The Value of Bringing Diverse Perspectives into Your Marketing Team
February 2, 2021
If you’ve ever been uncomfortably cold in an office building, there’s a scientific reason. Back in the 1960s, scientists created a thermal comfort model for workplaces. The idea was to balance heating and cooling costs with individual comfort, to optimize both. Most office building thermostats still follow this model.
The problem is, the model assumes that the average office worker is a 40-year-old man weighing around 155 pounds (and potentially wearing a three-piece suit). If you don’t fit that description, odds are you won’t be in your optimal comfort zone. So we have decades of people with numb fingers and toes, huddled under blankets and cardigans, all because of a single, biased assumption.
Even in the realm of hard science, diversity matters. That goes doubly for marketing, in which we’re trying to relate to people on a personal level. We need diversity in marketing teams, and not just diversity of demographics like age, gender, and nationality. We need new perspectives, different worldviews, people with widely varied backgrounds and skill sets.
Diversity in every way can only make your team stronger and your marketing more effective. Here are just a few reasons that marketing leaders should avoid hiring clones of themselves.
Balance Out Bias
The problem with intrinsic bias is that it’s invisible to the person who has it. For example, scientists found that facial analysis software had higher error rates for non-white people. The AI used for facial recognition was reflecting the bias of its creators — computer scientists who had trained the system on mostly white, mostly male faces.
What types of bias might your creative team be blind to? Stepping away from race and gender, think about worldview. Does your holiday content feature wreaths, trees and red and green imagery exclusively? Does your copy assume a shared cultural context that not everyone can relate to? Everything from attending senior prom to living in a single-family house may seem like a “default” for a homogenous marketing team.
Without diversity in your team, in other words, you may be ignoring wide swaths of an audience that would otherwise be receptive to your business’ solutions. And what’s worse, you won’t know who you’re not reaching.
Spark Creative Conflict
During World War II, the allied forces analyzed aircraft that returned from missions and mapped out which areas on the plane were most frequently hit. Researchers then proposed adding additional armor to these “hot zones.”
Fortunately, a Hungarian mathematician named Abraham Wald noted that the planes they were examining were those that successfully returned. That meant a plane could survive enemy fire wherever these planes had bullet holes. The places to add armor were the spots where the returning planes had not been hit — because planes hit in those spots didn’t make it back.
Even the smartest people in a room can get caught up in groupthink. As a species, humans tend to seek consensus. A room full of nodding heads feels good… at least, until the next campaign flops due to a problem that could have been avoided.
Adding more viewpoints to your marketing team increases the likelihood of creative conflict. By that, I don’t mean heated arguments or drama for drama’s sake, of course. I’m talking about the productive friction that opposing ideas can generate, creating sparks that lead to innovation.
You don't have to look far to find examples of embarrassing lost-in-translation flubs from marketing's past.
KFC's "Finger-lickin' good" slogan originally translated to Chinese as "Eat your fingers off." Packaging for Pampers diapers in Japan failed to register with its stork imagery, which Procter & Gamble later learned is not commonly associated with babies in Japanese culture as it is in the United States. HSBC Bank decided to scrap its bold "Assume Nothing" global campaign after learning that in many countries, the phrase reads as "Do Nothing" -- a bit less inspirational.
I could fill a dozen blog posts with similar marketing gaffes. Even in these enlightened times of global marketing, we can still trip up and embarrass ourselves by missing subtle nuances that make a big difference in our audience’s eyes.
Having as many different cultures and worldviews represented on your team as possible can help you spot these potential faux pas before they’re on your website (or Twitter feed, or… you get the idea).
Get Real and Relevant
Ultimately, it comes down to a question of empathy. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes is a core competency for being a successful marketer. But empathy can only take you so far. Past a certain point, it’s pure imagination — guided by research, of course, but imagination nonetheless.
Hiring more diversity into your team means more actual empathy and fewer flights of fancy. It means being able to speak more authoritatively and authentically to all of your audience, with the cultural referents and worldview that rings true for each segment.
Diversity Starts in Hiring
For marketing leaders, fostering a diverse team means stepping outside of your comfort zone for hiring. For example, if everyone on your team is a career marketer with an MBA, that could mean hiring a Creative Writing major with a Bachelor’s degree, or even a graffiti artist with a GED. If your whole team is in their 40s, it could mean picking up interns who are Tik Tok-ing, Discord-chatting Gen Z-ers.
In other words, it may be easier to teach that graffiti artist how to market, than to teach marketers how to think like a young bohemian.
Oh, and if you’re back in the office: nudge the thermostat up a few degrees, okay?
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