How can we leverage modern marketing techniques to expand brand reach to marginalised and underrepresented individuals?
Sixteen and believing she was at the height of sophistication, teenage Roselyn (that’s me) decided to try her hand at makeup for the first time.
However, the only foundation that had grabbed my attention on TV (and more importantly, a favourite amongst friends) had the most appalling range of options. The darkest two shades in the range were continents apart and nowhere near the colour of my face. It felt embarrassing, but determined to make it work, I bought them both and would spend each morning blending them together to try and match the colour of my face. It was arduous (and didn’t always work), but what other option did I have?
Fast forward nearly 10 years, and the beauty industry has come a long way. Brands like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which places “beauty for all” at the core of its marketing messaging, understand what happens when you help people bring out the best in themselves. Within a year, Fenty became the biggest beauty brand launch in YouTube history. Seeing women who looked like me wearing the products was not only reassuring that they could work for me too but more importantly, it showed me that my needs were valid.
Although this is an arguably superficial example on the spectrum of inclusivity, the troubling part is that I don’t consider my needs (a dark-skinned South Asian woman who wants to feel fabulous) particularly extraordinary. Within the beauty industry and beyond, there are underrepresented groups whose needs we might not even be aware of and are being ignored.
What is inclusive marketing?
Inclusive marketing refers to the messaging, people, processes and technologies that enable marginalised or underrepresented groups to fully experience and connect with brands.
Marketing that is truly inclusive considers all facets and layers of a person’s identity such as skin tone, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, body type, ethnicity, culture, language, religion/spirituality, physical/mental ability, socio-economic status and mindset. It should also account for intersectionality, which means recognising that a single person may represent many identities or dimensions and acknowledging the nuances inherent in every individual’s personality and preferences.
Why does it matter?
Inclusive marketing recognises and elevates diverse voices and stories. Absolut Vodka is one brand whose marketing strategy has inclusivity baked in—they have a long history of championing the LGBT community, from an iconic collaboration with Andy Warhol to product placements on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Their commitment aligns perfectly with their brand identity, so it never comes off as contrived.
Additionally, brands can create more respectful and considered campaigns that dispel harmful stereotypes rather than perpetuating them. I’ll keep this clean and not name and shame, but I’m sure it won’t take you long to think of a recent tone-deaf marketing faux pas…. The reputational damage for brands can be immense while also impacting the bottom line.
Speaking of bottom line—from a business perspective, inclusive marketing allows brands to expand reach and potentially find new consumers. For existing customers, it’s a chance to connect on a deeper level to build brand loyalty. As people and societies start to be re-shaped by the rapid pace of change in the world, adaptive inclusive marketing is a means of preparing for the future.
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Where is it going?
You may not have thought much about inclusive marketing until now—and that’s okay. Inclusive marketing will be a continuous learning process for brands, consultancies and agencies—as inclusivity is for all people. It requires a mindset shift for marketers—from building diverse teams, to redesigning marketing processes, to leveraging technology in new ways:
- Inclusive marketing for consumers starts with genuine openness within marketing teams that brings diversity of thought and cultural awareness. Going back to my beloved Fenty Beauty, the brand attributes its success to a creative and bold marketing team, each bringing a unique perspective that collectively helped to weave their brand story together. As much as it’s important to acknowledge and learn from those who are present, it’s crucial to also think about who ISN’T in the room and being heard.
- Inclusivity can be embedded in the marketing process from the initial stages of creative briefing up until reviewing campaign performance. When it’s treated as an afterthought, campaigns go predictably awry, which can risk alienating your audience.
- Technology will help identify new opportunities and bridge solutions. The Geena Davis Institute partnered with Google to develop a machine learning tool (GD-IQ) to identify gender disparities in films. Insights are shared with filmmakers, who commit to improving the number and quality of female characters on upcoming projects. We can also expect greater priority given to those with accessibility requirements. For example, Microsoft has made gaming more accessible by developing an alternative controller with touchpads instead of buttons. They built a Super Bowl worthy campaign around the controller and have also designed a channel allowing users to request further customisations.
Inclusivity needs to be the new norm in marketing. The few examples I’ve discussed represent a groundswell of potential and a powerful catalyst for building empathy across various subsets of society, bringing needed change to some narrow views that still exist today.