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Inclusive marketing is ethical but also financially profitable. Here’s how to do it – and how to avoid the biggest mistakes.

Inclusive marketing is the talk of the town. But what does it actually mean? In short, this: people are different. Let it show.

Inclusive marketing takes into consideration that we represent various ethnicities, sexualities, genders, age groups and social backgrounds. We come in all shapes and sizes and our bodies have different abilities.

But why should you care about it as a marketer? In addition to the fact that it is obviously the right thing to do. 

Because according to research, inclusive marketing is also financially profitable. A report conducted by the award-winning advertising agency Heat found that 69% of brands with diverse and inclusive ads saw an average stock gain of 44% in a seven-quarter period.

According to another research, conducted by Accenture, about 70% of millennials are more likely to choose one brand over another if it demonstrates inclusion and diversity in their promotions and offers. And in a study by Microsoft Advertising, 70% of respondents we’re more likely to trust a brand if the brand represents diversity in its advertising. 

In the January issue of Forbes, marketing strategist and consultant Sonia Thompson predicted that inclusive marketing is the future of marketing. It’s a way for companies to reach new target groups and display their values.

So, what do you need to do to be an inclusive marketer? Here are eight rules of thumb.

1. Acknowledge your prejudices and assumptions

This might be the hardest step. People tend to think that they don’t treat others differently based on gender, sexuality, age or ethnicity. But be honest with yourself. Do you attach stereotypes to certain groups of people? Do you think, for example, that gender is related to driving skills or that elderly people are cute mascots?

What kind of news outlets, magazines, social media discussions and books do you read? Are the writers homogeneous, people like you? If so, broaden your perspective and the channels you follow.

Inclusive marketing requires broad understanding of the world and constant updating of your knowledge.

2. Avoid tokenism

Tokenism means superficial effort to be inclusive. For example, including one black person, one disabled person or one gay person into a group photo and thinking that that’s enough. In tokenism diversity is not genuine but shallow and perfunctory.

Virtue signaling means doing something only to show others that you’re a good human being. For example, you might say you promote gay rights, but do nothing about it. Or maybe you wave the rainbow flag on Pride week, but the act remains meaningless if you do it only when others expect you to do it. Genuinely inclusive marketing reflects diversity continuously.

3. Ask, ask and ask

No matter how many manuals or articles you read you probably won’t become a master of inclusive marketing if you don’t talk to people who come from different backgrounds. The most important thing is to ask!

If you are planning on including diverse people into your marketing, interview them. Find out what their values are, what kind of language they use, what they like and what they think about things. This way you can avoid creating stereotypical representations.

4. You’re not ableist, are you?

Ableism means discriminating against disabled people and glorifying able-bodied people. Ableism includes the assumption that everybody has the same abilities and skills, for example the ability to see, hear or walk the same way. The sentence “don’t trust anyone blindly” is ableist because it associates blindness with ignorance.

Ableism might also mean disregarding accessibility when designing a website. The site should be accessible to everybody, even to people with, for example, a vision impairment.

You can avoid ableism on social media by writing what is visible in the picture in its caption. In addition, if a person uses an app that reads the caption text out loud, too long and complex hashtags might be tricky so it is best to avoid them.

An accessible site is easy to understand and clearly structured. One way to increase accessibility is to write alt texts to photos, for instance “a kid plays with a dog”. The CTA should be clearly distinguishable from other content. (If you need help with creating an accessible site, we can help).

5. Be careful of cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation means adoption of cultural elements such as symbols, clothes or other cultural signifiers by members of another culture or identity. Cultural appropriation happens when a white, Western person wears a kimono or a headdress from an indigenous culture. Many cultural features of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples have been appropriated to Western culture. 

A good thing to keep in mind is that if you include a certain minority group in your advertising, make sure that the people truly belong to that group.

6. Find an inclusive tone of voice

Inclusive marketing also means that you think about the tone of your content and marketing materials. If you address a topic that is sensitive to a certain group of people with a humorous or banal tone, the audience might find it offensive. So make sure your tone of voice is inclusive.

Inclusive marketing also means using inclusive language. If your start your speech by saying “ladies and gentlemen”, you exclude those who are nonbinary. In the same way it is best to avoid assumptions concerning the genders of people’s partners.

The same goes with representing a certain gender in a stereotypical way; not all men are strong, aggressive, bad at housework or indifferent about their appearance.

7. Be mindful of the pictures you use

What kind of pictures do you use in your marketing and communication materials? Do you repeatedly choose photos of cis-gender, slim, white straight couples? A cis-gender person is a person whose gender matches the sex they are assigned at birth, but a person can also be nonbinary or trans. 

Try using more pictures of people who represent diverse sexualities, ethnicities, genders, bodies and age groups. 

8. Is your company truly inclusive?

What kind of people work at your company? Do you recruit enough people from different backgrounds? How do people understand diversity and how do you talk about it at work, or do you talk about it at all? Do people have enough knowledge of it?

The most important thing in inclusive marketing is to sincerely believe that diversity is valuable around the year, not just during Pride month. It also means you should have diverse people planning the marketing. This way you will produce content that is real and doesn’t scream white privilege. 

The bottom line is very simple: everybody should be treated as they are, and everybody deserves to be seen.

Text: Tiina Tuppurainen, Executive producer

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