Impacting Diversity at the Intersection of Marketing and Advertising

November 2, 2020

Smiling man in brown overcoat standing in office.

Marketing, advertising and communications are cultural currency. As marketing professionals, we are uniquely positioned to shape how people think, see themselves, and view the world. Marketing has the power to influence culture — this is a power we should not take lightly. Our storytelling exposes people to perspectives. We decide what stories get told. We decide what stories don’t get told. We decide what voices to amplify. We are responsible for daily socialization that impacts people over a lifetime. 

In the weeks following the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks brands have recognized that silence is no longer an option when it comes to social justice and the lack of diversity across the industry. People’s expectations for brands have evolved as consumers are aligning their values with their pocket books. Brands play a larger role in our lives and in our society and with a convergence of growing challenges, we expect brands to respond with more than a hashtag or empty platitudes; we expect action. As we saw with brand messaging in the wake of the pandemic, making a statement just isn’t enough. The expectation is a clear stance on social justice issues and a real commitment to action. 

Data indicates that the expectations for brands to play a larger role in our lives will continue to grow. This places marketers in an environment with the potential for high stakes impact on brand value. With the risk of inaction only increasing, it’s time for brands to face these issues head on. Even if your brand is not facing scrutiny, the urgency for shoring up your efforts on social justice and diversity, inclusion, and equity is growing. 

Rather than something to lament, this movement represents an opportunity for proactive leadership. It’s an opportunity for business leaders to be responsible with our influence before it’s too late — before your stakeholders, employees, customers, leaders and investors begin to question your organization's commitment. In fact, 85% of consumers say they’ll only consider a brand if they trust the brand. Consumers know that brands have the power to effect change, and they place their trust in brands that use that power on their behalf. It’s no longer enough for a brand to be competent. Brands must be ethical and invest in diverse teams while demonstrating a commitment to addressing issues that impact their stakeholders. 

Here are three things marketing leaders should keep in mind at a time when the nation is having a long-overdue dialogue about social justice.  

#1 Get and Stay Educated

The pace of change is rapid. In this environment, everyone should be committed to continuous learning about diversity, inclusion and equity as a responsibility of the job. Recognize that your brand may be starting from scratch, and no matter where you are in the journey, it’s important to get started today. 

Own your missteps with a growth mindset. Acknowledge that your brand hasn’t always gotten things right and share your commitment going forward. Invest in ongoing cultural fluency, fully recognizing that there may be mistakes along the way. What matters most is that you are doing the work and that the work translates to meaningful action. 

The ultimate goal is to build diversity, inclusion, and equity into the DNA of your marketing AND to have your actions reflect your brand’s communicated commitments. In a recent study, 63% of people say brands representing diversity in ads are more authentic.

Ask: how do we start including the voices and experiences of marginalized audiences into brand marketing? How do we ensure that our programs feature different races, genders, and ages? It is our responsibility as marketers to ensure that people are portrayed in a fair, accurate, and realistic way—instead of stereotypes that reinforce society's existing biases.

We should all do the work and get educated. This is a challenge that will take time, perseverance, and all of our efforts to overcome.

#2 Look Inward

There is a growing global conversation about social issues right now that places pressure on marketing leaders to respond. Consider the more than 600 Black agency professionals who released an open letter to industry leaders calling for an end to racism. The letter included a list of 12 actions to address the problem, including making specific, measurable, and public commitments to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing—a metric not currently tracked in the industry to indicate if any progress is being made. 

Public declarations of a commitment to diversity and inclusion are hollow if your employees know they aren’t true. Also, make no mistake, your customers and other stakeholders can distinguish between performative activism and substantive activism. Saying your brand will do better without connected action won’t stand up to scrutiny. While many brands have shown support for Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues in recent years, building trust with stakeholders today requires sustained and consistent investment. 

The journey starts with an internal conversation about the uncomfortable topics we so often avoid. Consider bringing in outside voices to support your team’s development and start incorporating your values into the fabric of the brand and your actions. While these conversations are often uncomfortable, imperfect, and messy, they are a good thing. There is no transformation without conversation - conversation with our customers, colleagues, and the examination of our own thoughts and biases. 

#3 Get Everyone on Board

Investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion is the responsibility of the entire business. Take Ben & Jerry’s, for example, which has always made speaking out against social justice issues part of its DNA. 

Transformation starts with your organization’s culture. As marketers, it is our job to understand people and different ways of thinking -- this helps us inspire action. What is the north star that guides your decision making? How do you communicate your mission with absolute clarity and authenticity? While it may be uncomfortable to put a stake in the ground, there is a need to be clear about where you stand as a brand. How do your brand messages support a culture of empathy and valuing people for who they authentically are and the insight they bring? 

Marketers build community and communities are vital in charting the path forward in diversity, equity, and inclusion. One voice has power, but a group of committed voices delivers the impact we want to see. For the vast majority of people working in both marketing and advertising, foot-dragging on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion  is massively frustrating. It’s time to confront the obstacles head on. In order to do this, we need to keep proactively having conversations about the issues until they are resolved. Does your brand live up to its commitments?

At LinkedIn our vision has always been to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. To help us realize that vision, we have made diversity, inclusion, and belonging one of our core values and our number one talent priority. 

The health of your brand depends on trust — and today trust comes by directly addressing and taking action on the issues that impact our society. Transformation can be uncomfortable, and it takes time. The forever altered world of work, implications of the pandemic and racial justice movement, coupled with technological advancements, are forcing the issue for marketing leaders. To change how people behave, we need to change how they think. Isn't inspiring people to commit to action what marketing is all about?

“Belonging isn’t something anyone of us creates for ourselves; it’s the product of a shared commitment by all to create a space in which employees can be themselves fully and have that fullness honored and celebrated...” — Rosanna Durruthy, VP, Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging