Mention diversity in a corporate setting and you’re likely to receive vague statements of agreement. The general sentiment is usually lumped together with messages of “Racism is Bad” and “Embracing Everyone is Good” – both of which are extremely true in the abstract, but a little more foggy in the minutiae. However, far from being just a feel-good truism, embracing and championing diversity is valuable for any marketer and the common cure for tone-deaf messaging.
Why Diversity for Marketers
“Diversity” as a concept is usually relegated to Human Resources, and more specifically around policies to bring in talent across genders, racial groups, sexual orientations etc. But for marketers, it’s about embracing an inclusive mindset.
At this point, many of you would probably be thinking “I’m already an inclusive person! Some of my best friends are [INSERT MINORITY HERE]”. That may be true, but even the best meaning person has unconscious bias and blind spots.
Take for example when Snapchat released a filter that was pretty much modern-day Blackface. Having worked with tech companies, there is usually a good number of people – including marketers – that would have seen the beta version of this feature before it went live. While I doubt there was any intentional ill-will or outright racists in the chain of approval, it’s pretty horrifying to think that not one person spoke up in order to flag that this filter comes across as problematic.
Closer to home in Singapore, we see this type of eye-roll inducing messaging played out in cringe-inducing ads on saving water, tone-deaf sound-bites from politicians, and “funny” accents put on by local entertainers. Even Dove, a brand known for championing inclusivity in beauty, was not immune from misadventures in tone-deafness.
So for marketers, diversity is not just about diverse team members; it should also be about being inclusive of different perspectives. Here are three tips on how marketers can develop their diversity mindset:
Diversity starts with you
It may sound illogical but I believe diversity starts with yourself and understanding your own history, experiences, and opinions. By understanding yourself better, you find awareness of how the lenses of your own perspectives shape how you see (or don’t see) your brand’s content.
Recently, when we were conducting workshops on social media, we had a participant who had video editing experience. When we explained to her that most videos on Instagram were shot in portrait mode, she went on a tirade about how that didn’t make sense to her, and that she was trained to visualise everything in landscape. From her frustration, you could get a sense of resistance and her past experience was blinding her to seeing new possibilities. Which brings us to another maxim about diversity: “It’s not always about you.”
Developing diverse listening tools
After you’ve started work to understand your own blind spots, you can start to address them by developing diverse listening tools to grow your worldview beyond your own perspective. In today’s targeted and algorithm-driven digital world, it can be easy to fall into an echo chamber where the content that is presented to you only helps to reinforce your own perspectives, interests and likes.
To break out of this requires one to take an active role in searching for channels and sources that you know might run counter to your own beliefs and perspectives. I’ve had clients reject plans to leverage breaking social media trends, simply because “they’ve never heard of them”.
So while it’s impossible to get a complete understanding of the cultural landscape no matter how many sources of information you have, it still is fundamentally important to also venture out of your comfort zone to get a fresh perspective.
Building a brave team
Teams need to not only embrace diversity, but be brave enough to step in to highlight issues. In any typical campaign, plans are usually passed and seeded to multiple stakeholders for feedback – but if the corporate culture is not set up to allow for a safe space for disagreement, what tends to happen is a culture of “let’s not rock the boat” or “this is beyond my paygrade” .
Going back to that Snapchat filter fiasco, I would be surprised if there was absolutely no one in the chain of approvals that thought the feature would be, at the very least, questionable. But in the race to get new features to the public, and in environments where people are not empowered, diverse perspectives go unexpressed and campaigns are worse off for it.
While easier said than done, marketers should take efforts to breed a culture where anyone, regardless of their seniority or function in a company, should feel empowered to flag any potential problems. One major hurdle to this is the very human instinct to take offense at someone else being offended. A classic example I heard recently was a discussion around the lack of female representation on a panel; when the issue was raised, the organisers first response was “I’m not a misogynist, and I’m offended you would suggest that!”. That type of response shuts down the conversation and no one benefits from that.
Ultimately, we need to shift the understanding about diversity to be not just the right thing for companies to embrace, but to also leverage as a powerful marketing tool to better create meaningful content that resonates with the culture of the day.