Buyer personas just aren’t cutting it anymore.
The marketer’s tried-and-true method of targeting demographics is flawed. Buyer personas are created by researching and detailing customer demographics, behaviors, motivations, and goals. Even with extensive market research, however, marketers are still stuck writing to different, fictionalized versions of themselves, rather than a diverse audience with differing perspectives. So while buyer personas might be a great tool, they’re not as diverse and inclusive as they need to be.
What is inclusive marketing?
Inclusive marketing is marketing — the only distinction is that it doesn’t advertise or promote solely to a singular demographic. It’s an active response to traditional stereotypes and an attempt to convey that one’s brand is built for customers of all demographics. This includes factors such as gender, race, language, income, sexuality, age, religion, ability, and ethnicity — but it also takes into account the fact that people are individuals, and everybody is different. In today’s world, if a business markets to a narrow audience, customers can (and will) notice. Social media and product reviews give voice to the individual, so companies must intelligently market to the individual.
Inclusive marketing is advantageous to both the organization and the customer. For businesses, a wider audience results in campaigns reaching more potential customers. Additionally, the brand is seen in a positive light. Customers, in turn, feel represented and valued.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest marketing blunders of 2017 to get a better picture of how important inclusive marketing has become, before diving into best practices.
What not to do
Uber | Wife Appreciation Day
Coming in at number three is frequently-controversial Uber. The company was slammed by customers and the media alike when, back in September, the ride share business ran a “Wife Appreciation” campaign to its Bangalorean users.
The promotional message urged husbands to “let [their] wife take a day off from the kitchen,” by using a “NOCOOKINGDAY” promotional code for Uber’s food delivery service. Bozoma Saint John, Uber’s chief brand ambassador, had to give a statement (“Oh hell no”) and the company was thrown into immediate damage control. Customers took to Twitter to air their grievances, posting things such as:
As a man who’s been cooking & doing kitchen duty for over 45 years, I find this sensibility so offensive.
— Ian King (@ianking51) September 17, 2017
— Rashi Kakkar (@rashi_kakkar) September 17, 2017
— ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@PranavDixit) September 17, 2017
— Asawari Ghatage ⚠️ (@11ty1) September 17, 2017
This marketing campaign fail adds fuel to an already fast-burning fire. Uber has received backlash from its customers across the globe in response to allegations of sexual harassment, poor management, and unfair employment practices. As a result, what began as simple promotional campaign turned into a PR nightmare that lost Uber customers and brand respect.
Dove | Body Wash Ad
Dove has made a splash, too. The personal care and beauty brand faced criticism for an October soap campaign that, ironically, sought to highlight racial diversity and inclusivity. As part of a larger video advertisement, Dove posted a short GIF that featured three women removing their shirt to reveal the next person. When viewed as a still image, consumers see only a black woman taking off her brown shirt to reveal a white woman, dressed all in white. Taken in this context, the soap ad seems to imply a before-and-after, dirty-to-clean, black-to-white transition.
The public was swift to denounce the ad’s message, arguing that Dove was being racist and that people should boycott the company. Dove quickly issued an apology, stating that the company, “is committed to representing the beauty of diversity [and] missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color…” but the damage had been done and it did nothing to quell consumer outrage. Customers balked at Dove’s “missed the mark” line, saying that racism can’t be so easily dismissed and downplayed. As with Uber’s marketing fail, Dove also saw customers promising to boycott the company.
Pepsi | Protest-themed Commercial
Perhaps the largest marketing misstep of 2017 belongs to Pepsi. At a time when racial tension runs high, in a year that has seen attempted lynchings, KKK rallies, racially-motivated police shootings, and countless peaceful protests for equality, Pepsi ran a marketing campaign that directly referenced protests. The controversial ad attempted to project a message of unity, but, to quote Dove, they too “missed the mark.”
In the commercial, Kendall Jenner (a young, white model) sees a protest and decides to hand a Pepsi to a policeman in full riot gear. When he takes a sip, the protest ends in cheers.
People expressed disgust and anger over the trivialization of such a sensitive topic, and accused Pepsi of capitalizing off of the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial equality. Some reacted with sarcasm:
who else is reminded of Dr Martin Luther King’s famously resonant “I have a Pepsi” speech pic.twitter.com/xX5h3it3d1
— Scott Ludlam 🌈 (@Scottludlam) April 4, 2017
that pepsi ad made me want to buy a coke.
— quinta b. (@quintabrunson) April 4, 2017
Others failed to find any humor:
the worst thing about that Pepsi ad, beyond the blatant disrespect and disregard, is the amount of people who greenlit that advertisement.
— nasri (@nasrissist) April 4, 2017
Pepsi’s new commercial mimicking a protest is so tasteless. Bye #pepsi.
— Macy Linton (@macymayormaynot) April 4, 2017
— Cyrus McQueen (@CyrusMMcQueen) April 4, 2017
The campaign heavily damaged Pepsi’s reputation and led to a consumer boycott of their product. And although this happened back in May, the public has shown no signs of forgiveness.
So, how do you leverage inclusive marketing the right way?
There are four best practices that you should know in order to widen your funnel, attract positive press, build brand loyalty, and ultimately convert more customers. It’s important to note that inclusive marketing is not the exploitation of cultures, races, religions, (etc.) in an attempt to gain business. It is simply the broadening of one’s marketing audience to include and expand the customer brand experience, and as a result, it is naturally going to benefit one’s brand.
1. Hire a diverse team
You need different perspectives to learn that there are different ways of doing things. Define a culture fit within your company and push boundaries so you don’t get same-minded people with a singular perspective and/or identical backgrounds and upbringings. Discover unconscious biases using Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, aim for diverse hiring panels, and openly discuss biases in the planning stages of your marketing campaigns.
2. Look outside of your team
To find fresh insight and perspectives, survey your audience, interview customers, use your data, explore trends, or work with outside consultants. This ensures that you aren’t simply marketing your product or service to those who fall into narrow buyer personas.
3. Be thoughtful about your images
There are more than enough athletic white men in stock images. Diversify your resources and strive for an image gallery that more accurately depicts the world we live in. Represent everyone by being mindful of how each image portrays age, skin color, disabilities, culture, gender, religion, or weight.
4. Create inclusive copywriting
Use neutral pronouns. If gender doesn’t need to be there, don’t include it. Other tips for more accessible copywriting include maintaining simplistic language, not assuming knowledge, and being wary of cultural references and metaphors so as not to confuse or insult the audience.
Inclusive marketing is incredibly important to adopt. If you’re not using it, your marketing campaigns run the risk of backfiring and leading to harsh social criticism the way it has for Uber, Dove, and Pepsi.
Gone is the enduring myth that “bad press is good press.” The internet, and more specifically the power of the consumer, has forced businesses to adapt to societal pressures and standards or risk being ostracized by customers. Consumers have louder and more powerful voices than ever, thanks to social media, and they are presented with many alternative options so it’s become easier than ever to boycott a brand without having to give up a product or service entirely.
Take Fenty Beauty, for example. Pop icon Rihanna recently launched a beauty brand with a full range of skin color matching products that received incredible social shares and organic brand awareness because of its inherent inclusivity. Makeup brands haven’t traditionally included shades that closely match people with albinism or very dark brown skin tones, so the internet jumped behind Rihanna after the launch and called out mainstream beauty companies for failing to offer similar products. An excerpt from W Magazine’s article on Fenty Beauty states:
“One widely-liked photo on Instagram showed a Sephora counter with 13 of Fenty Beauty’s darkest foundation shades sold out, and a caption that read, ‘This is for all the makeup brands who think the dark shades won’t sell well.’ The message may have been hyperbole, but the subtext was clear: Beauty brands are ignoring dark-skinned women at their financial peril.”
Marketers take note: inclusive marketing should not be ignored.