Consumers want companies to take the lead to help solve society’s toughest problems. 54% of consumers agreed (and only 18% disagreed) that they “believe businesses should take the lead in solving key issues in our culture and society today,” according to the most recent wave of the Gartner Consumer Values and Lifestyle Survey. And for consumers, that begins with companies making sure that their own houses are in order when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DE&I as it’s come to be known. (See chart below.)
DE&I has typically been an internal initiative lead by HR and measured with HR metrics. And tracking those metrics will be a powerful first step to meeting consumer expectations. But soon, marketing leaders may find themselves tasked with making sure brands are accountable to the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion too. B2C organizations are or may soon be tasked with ensuring that the outputs of marketing reflect DE&I goals as well. That means tracking how well the emails, commercials, print ads, sales collateral, social posts and more measure up to the company’s DE&I goals. And that will require metrics and processes most marketing organizations don’t yet have.
Tough decisions lie ahead.
One financial services industry marketing director I spoke with recently said she was being asked to ensure that all marketing collateral aligned with the company’s DE&I goals. One of her colleagues suggested that the simplest and safest approach would be to make sure that 13% of people depicted in their marketing outputs be Black, 18% Latino and 60% white. Because that would make those outputs representative of US population.
(If this blogging platform allowed for emojis, I’d pop that wide-eyed, slightly surprised emoji in here – you know the one.)
Even at first glance that approach doesn’t make much sense: What if your materials only use only one or two images? What if those few images feature only one or two people? Do you track representation on a per image basis? Or do you measure representation across all of your outputs? Should representation be proportionate with the general population? The company’s customer base? The typical consumer in the financial services sector?
You’ve probably already reached the conclusion she did: Thinking this way – checking the box on representation – is impractical and will only drive the organization into weird or bad decisions that might meet the metric, but won’t actually ensure that marketing materials are inclusive.
That client is now embarking on an effort to identify aspects of inclusivity in marketing outputs that are quantifiable but actually meaningful. This won’t be easy. But the task will be made easier if she mines her company’s HR DE&I metrics for inspiration and connects with peers in other organizations (within sector and outside it) to share best practices. She should also stay open to the possibility that assessing brand communications’ inclusivity simply can’t be distilled down to a trackable data point.
My colleague Lindsey Roeschke has blogged about the importance of focusing on the higher ideals of DE&I and not just on the consumer groups whose marginalization is getting the most attention at the moment. And she’s right. It’s going to be critical that marketing leaders’ approach to inclusion is itself inclusive, and that organizations start with their own internal practices and policies.
But this is the era of dashboard-driven brand management. And in short order many marketing leaders are going to find themselves accountable for quantifying and monitoring the degree to which marketing outputs reflect the DE&I priorities of the company and its customers. They would be smart to keep their eye on the larger goal.