The numbers don’t lie: Some 80 percent of American parents say they want to see diverse families represented in brand messaging, and another 66 percent report that diverse family representation factors into their purchasing decisions.
Clearly, consumers are tired of seeing brands blast the same messaging that features the same family — largely because it doesn’t truly represent the market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of opposite-sex interracial couples grew to 5.4 million in 2010, and same-sex couple households rose by 9 percent from 2000. For millions of American kids, a single-parent household is the norm.
But it’s not enough to tout diversity in your brand’s marketing messages alone — you have to bake these ideals into your brand story for them to be perceived as authentic. Brands that can do this will not only appease their target audience members, but they’ll also positively impact their problem-solving skills, their bottom line, and their ability to compete.
Authentic Diversity Starts on the Inside
At Mitchell, we’ve worked to recruit from a wide variety of backgrounds. As a result, our team is made up of a diverse set of individuals, with both agency and corporate experience in industries ranging from PR to digital to shopper marketing to journalism. A diversity of backgrounds yields diverse thinking and strengthens our team’s approach to work.
In fact, some of the best teams deliver big breakthroughs by applying skills developed from different backgrounds. When London Business School sent a team of MBA students hailing from the U.S. and Europe on a South African learning project, members struggled to help the small businesses they were assisting turn a profit. It wasn’t for lack of know-how. The students simply couldn’t break free from their culturally ingrained thinking patterns.
On the other hand, when a team comprised of students from multiple continents took on a similar project, they were wildly successful because their ideas came from a mixture of backgrounds.
Diversity also has the potential to affect your company’s return on equity. A recent study found that global power and utility companies with greater diversity posted an 8.5 percent ROE, while those with lower diversity only saw a 7 percent ROE. Finally, diversity can help your top talent stay at the top: Inclusive businesses outpace their competitors by 80 percent.
But just as a film can’t rely solely on its director to succeed, cultural diversity efforts are not confined to the HR department. Threading diversity into the very fabric of your brand is an endeavor that should involve every employee and executive.
Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Take your company’s temperature. Employees feel valued when their opinions are asked and heard. Consider developing an internal survey to gain insight into your company’s shortcomings and determine your benchmarks for success.
2. Start the domino effect. Companywide buy-in starts at the top of the chain. Follow Nissan Motor Company and ABB North America’s lead and set diversity and inclusion goals for all managers. These are considered performance objectives and can actually lead to management promotions.
3. Adjust policies for a diverse set of needs. Include benefits that help different employees balance the various demands of work and life. Consider offering on-site daycare, flexible work hours, and onboard training after leaves of absence.
4. Recruit from diverse pools of applicants and cultivate leadership. As you expand your team, consider reviewing the metrics of success before and after you make hires. These measurements are paramount in understanding retention rates and identifying areas for improvement. Then, work to promote leadership education. Offering opportunities to high-potential employees, such as continued education and development, will pay off in the long run.
5. Provide employee support groups and coaching. Opening the floor to employees who share a strong affiliation to groups (e.g., recent college graduates, women, or minorities) is another approach to supporting and growing talent. What’s more, providing role models whom employees can identify with and relate to will signify your company’s commitment to cultivating future leaders of various backgrounds.
Turning That Diversity Outward
Once a sound, diversity-driven culture is in place, companies can confidently turn their internal mirror outward, reflecting their diversity to the public.
From Cheerios to Coca-Cola, brands are gaining respect and trust by representing and celebrating their audiences’ differences. Old Navy was the most recent addition when it featured an interracial family in promoting a sale on Twitter. Sure, each of these companies has seen its fair share of backlash as a result, but all have held fast in their authentic commitment to diversity.
Last year, I had the privilege of judging the annual Bentonville Film Festival, and the experience was nothing short of inspiring. Spearheaded by actress and activist Geena Davis, BFF aims to challenge the status quo of the film industry by featuring empowered female leads and nontraditional families, whose characters offer diverse messages that reverberate long after the films conclude.
People care about the connection and recognition of themselves in characters and brands. Cultivating internal diversity first and foremost will help you show your diverse audience members that you’re an authentic advocate for all families.
By Sarah Clark, president of Mitchell.
Clark is one of the top strategic communications professionals in the country, with more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications and an exceptional track record in protecting corporate reputations and redefining perceptions in key areas of business.