The importance of diversity and inclusion in your marketing campaigns

Ruva Mankola

Pepsi, H&M, Dove, ASOS, Kellogg’s – What do these companies have in common? They have all made serious blunders in their marketing campaigns in the past few years, blunders that demonstrate the need for more consideration of diversity and inclusion.

Many of these mistakes seem easily avoidable, and once made can often depict the brand as “careless” and “culturally insensitive” – not something any brand wants to be seen as!

Instead of going through a PR nightmare trying to fix a brand’s image, it is far better to make sure such mistakes never happen in the first place.

This isn’t always as easy as I’ve made it seem. It can often be difficult for large corporations to notice culturally insensitive messages, failing to understand the complexity of cultural context and meaning – and in turn failing to recognise how diverse audiences may interpret their messages.

There is no single image of what a “typical consumer” looks like as any population comprises people from a diverse range of backgrounds, ages, genders, sexualities, nationalities, religions and so on. Thus, it is now more important than ever to ensure marketing campaigns resonate with people from a variety of backgrounds. Especially for companies that aim to increase their global presence, navigating their way through varying cultural landscapes.

Seeing large global corporations making such marketing mistakes is surprising, and has inevitably sparked an important discussion regarding diversity and inclusion. However, they are starting to take action. For example, after facing an intense backlash, H&M appointed a diversity and inclusiveness global leader, making a conscious effort to show customers that they have been “listening”, and are committed to avoiding such errors in the future. After a heavily publicised incident, Starbucks recently closed all their US stores for a half-day racial bias training program, educating staff on racial bias while also encouraging them to share ideas on how to make the store more welcoming. There have been various reports on diversity and inclusion, including the recent MRS report on “Inclusion in the Market Research Sector” and many organisations have cited diversity and inclusion as a key corporate objective, recognising its importance in improving business performance.

Market research can play a significant role in helping companies understand the cultural environments they operate in – whether through semiotics or by incorporating respondents from a wide range of backgrounds into research. Semiotic principles are useful when examining the complex cultural meanings behind communication, allowing brands to gain insight into the signs and symbols that affect the way their messages are perceived and interpreted.

Diversity and inclusion is important in ensuring the voices of all are heard, and taken into account. This not only prevents companies from going viral for all the wrong reasons, but also ensures that they are communicating in the best way to each customer, regardless of background.

Facebook have done great work in recognising and addressing unconscious bias – they’ve made their training available to all and all at Breaking Blue have completed it. By applying the learnings we aim to recognise and overcome our unconscious biases.