A recent Coca-Cola campaign aimed at showing their commitment to the Māori in New Zealand created commotion when the brand combined the English word, “mate,” with the phrase “Kia Ora” in the indigenous Māori language. The combination of both words, if all read in Māori, turns out to mean “Hello, death,” which sparked obvious controversy and confusion, highlighting the importance for brands to learn from failed, yet well-intended inclusive efforts.

The idea of inclusivity and being culturally mindful—so evident in the intended goals of the Coca-Cola campaign—is something that all brand marketers must consider. Today, marketers look at all aspects of their customers’ behaviors by observing everything from their social values to their cultural perceptions. Too often, though, there is limited information on such behaviors and viewpoints, and instead of honing in on the gaps, some brands underrepresent their audiences. This restricts the availability and accessibility of much needed service offerings and educational and informational resources designed specifically for these customers’ needs and values.

As brands are positioning themselves for the future and exploring the latest technologies to offer relevant, personalized solutions for consumers, one key area that is not fully embraced is the “inclusivity of brands” with a sustainable “human-centric” approach. In fact, incorporating images of diverse people or translating ads to multiple languages does not make a brand entirely human-centric or inclusive.

In health, the consequences of getting this wrong can be so much more severe than a tarnished reputation and social media backlash. So, how can marketers truly frame their brands for tomorrow’s consumers?

How to Make Brands More Inclusive

Diversity and inclusivity are not just about ethno-racial, unique, or hybrid cultural elements but also include age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economics, disability, and more.

WPP’s BrandZ data shows that U.K. brands that are gender balanced or even slightly “female-skewed” perform better than brands that are skewed more towards men1. In the past decade, we saw that more and more brands even those historically more masculine brands such as Under Armour and Prudential have started marketing to women with successful outcomes2. In addition to the effect gender sensitive marketing has on brands, there are also some innovative examples of not just the marketing, but also the diversification of products and offerings of mainstream brands for niche and harder-to-reach audiences.

In October of 2018, Starbucks opened its first “Signing Store” in Washington, D.C., to better connect and serve the deaf and hard of hearing community3. This particular Starbucks, however, does more than just staffing the store with employees who know American Sign Language. It creates and nurtures a devoted community that bridges the gap between deaf and hard of hearing customers and hearing customers.

For 1 in 5 Americans living with a disability, something as simple as getting dressed each day can be a challenge. As a result, Tommy Hilfiger created its “Adaptive” line, a disability-friendly clothing collection designed to embrace inclusivity and empower differently-abled individuals of all ages to express themselves in fashion4Know your audience, really.

Tomorrow’s Audience Will Be Even More Diverse

Due to ongoing voluntary and forced mobility of populations across the globe countries are becoming more diverse. Take the U.S. population, for example, which is more ethnically and racially diverse than it has ever been5. What’s more, this demographic trend is expected to continue, impacting the entire business landscape—from workplaces to storefronts. While aging Baby Boomers will continue to influence consumption categories like health and retirement, Millennials are becoming America’s largest generation, making significant marks in the workforce and as consumers6.

Nielsen reports that over 40% of Millennials are racially diverse7. This number becomes even larger for Gen Z. Thus, it’s crucial for brands to consider these audiences, as they are slowly penetrating the business scene and, together, changing spending habits across categories and locations. These younger, digitally native, and diverse generations will not only continue to take over the workforce and demand inclusivity, but will also want to co-create and connect with brands that are constantly mindful of their values and habits—online and offline.

Brands that genuinely explore ways to understand consumers and work to create innovative “human-centric” solutions to consumers’ evolving passions and pain-points will be able to open up new markets and opportunities for continued success.

It is imperative for marketing and advertising professionals to master the human-centric, culturally inclusive mindset and become equipped with the necessary tools and resources to work smarter for the brands that they lead.

Innovative and inclusive initiatives like Starbucks and Tommy Hilfiger build real human connections, tell authentic stories, and align to both consumers’ functional and intellectual needs, as well as their emotional satisfaction, yielding to amplified brand empathy, trust and loyalty.

To truly become ready for the future and achieve and retain success, brands in 2019 and beyond need to have a deeper understanding of their consumers. Being mindful of consumers’ diverse nature in relation to their current and evolving circumstances means that brands must proactively generate authentic and meaningful solutions that serve them and their loved ones best today, and into the future.

References:

1. Kantar, “What Women Want Report” (Source: https://www.whatwomenwant.uk.com/next-steps).

2. “Success Stories: Marketing to Women Pays Off” (Source: https://pursestrings.co/marketing-to-women-pays-off/).

3. Rachel Siegel, Washington Post, “Starbucks opens first U.S. sign language store — with murals, tech pads and fingerspelling,” October 23, 2018. (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/10/23/starbucks-opens-first-us-sign-language-store-with-murals-tech-pads-fingerspelling/?utm_term=.e49e592b170e).

4. Tommy Hilfiger https://usa.tommy.com/en/tommy-adaptive

5. Nielsen Diversity and Inclusion Report, (Source: https://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2018-reports/2017-nielsen-diversity-inclusion-report.pdf).

6. Nielsen: The Multicultural Edge: Rising Super Consumers Report (2015)

7. Nielsen: The Multicultural Edge: Rising Super Consumers Report (2015)

  • Nil Navaie

    Nil Navaie is Director of Insights and Innovation at Wunderman Thompson Health. Nil leads the agency’s cultural competency and inclusivity offerings, which evaluate and equip brands and businesses to help build authentic relations and relatable experiences with their consumers.

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