- Five marketing experts discuss how inclusive marketing campaigns demand authenticity.
- Celebrating heritage months should come with a genuine goal to uplift an underserved community.
- They encourage seeking outside help from nonprofits or universities to ensure campaigns are tasteful and constructive.
- This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.
Growing up as a gay man in Texas, Curtis Sparrer said it was “tremendously validating and important” to him when he saw companies embracing gay visibility messages in their marketing.
Now, as principal of Bospar Public Relations and Marketing in San Francisco, Sparrer helps businesses of all sizes ensure that their marketing campaigns are inclusive and that messaging focusing on underserved groups is sensitive and authentic.
“I want all businesses to make people of all stripes feel warm and welcome,” he told Insider. “It’s important to do it with authenticity.”
A common way many businesses strive to promote diversity and inclusivity is by celebrating heritage months or recognition days, such as Black History Month, International Women’s Day, or LGBTQ+ Pride Month, with social media posts and other marketing messages. While this can help raise awareness, Sparr said small businesses should focus on diversity and inclusion all the time and reflect these values in their business practices.
According to a 2021 Meta study which surveyed 1,200 people and examined over 1,000 Facebook ads, more than 70% of consumers said they expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in their online advertising, but 54% said they don’t feel fully represented in the ads. Nearly 60% of the study group said they are more loyal to (and prefer to shop with) brands that support diversity and inclusion in their ads.
Sparrer emphasized authenticity as an important factor for businesses that want to celebrate or acknowledge heritage holidays. “There are times when something can be well-intentioned but could be wildly off,” he told Insider. He and other marketing experts shared some tips for how to get started.
Make inclusivity a core value
Lola Bakare, chief marketing officer adviser, inclusive marketing strategist, and author of “Responsible Marketing,” told Insider that fostering a sense of belonging for employees, customers, and communities should always be central to how businesses operate and factored into their marketing messages. “Doing what’s right is always what’s best for the business,” she said.
When a small business is crafting messaging focused on specific, often marginalized groups, Beth Booker, CEO and founder of Gracie PR in Naples, Florida, said they need to make sure it’s genuine; otherwise, it’ll come across as the “brand using a demographic as a marketing tool.”
“For example, if a brand is planning a campaign around Women’s History Month, that brand also needs to practice what they preach 365 days a year by hiring women, paying women what they are worth, and providing postpartum support,” she said.
Authentic marketing resonates with people and is more likely to boost brand awareness, said Michelle Thames, founder of Thames Media Solutions in Chicago.
“It’s definitely important to have a connection instead of just posting a meme and slapping up a picture, which doesn’t really resonate,” she told Insider. “You want your audience to trust you because you’re standing behind a cause or holiday that you really support. It comes across as more authentic when it’s presented as something you actually believe in.”
Strive to make a difference
When businesses celebrate heritage months, Bakare said they should take the opportunity to go beyond being a “cheerleader” for diversity. Instead, she encourages businesses to pay attention to issues affecting communities and become a “champion” or “catalyst” for solving problems and helping drive positive change.
For example, she suggests highlighting Black-owned businesses or sharing podcasts featuring women of color, rather than posting a stock image and a quote on social media for Black History Month.
Collaborating with an LGBTQ- or women-owned business on a social media giveaway, Instagram Live video, or other marketing campaigns is another way to show support for a specific community in an authentic way, Thames said. “People want to hear other people’s stories.”
Raising awareness or money for nonprofits that align with a company’s values and support specific causes is another approach, Abegail Cal, owner of AJC PR in Los Angeles, told Insider.
“If the non-profit or charity is something that’s near and dear to the company’s heart, that’s a good idea,” she said. “Doing the research and seeing exactly where the fundraising money goes is so important.”
Businesses should support causes year-round, though, not just during an awareness month, Sparrer said. “When you’re going for a cause, whether it’s women’s reproductive rights, trans awareness, or suicide prevention, you need to make sure that you’re doing it in a way that does no harm and does plenty of help.”
Ask for help
Businesses should think about their target audience for any campaign and view the messaging and content through that audience’s eyes, Booker said.
If hiring a marketing agency or consultant isn’t within the budget, she suggests businesses look at their competitors’ actions on heritage holidays. “Take stock of what they did that worked, what didn’t, and how you can improve on what they did for your campaign.”
Sparrer recommends seeking help from nonprofits, professional organizations, or colleges and universities within those communities to get feedback on ideas.
Ultimately, campaigns centered on heritage holidays should be focused on helping the community, Cal said, adding that businesses should involve individuals from different backgrounds in crafting the campaigns.
“It’s really important to navigate these holidays with sensitivity because there is a fine line between doing something in a tasteful and genuine way, versus doing something that can appear completely out of touch, or just doing it because every other company or brand is also doing it,” she said.