As George Floyd took his last breath at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020, nobody could have predicted the shockwaves it would send around the world. In the days of ensuing riots, many brands were stung into action by the sheer weight of public sentiment.
Some brands like ThirdLove had been allies to social justice and diversity movements for a long time and put out supportive messaging. Consumers received these messages with sincerity, as they came from a history of allyship.
Those brands that used this moment as their first attempt at solidarity with social justice issues were rightly met with scepticism.
Brands are inherently conservative, and do not change their messaging unless they have to. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Still, many brands, even in the Caribbean, took the temperature of the room and put out sincere messages aimed at solidarity. Let’s just say that consumers have long memories, and these brands will be watched during future crises.
The case of all brands in these moments is not helped by tone-deaf and plainly racist statements put out by the likes of the Crossfit CEO, who questioned the merits of the riots and has since resigned from his post from the backlash. In Trinidad and Tobago, we’ve also seen it: the severe negative consequences businesses are facing as a result of sharing ideas that promote and encourage the existence of such inequalities.
Consumers have clout.
Why authentic inclusive content is important
A 2017 Shutterstock survey revealed some important shifting attitudes by consumers. The company sells stock photographs of people engaged in everyday activities, and this statement from their survey is telling, “Striking a chord with consumers is no longer about serving them images of perfection…Consumers prefer images that accurately portray the world around them, as opposed to a perfected version of the world offered by marketers.”
Consumers want to be seen and they want to be included in the image of the brand. This is the biggest reason why companies have to strive towards a consistently representative ideal.
Gone are the days of the token nod to consumers at the fringes of who a brand perceives it serves. Marketers have to put out diverse and inclusive ideals that touch on all the worldly possibilities that make a consumer, from sexual orientation, to race, gender, age, body size, and location.
Brands have to be seen to be actually trying to be diverse and inclusive. The consumer’s attitude is changing. It is not enough anymore for them to be on the outside looking in. This is because consumers understand that their patronage can make or break a brand. So brands must aim higher.
A recent retail study showed that 44% of consumers rewarded companies with their business if the brand shared the same values as them. The exchange between a brand and a consumer is now so much more than an exchange of a product for a payment. Consumers intertwine their whole self-concept with a brand they feel represents them.
This emerging relationship between brand and consumer is universal, and it’s not any different in the Caribbean, where classism and colourism persist. Consumers gravitate towards a message that puts them fully and representatively inside an ideal. Since people are made up of not only one demographic such as age or race, marketers must be attuned to more areas such as age, sexual orientation, and life stage, to name a few. It’s hard work, but those who invest the time and energy will be rewarded.
We’ve prepared a quick checklist to ensure your content is inclusive
1. Take an honest inventory of where you are
Marketers and content creators must start by asking themselves some hard questions. The answers might surface some truths which are tough to swallow. The first part of creating sustainably diverse content is to take an inventory of where you are. How would you score your content for diversity and inclusivity up to now?
This is a double-edged sword, because sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and if marketing teams are made up of homogenous groups of people who don’t have a feel for representation, they may miss the truth.
2. Don’t jump on the bandwagon
But if you do, make it tasteful. There has arguably not been a larger outpouring of support for a social justice issue than the George Floyd murder fallout. Many brands, silent on these issues for years, are now declaring that Black Lives Matter.
The NFL, famously resistant to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, now proclaims that they “made mistakes”. But consumers are not stupid. So if brands must add their voice, and they will now have to become parts of many more ongoing conversations, they must be sure to do it tastefully, honestly, and consistently.
3. Understand your consumer base
Customer intimacy demands that you understand who you serve. With modern technology it is much easier for companies to gather troves of information about their customers. No self-respecting brand will claim to not understand their consumers, but the inclusivity conversation shows that many companies have their heads in the sand about this issue.
Aim to deeply understand who is buying from you. This means truly walking a mile in their shoes. By all means use high-powered analytics to understand what they like about what you sell, but to truly understand them, you have to attend their events, see their neighbourhoods, and know their concerns and ambitions. Be an ally. Do it with sincerity. Lay down your preconceived notions.
4. Be honest about the makeup of your own team
This is another hard process for brands. Is your team representative of your consumers? Make sure you have the right people in the room, and if you don’t then go out and find them. This is not about one group of marketers replacing another. Make your table bigger, make the conversation broader. If you do not understand transgender, ethnic, or able-bodied issues, invest in discovering about them by bringing in the very people for whom this is a lived experience.
5. Tell diverse stories
Marketers and content creators can use storytelling as a powerful way of revealing not only where they want to go, but who they are taking with them. In today’s climate, any brand that is not asking itself questions about inclusivity, diversity, and racial inequality is doing it wrong.
There is groundswell of momentum for these real-life issues, and brands need to creatively tell diverse stories that address the issues of the day. It is no longer enough for brands to claim that they exist in society but cannot comment on anything outside their primary commercial interest. Consumers will leave, as we have seen, and they will go where they feel like they belong.