Content marketers have always been tasked with understanding the challenges our audiences face. But few of those challenges are as complex, painful, and difficult to discuss as the effects of bias, systemic racism, and other damaging forms of discrimination.

If you’re wrestling with the role your brand and content plays, look (and listen) to the voices that exist outside of your typical echo chamber. Then, take an honest look at your business’ value through a broader and more inclusive lens.

At CMWorld 2019, I spoke with Christine Michel Carter, author, creator of Mompreneur and Me, and founder of Minority Woman Marketing LLC, about the work content leaders must do to increase diversity of thought in their processes and practices.

The advice she shared rings just as true today as it did last September. Yet, given the higher priority businesses are now placing on actively counteracting racism and inequality, I recently reconnected with Christine for an update.

It’s not just about adding voices … it’s about putting them in positions of power

One of the biggest problems that I’ve seen is that while companies might have some diverse professionals within the organization, and those folks may even be placed in leadership positions, they aren’t given the titles, the pay, or the clout to really sit at the table, which means that their ideas can often be ignored. That’s a huge problem because then we’re not really bringing diversity of thought and taking it seriously within the organization. We’re just giving people pet projects and checking a box, but it doesn’t really solve problems in the long run.
Cutting a check to a nonprofit advocating for #BLM is great; committing to having a certain % of your brand’s leadership be Black is even more meaningful, says @cmichelcarter via @CMIContent Click To Tweet

Bring diversity to the table – or risk leaving money on it

What are brands putting at risk if they aren’t taking the initiative to increase the inclusivity in their content efforts? Money. Money is what’s always at risk. For example, if we’re talking about [omitting Black women’s voices from our conversations], we’re putting an estimated $1.5 trillion at stake because those women are not only able to purchase, but they’re also able to influence other generations within that race and across other races. They’re quite often thought leaders and innovators within the consumer landscape. So, you’re really losing a lot when you fail to consider that entire audience.

Hire for culture add, not culture fit

One of the beautiful things that I’m seeing is the increase in hiring for diversity – including freelancers, influencers, and content creators – as companies begin to accept that they need help learning to speak to those audiences.

Look for somebody who has experience speaking to that [distinct audience segment] you’re targeting, such as consumers in urban communities – somebody who has a great personal blog or a great social media presence and has already developed a voice in that community and strong rapport with that audience.

Take actions that will speak louder than words

There’s a large population of Black women who are bloggers. Yet, when you go on social media, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the volume of their voices. It wouldn’t be hard for a company to find experienced, diverse bloggers who can support their content marketing goals. They just need to be willing to do it.

That work includes putting their leadership (and not just their money) where their mouth is. For example, cutting a check to a nonprofit advocating for Black Lives Matter is one thing; committing to having a certain percentage of each department’s leadership be Black is even more meaningful.

Of course, no article on diversity and inclusivity can be adequately covered from just one perspective. So, I invited a few more voices of experience on the topic to weigh in with their own thoughts and ideas.

Following the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd, Televerde’s head of marketing and marketing services, Deanna Ransom penned a powerful article on how Black employees are feeling and the actions they want business leaders to take right now. Here, Deanna shares her thoughts on how brands can increase their support of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) audiences – in their content and among those who contribute to it.

It’s OK to not have all the answers

I’ve seen some brands struggle with making clear statements on where they stand. For me, a good step one is taking an honest assessment of how you, as a company, really feel about diversity and inclusivity. You have to start there. What is your stance? And if you’ve not formally created a stance, what an awesome opportunity you have to do it now.

I mean, when you look at a company like Nike, they have always had a pretty clear stance on who they are and how [diversity] fits with their brand purpose and brand promise. It is very authentic because it’s built into the brand’s identity. And when something’s a part of the identity, it definitely leaks into the strategy.

It’s about asking, “Who are we right now and who do we want to be?” Have you just found a gigantic gap [between those states]? It’s OK if you do find a gap. But then ask, “Do we have voices that can help us be authentic in how we speak to that gap?”

If not, that’s OK too because now you know to go look for partners and alliances that can spark those deeper conversations in your content. There’s nothing more authentic than saying, “I don’t know,” right? We might not have the right words to speak, so we’re reaching out to our partners and asking them, “What should we say until we get the words?” How powerful is that?
Not sure how to create authentic connections with BIPOC audiences through #ContentMarketing? You have the power to say, “We don't know … but we want to,” and then ask your brand partners for help, says @DeeRansom3 via @CMIContent Click To Tweet

Seek native authenticity

Look around the room. If everyone in the room looks like you, you need to invite other people into the room. Give permission to the people in the room to say, “Wait a minute, we’re missing a couple of voices.”

If you have a lot of really, really, really smart people, but you’re not getting different voices, different people to contribute, you’re not going to have authenticity [with BIPOC audiences] in your content. It may have the intellectual piece, but it won’t ring all the way through.

For me, great content marketing means that I’m going to be able to find myself in your brand’s message, in your story, in your imagery. And that’s a big part of what I look for – not whether it rings to me professionally or it rings to me personally, since those can be two different things. But what I love most is when it rings to all of me. Content has the ability to do that.

Include BIPOC audiences in your storytelling journey

Here’s another thing that content can do: It can help to say, “We’ve identified something [we want to explore]; take this journey with us.” Who doesn’t want to get brought into a journey? And helping a company that is willing to say, “Help us be better”? Well, now through your content, you are enabling new voices to power your journey in a powerful way. You’re also enabling them to connect with you, and that’s so authentic. Everyone can buy into that. And I think that’s a powerful place where content leaders could help spark that conversation. You have the power to say, “We don’t know, but we want to.”

Content leaders can put, as part of informing their strategy, a story-gathering component into their storytelling process. In areas where your brand doesn’t have the right stories to tell, this enables you to go get them from your audience.

You might find a story that is so powerful, you may want to ask permission to tell that story or to share that story. It becomes very authentic because it’s in that person’s voice, so you become an amplifier.

Our success is really about our customer success. It’s their story, we just power it. We just enable it. If it’s not an authentic experience and you can’t speak to it, there’s nothing wrong with that – I mean, we’re not all living the same experience. We’re not all coming from the same place. But gathering stories, sharing stories, telling stories, using the right imagery, and messaging to share that story … now you’re finding [your] blind spots… [filling them in] will only make your brand stronger, your reach stretch further, and your resonance greater.

CMWorld attendees may recognize Sydni Craig-Hart from the many presentations she’s delivered on multicultural marketing. Here, the co-founder and CEO of Smart Simple Marketing, an agency that advises brands on how to engage small businesses, women, and minorities, talks about the difference between empty virtue signaling and serving BIPOC audience needs in a meaningful, empathetic way.

What a meaningful shift towards diversity looks like

Everyone’s so concerned right now about not making a mistake and not getting it wrong. But here’s the thing, you’re not always going to get it right. There are no easy answers to any of this. A genuine effort, genuine interest, and genuine investment in diverse perspectives, that is going to shine through in what you’re trying to do.

One of the best examples I’ve seen of this exact formula is Google. Google has created a product inclusion team. This team’s specific job is to consider diverse perspectives as the various teams build products. I think it’s really cool that, at the product development stage, Google is really trying to invest in making sure they’re inclusive. Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect; but, they put a considerable amount of money and resources into serving their incredibly diverse audience, and you can tell. You can see it in the result of the product, which then, of course, makes our job as marketers a lot easier. So, I think that’s a really important consideration too.
Brands that invest in customer-centricity will have fewer problems with multicultural marketing. And then diversity doesn’t have to be dealt with. It’ll just be a part of how we do our jobs, says @SydniCraigHart via @CMIContent Click To Tweet
Doing that level of investment on the front end and the awareness that it creates and the insight that it provides, that’s priceless. That’s really how you shift people’s perspective.

I think the more companies follow that example and invest in getting to know their customers – meaning talking to them, or spending a day with them, not trying to pitch them, not trying to sell them, just to watch how they operate from their eyes – the more successful they will be at creating inclusive content. That is what customer-centricity looks like. Brands that invest in genuine customer-centricity are going to have a lot fewer problems with multicultural marketing. It will just become an organic part of what they do. And then [diversity] won’t be a thing that has to be “dealt with” or a thing that we have to fear making a mistake around. It’ll just be a part of how we do our jobs.

Marketers have a responsibility to speak to all customer communities

I feel so strongly that, as a marketing community, we do not respect, own, and do right by the responsibility that we have. We have an amazing impact on the conversations that happen in the world, how consumers think about certain topics. The content we create can either unify people or create more division. We have this amazing opportunity and responsibility, and we do not do right by that as a community. At all. We keep getting caught up, in our KPIs, and “will management want this?” We don’t advocate for all the people we claim we want to serve. This is not a black, or white, or any color issue. This is across the board.

If you have a supplier diversity program at your company, you need to get to know what those folks are doing and leverage their expertise. They can help you source and vet diverse suppliers who can support your efforts to create more inclusive content. They are fantastic partners for you and will help you do a better job of meeting your goals. The supplier diversity team will help you find all the resources you need, at every stage of the marketing funnel and save you from yourself because usually, nobody’s team is diverse enough to take into account all [your customers’] perspectives.

If you do not have a supplier diversity program in your company, you should. Until your company launches a formal program, you can still go seek out diverse voices – even if it’s freelancers. Maybe you don’t have the budget for a consultancy or an agency. You can hire more diverse writers to write for you. At the very least, you need to invite in multicultural marketing experts to weigh in on your overall strategy. There’s no excuse for not inviting diverse voices to the table.

Paying attention vs. paying lip service

I’m so annoyed at this knee jerk reaction of, “Oh, well we gave the XYZ organization $10 million.” OK, that’s nice. I appreciate that. But where’s the accountability for that donation? So, you wrote XYZ organization a check and …? You don’t know what the impact of that is. Are you going to be following up with them and tracking what they’re doing with that $10 million and what the impact will be on your business?

If a company wants to stand up and say, “We want to advocate for people of color,” “we’re going to make sure we’re inclusive,” “we’re committed to inviting diverse perspectives to the table and supporting diversity,” writing a check doesn’t let you off the hook for doing the work.

If you want to create a meaningful impact and create change in your organization and better support multicultural audiences, you need to create your own program, put the right people in place, and make them do the work on themselves, and the brand, and the marketing. You can track that. There’s accountability there. There’s an impact there, versus just writing a check and going back to doing what you always did.

No matter [what organizations] you give the money to, they’re going to use it for what they think is important. And that may not align with your audience and your customers. To create a meaningful impact, create your own program, invest in that program, and hold yourself accountable for meeting your commitments.

While the recent rise in overt acts of racism – and the resulting resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement – have highlighted the need for radical changes to the way businesses include and engage BIPOCs, other marginalized voices are still calling for greater representation, inclusion, and equality, as well.

To explore the topic of diversity from a different angle, I spoke with Norel Mancuso, CEO of Social House, Inc., who has spent much of her career battling the stereotypes of a gay, female leader in the business community. Below, she shares her views on content that resonates strongly with LGBTQIA audiences and the benefits brands stand to gain by engaging them.

What it takes to purposefully engage the LGBTQIA audience

There has never been a better time for brands to bring the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the LGBTQIA community into their content initiatives. Marketing campaigns are often created from the inside of an organization and then broadcasted outwards. However, now more than ever, content needs to be created from the outside, and those perspectives need to be brought inwards toward the brand and its audiences.
Placing rainbows on your products is not “engaging” the LGBTQIA community. Support needs to consist of actions that are ongoing, relevant, and don’t just occur during Pride Month, says @OurSocialHouse CEO Norel Mancuso via @CMIContent Click To Tweet
Historically, marketers have gained a reputation for generating creative campaigns in silos; sometimes they work and sometimes they come across as pandering. As a solution, I would encourage and advise brands (of any size) to work with their LGBTQIA employees and external agency partners who will know how to appropriately and authentically engage this community in ways that will bring positive change (versus just checking a diversity box).

How to support this community in your content

Although the intention is to showcase the support of those who are LGBTQIA, brands launching products with rainbows on them is just not the solution to engaging the community. Supporting the community needs to consist of actions that are ongoing, relevant, and don’t just occur during Pride Month. Consider the challenges that the community faces and help by donating to these causes and incorporating authentic LGBTQIA stories (from real people) into your ongoing social content narrative.

Manage responses to your content initiatives

People will always have opinions on the actions of brands, so it is mission-critical that there are proper checks and balances put into place prior to content being published. Get second opinions on content that you think might be misconstrued. In terms of community responses to discriminatory comments on social media, we always advise clients to have community guidelines posted on your website and/or on Facebook Notes. These community responses should state what your brand will and will not tolerate in terms of things like hate speech, heckling, and other questionable actions that your company will not stand for.

Want to share your thoughts on this article or suggest additional ideas? Email us at [email protected].