How inclusive is your marketing?

With social equality coming to the forefront of our society over the past few years, the importance of inclusive marketing is becoming even more evident. It has become clear that diversity and inclusion in your business practices and your marketing efforts are the correct paths for all of us.

Inclusive marketing refers to the messaging and imagery that enable marginalized groups to feel represented in all communications. It considers skin color, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, body size, and physical and mental ability. It’s a people-first mentality and prioritizes seeing and celebrating everyone as individuals with differences. Most companies feel that they are inclusive if they just show photos of people of color. Don’t forget to be inclusive of those with special needs. When was the last time you saw an ad highlighting a person in a wheelchair for an everyday service? It is essential to include everyone that makes up our society.

As our population continues to become more diverse, brands need to reflect various backgrounds and experiences within their communications to connect with their audiences. This is particularly true of the younger generations who want to buy from brands that represent their values. Big brands are getting on board with inclusive marketing in significant ways with bold moves.

Setting the foundation

Inclusivity is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly or thought of as a PR opportunity. It’s not about jumping on the latest movement or mantra; it’s using the movement as an opportunity to look inward. It is about really digging into your value system and asking the tough questions to have productive conversations that lead to positive change.

Consumers are smart, and they can tell the difference between a company that genuinely believes in inclusion and one that is doing it because it is trending in the news and on social media, or because they think it will be more profitable to mix up their ad photos a bit.

Genuinely inclusive brands incorporate it into the fabric of the organization. That means building an inclusive culture from the inside, including creating inclusive teams, from leadership to entry-level team members. Having multiple perspectives and experiences that align with your audience will provide a solid foundation for building an inclusive marketing strategy.

If you don’t have clearly defined company values, this provides the chance to determine what is important to your company. Once you can articulate your values, it will help shape your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Taking the first steps

Building an inclusive brand requires intentional effort and should be embedded in the marketing process from the initial planning stage through execution.

The best way to connect with your target consumer is to show them that you know who they are. While making sure all types of people are represented in your photography is essential. But it goes beyond that, to things such as:

Ensuring that your website is accessible, ensuring colors and fonts are easier to read.

  • Building a retail experience that is easy to navigate with a wheelchair.
  • Avoiding stereotypes in your storytelling.
  • Creating social media content around holidays beyond the mainstream and starting to observing holidays that celebrate or acknowledge marginalized groups.

These examples are just a starting point. It is a continual learning process. You aren’t always going to get it right, but the goal is to start making strides forward. As they say, progress, not perfection. 

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.