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Is your brand truly inclusive?

Find out what was discussed in our Open Perspectives Unplugged #2 - 'People want inclusion - not just to be included’

Black Lives Matter, Pride Week, #MeToo: Consumers and society are calling for change. As these calls grow louder, brands are faced with a pivotal question. “What does your brand stand for?” Creating a more inclusive brand requires more commitment than an advertising campaign. The onus is firmly placed on companies to drive inclusivity throughout the entirety of their business, from hiring practices and workplace culture, through to how we communicate with our consumers and our communities. "Being truly inclusive means matching the needs, wants, values, and variations of human diversity. It’s about understanding what matters to people and what that one individual person needs or cares about, not just creating an ad that looks like them." - MJ DePalma, Head of Multicultural and Inclusive Marketing, Microsoft.

In our second installment of Open Perspectives Unplugged, we dived into the concept of inclusive marketing, asking what does it mean for a brand to be truly inclusive? We were joined by a passionate panel who were eager to share their own experience of inclusivity, the good and the bad, and highlight their aspirations for the future. In order to present a diverse angle on this topic, our panel included: Dorcas Matomby, Account Executive at The Fourth Angel; Peter Cooper, Senior Marketing Segment Manager at Microsoft; Laura Collins, Head of Media at Merkle (winner of the Microsoft Advertising Global Inclusive Culture & Marketing Partner Award) and Frederike Probert, CEO and Founder at Mission Female.

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Positive impact of inclusion

Creating a more inclusive environment can be a challenge and requires commitment, but can be equally rewarding. Panelists, and attendees alike, agreed that they pay more attention to brands that go the extra mile to be more inclusive and considerate of underrepresented groups. Authenticity is crucial, Laura Collins Head of Media at Merkle, notes, brands must “not only talk the talk, they must walk the walk”. Dorcas Matomby of THE FOURTH ANGEL highlighted the example of Transport for London during Pride Week who not only included the rainbow flag, but also included the flags which represent the trans, a-sexual, lesbian and other LGBTQI+ communities. “It tells me they have done their research, they have done the work” she noted “It’s not just the moral thing to do, business-wise it makes sense to be more inclusive.”

Indeed, there is ample research to suggest that authentic inclusive marketing drives business impact. We found “64% of people said they are more trusting of brands that represent diversity in ads” and “59% are more trusting of brands that represent them”.Anti-ageism advocate and Senior Marketing Manager, Peter Cooper warned that brands who ignore certain groups are missing out on large swathes of consumers. He called on brands to “do their research and understand their target group, especially in the tech industry, as new technologies are made for all people, all age groups”.  This comment similarly rings true for the 1 million people with disabilities worldwide who are often underrepresented in advertising despite their powerful consumer-base. Marketers, take note.

Frederike Probert, who is highly engaged in female leadership topics, highlighted that many brands engage in greenwashing as a form of marketing initiative, instead of authentically integrating inclusive principles in their mission. In her opinion, those companies that genuinely engage in inclusion are more successful.

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Enabling structures

We can all agree that building a more inclusive environment is a goal we should all aspire to. But how can brands and individuals drive genuine inclusivity? Our panelists unanimously agreed that this was an outcome which could not be achieved without collaboration within all levels of an organization. “We need to reflect on ourselves to recognize our own unconscious bias” said Peter, highlighting that every employee has a role to play in creating an inclusive environment. This sentiment was echoed by Dorcas, who quickly realized upon entering the world of advertising, that driving an inclusive message throughout her campaign portfolio would require a lot more effort than if she played it safe. Understanding, reflection, and compassion are all vital skills for the modern marketer.

But what about leadership? To create a more diverse and inclusive work culture, there needs to be structure as well as strategy. But where should companies start? Laura Collins, who has been championing inclusion and diversity at Merkle for years shares some key advice for those addressing these challenges, “Start small, demonstrate impact, and then you can use that as leverage to get investment”. Again, passion and enthusiasm are key, “If you can find passionate people in your organization…and take advantage of the kind of things you can do without a budget like educational or networking events.” These early-initiatives do not require a lot of budget but can create strong impact and ensure further buy-in from senior leadership.

Allyship

"If you see minorities so to say that don’t have equal chances in a corporate environment, stand up for them! Do have the guts, bring together other people to support that person, and don’t leave them alone.” - Frederike Probert,CEO, Mission Female. Allyship is a topic that has gained massive traction in recent months, and for all the right reasons. But what does it mean to be an ally?

Authenticity is as relevant in allyship as in advertising. “Don’t assume that because you have the right intentions you are incapable of being biased” said Dorcas, “Allyship is not just a fluffy word, it is actually hard work…you need to get out of your comfort zone…companies need to take the initiative to say ‘This is a safe space, we are on your side, we are going to listen, we are going to change’. Peter Cooper explained that it all comes down to practicing and building awareness. It is about demonstrating and the willingness to do things for others. Look for opportunities to bring different people together to make hard decisions or to develop new technologies. “We have to be curious; we have to challenge ourselves, seek to understand. And that takes courage. This is about pushing boundaries and driving change in behaviors on how we work all together. Tackling conscious and unconscious biases are a good start of creating successful allies.”

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Key takeaways from our panelists

Peter Cooper: “It’s not about checking boxes, it’s about being open to everyone, acknowledging similarities and differences…it isn’t just about growing representation, it’s about treating people as community.”
Dorcas Matomby: “Your next great leader could be sitting in an underrepresented community, but they walked passed and decided that your company didn’t include them. They could have been your next CEO.”
Frederike Probert: “If you see minorities so to say that don’t have equal chances in a corporate environment, stand up for them! Do have the guts, bring together other people to support that person, and don’t leave them alone.”
Laura Collins: “It’s very easy to talk the talk, now we must walk the walk.”

We would like to thank all our panelists for creating such an interesting and inspiring conversation. There is so much more we could have covered, but sadly the time was up. But good news: a new session of our Open Perspective Unplugged Series is coming up.

On December 3rd 2020 we are creating a workshop on ‘People want equitable experiences’. Microsoft Accessibility Evangelist, Hector Minto, will provide a hands-on session by sharing tips on how to become more accessible and inclusive in your daily work and in your communication with colleagues, partners, and clients. Bring your phones and tablets so you can actively follow the session and learn how to use the accessible technology mentioned in the workshop. Register here.

Learn more on building business value through Marketing with Purpose and the 5 mindset shifts of inclusive marketing. To receive blog updates automatically, subscribe to the Microsoft Advertising Insider newsletter. Make sure to follow us on InstagramLinkedIn and Twitter to keep up with the latest Microsoft Advertising news and insights.