As more companies announce major diversity and inclusion initiatives, big brand marketers continue to rethink their strategies on how to better represent multicultural America in their advertising. Those efforts are still in their early phases as marketing chiefs sift through research to determine how to authentically market to minority consumers.
“With Black consumers driving overall trends in culture and boasting a buying power of over $1 trillion, it’s imperative for brands to have a solid plan for how to reach and retain their Black consumers,” Denise Bennett, who specializes in multicultural marketing partnerships as VP of Brand Strategy at iHeartMedia, said in a recent webinar.
The events of the past year gave many marketers pause to step back and reflect on how they were marketing to minority consumers. “For us what it did was reinforce the responsibility that we have as not only one of America’s biggest advertisers but really one of its biggest storytellers,” said Gary Aurand, Director Brand and Creative at GEICO. “We saw an opportunity to really revamp our approach to make sure the representation of that diversity was always as positive and authentic and uplifting as possible.” While the auto insurance giant, known for conveying its message with humor and creativity, has made progress along those lines, Aurand says it still has a ways to go.
Lowe’s, another major radio user, focused on identifying where the biggest needs exist. That included actions that advance representation for people of color and for women in senior leadership roles, said Sharonda Britton, VP of Customer Relationship Marketing. “It starts with focusing on diversity in leadership at all levels so that we can show up and reflect the communities that we serve and the customers that have depended on us for the last year and half as an essential retailer,” she said.
For 23AndMe, which provides genetic testing and analysis, the self-reflection and learning began by talking to its customers and employees in the Black community. “It was a lot of reflecting but it was also kind of an audit – listening and learning before acting,” said VP of Consumer Marketing & Brand Tracy Keim. “This is not about a marketing campaign; it’s not something you do for a couple of months. This is a systemic, fundamental change of how you look at the world.”
Inclusion In Action
From that reflection and learning, these and other brands began to take steps toward more inclusive marketing. At Lowe’s that included launching its first virtual pitch program. Branded as “Making It With Lowe’s,” the goal was to help diverse entrepreneurs pitch their innovative products for the opportunity to get them stocked on store shelves. “This was done at the executive level,” Britton said. Customers and entrepreneurs were able to pitch directly to the CEO, the CMO and the President of Lowe’s stores More than 1,300 small businesses applied and 400 were evaluated for sale at Lowe’s, either online or in store.
One of the biggest wins to come out of GEICO’s reevaluation was a partnership with Tag Team, the Atlanta hip-hop duo that had one of the biggest U.S. chart hits ever with the 1993 novelty "Whoomp! There It Is." In the hit TV spot Tag Team Helps With Desert, done in tandem with The Martin Agency, a woman is working in her kitchen, when a disembodied voice asks if she’s familiar with GEICO’s product. Then, Tag Team shows up and hilarity ensues. Aurand called it “an example of taking advantage of an opportunity as it presents itself and really just catching lightning in a bottle… As the script started to come to life, we started to be really intentional about bringing voices of all types into the conversation.”
Getting It Right
The trio of marketers also talked about what brands get wrong when it comes to authentically connecting with multicultural audiences. Over-reliance on research was near the top of their list. “Research is critical… but it’s only as effective as how it’s interpreted and how it’s applied,” said Aurand. “To do that in the most meaningful, impactful way you need to have people with lived experience from the group you’re trying to connect with helping to interpret it. Otherwise you run the risk of misinterpreting or overlooking something entirely.”
Another common pitfall is rushing out a campaign that isn’t right. “If it’s not authentic to that brand, they probably should wait until they have an action or program or campaign that is authentic to who they are,” said Keim.
Britton said brands that get it right start with a consumer insight “that’s been tested with the right audience before rolling it out broadly.”