July 15, 2024


Built General Tough

Building A Diverse And Equitable Business: The Role Of Marketing

Leela Gill is a thought leader and VP of Marketing for Intelligence Node, with 15+ years of experience in Retail, FinTech and HR Tech.

Jesse Jackson once said, “Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.”

This is more evident now than ever before. There is no question for me that prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in companies of every size and in every industry comes with a renewed sense of urgency in the United States today.

When you think about which department within an organization should be most focused on prioritizing DEI, human resources may come to mind. However, diversity isn’t just an internal HR matter; marketers have an opportunity and a responsibility to put diversity at the forefront of their thinking when they’re hiring colleagues, creating content and planning campaigns.

Why marketing?

Marketers have access to communications and media that can change DEI from an initiative to an integral part of a company’s culture and its brand. It is marketers who translate corporate strategy and brand concepts into the words, images and messages the company uses both internally and externally. Simply put, marketers are change agents. And putting DEI at the forefront of our marketing campaigns is a responsibility we should own.

DEI can help grow the business and build loyalty. 

In an August 2020 report on the retail and consumer goods markets, McKinsey points out that consumers are showing a preference for brands and retailers they trust and that it’s important for companies to demonstrate social responsibility. Consumers are changing their attitudes about where to buy and voting with their wallets: According to a 2019 survey from Markstein and Certus Insights (via Businesswire), “46% [of consumers] pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts when they buy a product.” Those companies that put words into action to address DEI will likely be rewarded.

Forward-thinking companies like Verizon understand this shift. In April 2021, Verizon announced that it is rolling out a new set of goals around how it approaches DEI in all aspects of its marketing operations, including a commitment to spend 30% of its budget on “diverse-owned video, experiential and print production firms” and other initiatives that take into account an industry-wide gender equality measure. According to Verizon CMO Diego Scotti, “Corporate social responsibility isn’t the thing you do on the side in terms of philanthropy — you must move it to be central to your strategy.” 

The bottom line is that if our audience sees themselves reflected in our company’s marketing campaigns, they will take notice. And, in today’s environment where getting above the noise is difficult, taking an authentic approach to diversity and equity can help you garner the attention your brand needs to build a loyal following.

How diverse is your marketing team? 

Marketers are the company’s experts in language, imagery and prose. Marketers know how to apply these communication techniques to best serve the company’s employees, prospects and customers. How can we ensure that those featured in these critical marketing assets are properly represented? First, take a step back and ask yourself if your team accurately mirrors the diversity initiatives you are seeking to prioritize. No matter how empathetic and open-minded the people on your marketing team may be, a less diverse team can be a silent barrier to inclusive marketing. Aim to build a team composed of colleagues who come from diverse backgrounds. This action can help your stories resonate with your employees, prospects and customers. 

According to a recent Glassdoor survey, job seekers and employees want employers to step up their transparency around DEI. If employers don’t, they may miss out on retaining top talent. About one in three employees and job seekers (32%) would not apply to a job at a company that lacks a diverse workforce. If you haven’t been thinking about this already, now is the perfect time to modernize your team’s hiring strategy and include DEI as a priority. If you need further incentive, McKinsey explains “that diverse teams are more innovative — stronger at anticipating shifts in consumer needs and consumption patterns.” This dynamic could translate into a real competitive advantage. 

Is your content diverse, and does it reflect those you seek to engage? 

Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, an inclusive brand marketing program often takes significant time and effort. The first step is understanding just how well your marketing efforts reflect your brand. Take a look at your customer-facing campaigns and programs. Who are the faces behind your marketing content? Your products may be for everyone, but if your images and videos lack racial and age diversity, they may not resonate with employees, prospects and customers. After all, the goal of your content should be to create an emotional connection with your audience.  

Next, look at the tone of voice and words you are using in your writing. Make sure the language you’re using will resonate with your target audience, and be careful when using jargon and slang. When you’re thinking about storytelling, be intentional about using diverse perspectives.   

Some marketing professionals are making progress on these initiatives, but for others, there is a long way to go before inclusive and diverse marketing becomes the norm. As company leaders, we have a responsibility to help ensure that DEI is part of our conversations and implemented in our campaigns. And we can take on the role of helping the CEO recognize the importance of DEI for growing the business. 

It’s important to check yourself.

Ask yourself, “As a marketing leader, do I know what our company’s DEI goals are? Am I leading in a way that prioritizes DEI?”

If not, take action. Consider inviting DEI representatives to team meetings when you’re planning or refreshing campaigns. Open up the dialog and be bold about talking about this priority with your team. With your CEO, find examples of how you are bringing DEI to life within the company and garner support.  

I believe we will see progress as more marketing leaders embrace their responsibility in prioritizing DEI and, specifically, take actionable steps to align the internal values of the company with the external brand messaging. Marketers are change agents. And we have the power to lead a DEI transformation.

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?