Inclusivity is the new exclusivity: why celebrating diversity is a business imperative
Want to grow a strong community of engaged customers? Be sure to include everyone in your efforts.
Picture what a “typical” marketing campaign or advertisement from the 1950s looked like.
You know the kind we’re talking about: The ones that, by today’s standards, are considered completely outdated—and are often seen as tone-deaf in multiple ways.
Regardless of the product or service being advertised, such campaigns typically focused on accomplishing one overarching task:
Creating a sense of exclusivity within the brand’s audience.
That is, these more “traditional” campaigns aimed to convince consumers that owning a certain product—a brand new television, a shiny piece of jewelry, or even certain brands of liquor or cigarettes—was the way to become an accepted member of a given social group or class.
And, for a long time, it worked.
(Anyone familiar with the Chivas Regal Effect can point to numerous examples of brands intentionally taking action to exclude certain demographics in an effort to generate more business from their target audience.)
But, things have changed pretty drastically. A 2018 Accenture’s Survey found that, of Millennial-age consumers, 70% are more likely to choose one brand over another if that brand demonstrates inclusion and diversity in its products, services, promotions and in-store experiences.
In the words of Professor of Marketing at Wharton, Barbara Kahn: “Advertising used to be more ‘aspirational,’ and people looked to brands to show what people hoped they could be...But the younger generation is much more accepting of all kinds of diversity.”
In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the key ways modern brands have adjusted their overall approach to marketing so as to be more inclusive of individuals from all walks of life. As we discuss specific examples, we’ll also talk about why these initiatives were so effective—and provide key takeaways for how to use similar approaches in your own campaigns.
3 key ways to promote inclusivity
As the results of Accenture’s study showed, there are a number of ways that modern companies can go about promoting and showcasing their inclusive nature.
Overall, modern brands tend to focus on three key areas:
- Social inclusivity
- Economic inclusivity
- Functional inclusivity (with regard to the products or services the brand offers)
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Promoting social inclusivity
It should come as no surprise that, as our global community (generally speaking) becomes more inclusive and accepting of the differences between all fellow humans, we’ve come to expect the brands we do business with to follow suit.
While the modern consumer, of course, wants to feel welcome and accepted by brands that interest them, they also want to know that other people (who may or may not be anything like them) feel just as accepted by the brand’s community, overall.
In response to this recent mindset shift, many well-known brands have moved away from promoting their products as “tickets” to exclusive clubs—and have moved toward promoting them as a way for individuals to become the best possible version of themselves they can be.
In other words, it’s no longer about providing a false sense of belonging to your target audience. Rather, it’s about allowing the consumer to appreciate themselves as they are—and inspiring them to continue forging their own path moving forward.
For example, American Eagle/Aerie recently developed a marketing campaign featuring unretouched images of over 50 non-models:
Similarly, Nike recently installed a “plus-size” mannequin in its main location in London:
In both cases, the message is crystal clear:
Nike and Aerie understand that their target audience is made up of more than just the 5’2”, 110-pound individuals represented by the stereotypical mannequin.
(As a quick note for the contrarians who may dismiss these initiatives as mere lip service, these campaigns are also quite practical: Since the models represent women of various shapes and sizes, other women who match these characteristics now have a better idea of how the clothing might look on them right from the get-go.)
The point is, no matter what products or services your brand provides, the individual people you serve are almost certainly not part of a homogeneous group. Your marketing initiatives should—in a variety of ways—reflect the heterogeneous nature of your audience. The more socially inclusive your approach to marketing is, the more likely you’ll be to continue attracting a diverse crowd of loyal followers.
Promoting economic inclusivity
You’ve heard the saying about “keeping up with the Joneses,” right?
Basically, it refers to the idea that consumers will often try to “one-up” their friends, relatives, and loved ones by purchasing the newest, coolest, most expensive product on the market. Typically, the buyer had little to no reason to purchase the item in question except to appear more well-off than others in their social circle.
Traditionally, marketers would take advantage of this by essentially shaming consumers into making a purchase—even if the product being purchased is well out of the individual’s price range. The old-school advertisement we used above is a clear example of this tactic in action.
While the desire for luxury items hasn’t exactly subsided, modern consumers don’t necessarily want to spend a million bucks to feel like a million bucks.
Which is why many companies have begun offering products that give off an air of luxury—but are still affordable to the average individual. For example, MVMT sells watches, sunglasses, and accessories that look like they could potentially cost upwards of $1000… but are typically offered for less than $200.
Are MVMT’s products similar in quality to Patek Phillipe watches? Absolutely not.
Does it matter to MVMT’s customers? Absolutely not.
MVMT’s products aren’t meant to be a status symbol; they’re simply meant to be a fashion accessory (and, of course, a functional way to tell time…). MVMT’s customers don’t buy these products to make their friends say, “Dang, how much did you spend on that?”; they buy them so they can have something nice that doesn’t require taking out a second mortgage to own.
And that’s the point:
Economic inclusivity is all about offering products that individuals of various levels of wealth can appreciate and afford. If you can make your customers feel like they’ve truly “made it” without having to spend more than they’re comfortable with, you’ll almost certainly keep them around for a long time to come.
Building inclusivity into your products and services
Finally, it’s also important for brands to focus on ensuring that they offer products or services that can be used comfortably by anyone that may want to do so.
More specifically, we’re talking about keeping individuals with disabilities in mind as you develop your library of products.
For example, many clothing companies (such as Asos and Tommy Hilfiger) understand the difficulties differently-abled individuals often have when dressing, undressing, or simply wearing certain pieces of clothing. To help these individuals overcome said pain points, these brands have developed a wide collection of fashion items designed for individuals with specific disabilities.
If you don’t develop products (or product versions) tailored to the needs of potentially disabled individuals, then you simply aren’t going to be able to provide any kind of value to them at all. While you may not have done so intentionally, this means you’ll be excluding these individuals from your brand’s community altogether.
So, in developing products made for those with disabilities, you’ll be able to grow a community full of people who, unfortunately, may go largely ignored by other brands in your industry.
Taking things a step further, you might also decide to partake in various charitable events and initiatives that provide further assistance to those most in need. In turn, you can then rally your entire community around a positive cause—while strengthening the inclusive nature of your brand in the process.
The modern consumer is no longer swayed by a promise of exclusivity. They simply don’t want to be a part of a community that thrives on leaving others out just to feel better about themselves.
Instead, the modern consumer is often swayed by brands who show a true dedication to serving as wide a variety of people as possible. Yes, they still want brands to provide top-quality value to them—but they don’t want to receive this value while other consumers are left out in the cold.
As we move into the latter half of 2019 (and beyond), then, it’s essential that you stay laser-focused on attracting and including people from all walks of life in your brand’s community.