience, many viewers felt that the ad dehumanized and mocked the Chinese people and their culture.

Organizations can hire diverse marketing teams and work with consultants from diverse backgrounds to avoid campaigns that negatively stereotype audiences. In addition, organizations can create focus groups to provide feedback on potential advertisements and ensure that they accurately represent the views of their audience.

3. Internal resistance

Some team members may have ideological objections to DEI initiatives and diversity marketing campaigns, seeing them as politically motivated or as strategies that alienate more people than they engage. Organizations should not ignore the concerns of skeptical team members, but encourage an open dialogue on the topic.

To help partners understand the importance of diversity, marketers can present research, such as McKinsey’s 2020 report shows a correlation between DEI and profitability. Also, marketers can display internal data about customer demographics in their organizations to highlight diversity within customer segments.

Hesitant sales teams can proceed slowly. They can start a diversity marketing pilot program and carefully monitor how their audience reacts.

4. Create a diverse marketing team

A diverse marketing team can promote innovation and help marketers avoid bluewashing, but creating such a team requires organizations to rethink their hiring practices. For example, if hiring teams have unconscious biases about candidates’ ethnicity, age, educational background or socioeconomic status, they may continue to overlook the right candidates.

Organizations can address this by investing in unconscious bias training for HR employees and hiring teams. Also, marketing leaders should make sure their job descriptions use inclusive language and appear on various job boards to ensure they are seen by people from different backgrounds.

After marketing leaders build a diverse team, they must also create a culture of inclusivity to ensure that everyone is heard and felt. A diverse team only drives innovation when all members feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas and perspectives.

Tim Murphy is an associate site editor for TechTarget’s Customer Experience and Content Management sites.

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