As brand storytellers, marketers play a central role in company diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Not only does advertising that features diversity prompt higher recall rates and improved return on investment, but that messaging has a far-reaching impact on society.
“Stereotypes shape our split-second emotional responses and judgments of others in ways we may not be conscious of, so media reinforcing negative stereotypes of people of color produces real-world discrimination,” says Madeline Di Nonno, president and CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Given these consequences, brands are investing in DEI initiatives. Marketing leaders spent 8.9% more on such initiatives in 2021 than they did the year prior, according to The CMO Survey. But it’s no easy task, the authors of the survey acknowledged on CMSWire.
So, what are some of the hurdles companies face when it comes to implementing effective DEI marketing strategies?
No one is accountable
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many companies quickly drafted statements and social media posts aligning themselves with the movement for racial justice. Such public proclamations are important, but they mean very little unless they are backed by action.
“Socially conscious buyers don’t just want to see diversity in your marketing, they want to know that you share their commitment to inclusion on a deeper level,” Samantha Bonanno wrote for Capterra.
Even drafting a plan of action to create change within your organization isn’t enough. Without accountability metrics that hold individuals accountable for acting on a DEI plan, even the most well-intentioned initiative can waver and get lost in the midst of business priorities.
A complete plan must have all these elements: a public commitment, an action strategy and clear accountability goals and metrics that ensure progress is achieved.
The team doesn’t get it
Doing the internal work to ensure that employees understand DEI initiatives and are invested in them requires time and investment. But if that doesn’t happen, then any plan that marketing leaders establish will be missing the most important stakeholders. It’s difficult for companies to reflect their values if their employees don’t understand or connect to those values.
Employees should be involved from the onset and be given opportunities to understand why such work is valuable and important. That isn’t always easy, but it is worth the effort.
“It means undoing redundant practices of the past and introducing ideas that are out of their comfort zone,” Suzette Cotto, CEO of Innovate Social Media, noted on LinkedIn. “Get used to being uncomfortable.”
Diversity is missing internally
Lacking diverse representation on your marketing team is bound to result in shortfalls. As marketers increasingly focus on reaching diverse audiences and being representative of a wider swath of society, they can easily make mistakes and undermine their own efforts by perpetuating stereotypes or committing another blunder. Having a diverse team is essential to creating content and ideas that are respectful, inclusive and nuanced.
The CMO Survey found that while marketers are investing in improved branding and communications when it comes to diversity, internal efforts such as training and employee recruitment are still lagging.
Companies should also consider partnerships with community groups and influencers when they focus on specific subsets of people. Such collaborations create better campaigns and are more likely to resonate with the target audience, while ensuring that advertising does not cause greater harm.
The focus is too narrow
While it’s important for marketers to review their ads and the messages they are sharing through them, DEI work does not stop there. It should permeate all efforts and include internal review of hiring and promotion practices to ensure that a brand is truly living out its values.
“Simply put: We must create stories that are inclusive and representative of your full customer base, produce authentic content that incorporates nuances (across all points of diversity), and ensure that what you ‘say,’ ‘write’ and ‘release’ reflects the mission of your organization,” The CMO Survey authors wrote.
For more insights like this, subscribe to our free newsletter.