Engaging Diverse Perspectives: Branding & Marketing for the Next Generation

As we recently explored in our blog series, Tomorrow’s Super Consumers, a seismic shift is occurring in the demographics of American consumers. Nielsen’s report on The Multicultural Edge reveals that multicultural consumers are “the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population,” on track to be a numeric majority by 2044. Smart, inclusive marketers and brand builders can no longer ignore their increasingly diverse consumer base.

It’s time to devise strategies for connecting with a wide range of consumers with authenticity, respect, and ongoing engagement. With multicultural consumers on the rise, how can brands and marketers embrace a diversity of perspectives and experiences to create inclusive, compelling brand identities that connect with our increasingly diverse marketplace? To start, let’s take a look at several brands who are succeeding at engaging diverse perspectives.

Brands Lean in to Diversity

In a Huffington Post article, Leslie Pascaud, EVP of Branding and Innovation at Added Value, explores four approaches to diversity marketing. The first is Acknowledgment, in which marketers nod to diversity by including minorities in their campaigns. One notable example of this type of marketing is the clothing retailer United Colors of Benetton, which has been tackling social issues in its advertising since the 1960’s, often bringing together models of diverse backgrounds to present images of racial harmony.

Acknowledgment is only the first step towards inclusion in marketing and branding, but it can have a powerful effect. As David Vinjamuri writes in Forbes, “What’s the advantage of a wider variety of gender, ethnicity and sexual presence represented in media and advertising? Simply put, we are more likely to identify with someone that looks like us.” That’s the power of affinity – giving consumers the chance to see themselves (or someone much like themselves) using a particular product increases their likelihood of purchasing it.

Moving Beyond Acknowledgment…

Simply acknowledging the diversity of consumers used to be enough to garner accolades for early-adopter brands such as Coca-Cola and Budweiser. However, today’s savvier consumers want more. Acknowledgment advertising runs the risk of tokenism, either through leaning too heavily on cultural cues or disregarding them entirely. Authenticity is key, as is a holistic approach to diversity.

Embracing diversity as more than just a buzzword means making it part of a brand’s ethos, not just its advertising. Pascaud identifies this approach as Celebration, writing that “brands are choosing to more directly embrace difference as an integral part of their platforms. By celebrating a new vision of inclusion, they gain cultural currency and attention.” She recalls Guinness’ “Friendship” ad from 2013, in which six men play basketball in wheelchairs. After the buzzer, it’s revealed that only one is disabled but the others’ friendship led them to learn how to play his way. The universal message of inclusion and camaraderie, in alignment with Guiness’ long-professed values, was a big win for the brand.

…Towards Advocacy & Action

The final approaches Pascaud identifies require even more investment and risk from brands, but also the chance to build a brand presence that earns true goodwill and long-term investment and loyalty from diverse communities. Advocacy and Action go a few steps beyond Acknowledgment and Celebration, as brands step into the social and political currents to take a firm stand on issues that are important to groups of consumers.

“Cause Marketing” has evolved over the past decade into a major force, with some brands aligning themselves entirely with a particular social or humanitarian issue. Many of these brands, like Tom’s Shoes, LiveStrong, and Whirlpool, display their commitment to improving lives across diverse communities and follow through in the public eye, generating goodwill, good press, and healthy sales.

As Pascaud writes, “By sharing fresh cultural perspectives on a topic, brands are reigniting important conversations about equality in fresh, innovative ways.” But, she notes, these conversations must be internal as well as external. Today’s empowered and educated consumers demand authenticity from the brands they support and are quick to catch on if their social conscience is just an act. This means embracing diversity initiatives within the company itself and ensuring that a brand’s social impact is aligned with its advertising.

The Future is Here

A recent Marketing Week piece about the Diversity in Advertising and Marketing Summit insists that “the time to talk about diversity is over. Brands now have to put their money where their mouth is and take action.” As demographics continue to shift towards multicultural super consumers, brands who remain isolated within one demographic group will be left behind. Embracing the future means placing a focus on diversity and equality at the core of a brand’s identity and culture. Only then can we move past acknowledgment to celebration, advocacy, and action in an authentic and compelling way that will resonate with the consumers of today and tomorrow.

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