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Dear Brands and Marketers, Be Inclusive or Be Forgotten

You’ve seen the news. You’ve shared the Instagram posts. But what does the police brutality crisis mean for your brand from now on?

The two may seem disconnected. After all, nobody respects a brand that jumps on the latest trend just because.

But this? This is different. This applies to every one of us.

If your brand wants a place in the future, it has to be truly inclusive today.

Inclusivityisn’t a marketing trend or a nice-to-have. It’s essential. And it starts with real empathy.

As a marketer, it’s easy to feel like you should be silent right now. But that’s the *easy* route. The actually difficult, interesting, change-making route is to not only take part in the conversation, but actively push it forward through our everyday work.

Marketers, there’s power in the campaigns we craft, the advertisements we create, and the copy we write. We, in many ways, shape an ‘ideal’ that for too long has only shared one type of story. To think of our contribution as noise is wrong — lazy, even. Our work has consequence. Let’s start acting like it.

Advertisements shape our world — for better or worse. As storytellers, we have a real say in what’s said next. Let’s be on the right side of the story.

After all, did we really push our careers this far just so we could create generic campaigns? Most marketers I know started out as journalists. Writers. Storytellers. Are we trying to make a bit of money, or are we actually trying to stand for something?

Let’s do better. Let’s know the difference between good intentions and actual implementation:

Don’t simply post an Instagram story in solidarity — actually listen to a more diverse range of customers with empathy.

Instead of using stock images that represent people of color, ask yourself why you don’t have real images with more customers of color.

Reading a book on white privilege is a start, but take it further — understand how your audience really feels and act on it.

Being an ally as a brand means asking yourself — and your stakeholders — the tough questions. As Felicia C. Sullivan articulated it:

Do you realize there’s not a single non-white person at this thing, in this company, on your website? Do you see the messages you convey, the people you’re excluding because they’re unfamiliar to you solely based on the color of their skin and nothing else?

If it feels uncomfortable, you’re doing it right because this stuff is uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable.

As marketers, we need to create more content that challenges our personal conventions and makes an impact by digging into the fundamentals of what it means to be human.

Practical tips for this new era of online activism:

  • Know that sharing posts in solidarity is just the beginning. The real work starts with your day-to-day operations — this means turning diversity and inclusivity policies into real-life, real-world brand values
  • Strike the balance between being totally silent and showing up too much. This isn’t about you. Elevate the voices of those with experiences we need to hear and learn from, rather than that of your brand
  • Avoid cultural appropriation in your copy or campaigns. No excuses
  • Look at your marketing collateral through someone else’s eyes. Would you see yourself, as a person of color, in your imagery and your story?
  • In a tasteful and respectful way, talk to your audience about what inclusivity means to them, and bring that into everything your brand does
  • Review your business model and think about how you can financially support inclusivity — through donating a percentage of sales to a related cause, a more inclusivity-driven hiring strategy, setting up a paid inclusivity board of directors or otherwise
  • Remember that, as Google’s CMO Lorraine Twohill put it, “there are so many layers to diversity beyond gender or skin color. It’s also about age. Geography. Socio-economic diversity. Relatable jobs. Abilities. Sexuality.”

This work may feel hard, but doesn’t anything that’s worth doing?

Inclusivity has the power to change perspectives, deepen connections and positively influence our corner of the world. We’re all learning. As brands and marketers, it’s time we started doing. Let’s take it further.

This movement is so much more than a hashtag or a post shared in solidarity. It’s an attitude, a belief system, a new way of approaching our world. It’s also better marketing, enriched by a section of our society that’s been made absent from marketing for too long. Absent no more.

Bianca Bass
Bianca Bass

Bianca is a Marketing and Communications Director who combines strategy with storytelling to build brands, reach new audiences and create impactful campaigns.

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