Mind the inclusion gap – how to do D&I right

By Tain Joliffe, Strategy Director and Diversity Lead at RAPP Worldwide
Brands are missing the mark when it comes to diversity and inclusion, argues Tain Joliffe, Diversity Lead at RAPP Worldwide

Brands are missing the mark when it comes to diversity and inclusion – and consumers are noticing. True diversity should be defined person-by-person, with a granular, intersectional approach. That’s according to Tain Joliffe, Strategy Director and Diversity Lead at RAPP Worldwide. She shares her thoughts on how marketers can be authentic when it comes to DE&I and resonate with an increasingly discerning customer base by committing to change, learning from mistakes, and staying the course.

“Be brave” is a modern mantra for many brands. But a bold approach can leave them vulnerable in an era when mistakes will be mauled on social media by consumers - not least when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other important social movements have shined a necessary light on social injustice, with the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis further magnifying inequality.

On many occasions, brands have been racing to keep up with shifting consumer attitudes toward these vital issues. They’ve no doubt made progress – and also, plenty of mistakes. Though the last thing brands should do is give up when mistakes are made.

Because customers want you to do better.

An extensive piece of research, conducted by RAPP and Material, showed that an enormous 80% of consumers think that brands should be doing better on DE&I. In addition, 69% believe brands should be using their power for good! So, whilst there may be potential for mistakes to happen, our research showed that when you get it right, the opportunity to grow brand reach and resonance is huge.

When brands get diversity right – and wrong

There’s a balance to be found between being seen to do good and understanding what consumers really want from brands when it comes to DE&I. Virtue signaling – or ‘diversity washing’ – just doesn’t work.

We asked the public to recall ads or brands that have been getting it right when it comes to inclusive content but also brands that haven’t. JD Sports’ 2021 Christmas advert was a best-in-class example flagged by many respondents.

One contributor said it’s a “true representation of Black British youth culture” because it celebrates British youth culture so authentically. It features a ‘who’s who’ line-up of talent from the world of sport, music and entertainment that truly represents the people shaping youth culture today.  

Furthermore, if you were to delve deeper into JD Sports' activity, you can see that its commitment to DE&I goes beyond its marketing. On closer inspection, you can see how inclusion appears in things like its retailer’s policy, which reveals the brand's attitude to anti-slavery and supply-chain fairness. This is the attention to detail that customers appreciate and expect.

Mars M&Ms was at the other end of the spectrum. When the brand chose to make its green M&M character less ‘sexy’, consumers were quick to accuse it of pandering. This episode even inspired a Change.org petition to ‘Keep the Green M&M sexy’, with a significant 20,000 signatories. What M&M’s marketers failed to do was consult customer insight before creating the campaign, turning it into an empty gesture.

If we aren’t authentic and miss the mark, the consequences can be significant. Our research showed that 39% of consumers will talk about the brand negatively; 35% will remove the brand from their consideration set; and 28% will be less likely to purchase from the brand.

What do customers actually want?

Consumers crave authenticity, and they’ll be quick to point out what they perceive as poor attempts at diversity and inclusivity in marketing.

What they want above all is a commitment from brands to change and improve – in every aspect of what they do, from operations to comms - whether that takes just one attempt, or more. Mistakes will be made, and that’s fine. Learning from them, and demonstrably making an effort, is what matters.

Customer insight is key. A huge 74% of consumers say brands must educate themselves and take the time to genuinely understand all of their audiences and stakeholders.

The impact of getting DE&I right

When brands get it right the impact is significant; research showed that those ever-important brand measures would see huge improvement. We saw consideration numbers jump up 60%, with purchase numbers increasing by 54% and likelihood to recommend up by 53%. These cannot be ignored and should give a great incentive for brands to commit to incorporating DE&I strategies into marketing practice.

Coupled with the social and ethical implications of upping their game, this is a rallying cry for brands.

Closing the inclusion gap

So, how can brands do better on DE&I? RAPP has identified five key rules to help close the Brand Inclusion Gap:

1.     Respect

Understanding customer expectations; when, how, and why they can fluctuate, but also acknowledging the ‘intersectionality’ of issues people are navigating in their lives.

2.     Radical Transparency    

Being transparent about process and provenance and being clear with your language.

3.     Responsibility

Establishing a clear purpose that runs through all brand actions. Delivering on the customer experience and making a concerted effort to engage every single employee in a DE&I culture.

4.     Resourcefulness

Making it your duty to do no harm and work smart.

5.     Reliability

Keeping your promises – even the smallest ones – to your colleagues, customers, and stakeholders.

 

Customers are crying out for change. Most respondents state that ‘meaningful inclusion’ by brands is important (80%). What’s more, as we’ve seen, this often leads to more meaningful customer relationships.

With access to such rich customer data, brands have an opportunity to stay ahead of social trends and attitudes. They can harness insights and put authentic DE&I practice at the heart of everything they do, learning and improving in each phase. There’s nothing wrong with taking two bold steps forward and one step back – as long as we keep going.

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