16 Apr 2015

Diversity Marketing: Who’s Doing It?

Diversity marketing isn’t about political correctness, it’s about the bottom line. So, which companies are doing it and are they doing it well?

Diversity marketing (or in-culture marketing) is an approach that recognises the influence of cultural programming, suggesting that different communication methods be used to best reach diverse groups, rather than operating a one-size-fits-all approach.

It acknowledges that, even within one culture, audiences will have different experiences and expectations. Diversity marketing tries to recognise subgroups encompassing ethnicity, age and gender, religions and physical environments.

It’s a departure from more traditional marketing efforts that targeted all communications at, for example, white anglo saxon protestants (‘WASPs’). Diversity marketing recognises that organisations may need to communicate differently with diverse groups to achieve success.

Diversity marketing perhaps shouldn’t be confused with being inclusive for reasons of political correctness: it’s a pragmatic approach that wants to better segment audiences in order to sell to them in the best way possible.

It’s an approach that recognises the size of the grey pound (value of older customers to a business), the pink pound (value of gay customers to a business), or the purple pound (value of disabled customers to a business). Diversity marketing makes good business sense. But which companies are doing it?

Multi-cultural cosmetics

Cosmetics and beauty products are one industry where diversity marketing is of especial significance. L’Oréal offers a skin colour chart in 66 shades, which enables customers of any ethnicity to find a matching foundation for their skin tone.

M.A.C., the leading quality cosmetics brand in Brazil and South Africa, offers 39 shades. The brand also offers multi-lingual in-store beauty advisors and models from a diverse range of ethic backgrounds.

The huge and expanding spending power of the cosmetics market for groups such as black or Asian women means these audiences need to be communicated with appropriately.

As China’s middle classes achieve greater spending power, their desire to consume beauty products rises. Euromonitor identified that the Chinese market for skin care and make-up products has risen close to 10% in recent years.

And this isn’t just happening in emerging markets. In the USA, non-white demographic groups such as Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans account for more than a third of the population. The spending power of this group is rising faster than for other groups. The value of the multi cultural cosmetics market is also rising outside the States with racially-mixed countries such as Brazil offering an expanding market for cosmetics and beauty products as incomes rise.

Global beauty giant L’Oréal recently made acquisitions in Brazil with the aim of taking this growing market seriously. Whilst the brand started out catering to Caucasian audiences in the West, catering to other customers means research and development into products for a much broader range of hair and skin types.

Sometimes the different target groups have opposite aims – in India and Japan it’s common to find products aimed at lighting the skin. In the West, people often use products to darken theirs. In Japan, so strong are the cultural expectations that you’ll want paler skin that Western visitors to the country have complained that they can’t even find an underarm deodorant that doesn’t contain whitening ingredients. Expectations of what’s normal to aspire to in terms of beauty are diverse, which is why it’s so important to treat audiences differently.

AT&T’s experience

Telecommunications company AT&T takes diversity so seriously that it has a dedicated Chief Diversity Officer. In a survey of Spanish-speaking households published under the title ¡Ayúdame!, ( “Help me!”), it was identified that that Spanish speakers are not only more likely to be perturbed than English speakers when they encounter a problem with their telecoms service, they are also more likely to expect refunds or free products as compensation, and they are more likely to discuss negative service experiences with others.

AT&T decided that diversity marketing was the right approach to ensure it did not lose customers by using the wrong approach with an audience that had different expectations about their services.

Really terrible diversity marketing

Microsoft got their diversity marketing embarrassingly wrong when they tried to move a visual ad from their home market in the USA over to Poland. A black actor featured in the ad intended for the multi-cultural US but his face was replaced with a white one for the less diverse Poland. In an unfortunate oversight, a single black hand got overlooked and Microsoft got called out for their crude approach. Diversity marketing is about much more than colouring people’s faces in a different shade.

How to employ diversity marketing

Diversity marketing, like any segmentation exercise, starts with in-depth research and data gathering to understand the audience being targeted. This includes things such as values, and perceptions, where they are and their preferred communication methods.

It’s also important to recognise the diversity within each group you have identified as a target. In the US, the Hispanic market is a significant one for companies to target but there is a big difference between Spanish-speaking first-generation immigrants than their bilingual children.

The Hispanic market further segments into groups such as Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Rican Americans etc. As with any segmentation exercise, it’s best to be as targeted as possible and really have a firm grasp of the group you are targeting before you attempt marketing to them.

Effective diversity marketing means adapting the message to the audience you are targeting rather than trying to adapt the market to the message. Start by identifying the audience you are targeting rather than trying to crudely adapt the campaign, Microsoft-style, for a different audience at a later date.

It’s helpful to recruit personnel from a diverse range of backgrounds, especially the specific ones you are targeting. It isn’t very helpful to have a team working on a communications approach without consulting members of the audience in question. It’s helpful to use focus groups and other studies to gauge reaction to your message but it’s also important to recruit talent from a range of backgrounds where possible.

Another important aspect of diversity marketing (or any kind of marketing communications) is to ensure it’s a two-way flow of communication. Get alongside the market you are targeting and ensure you are listening to them and incorporating their feedback into your comms strategy.

Contact with, and investment in, the targeted communities is an important component of a diversity marketing strategy. Such activity does more than simply establish a reputation or mindshare in the target group—it also connects the business to community leaders, and gives them more context for communication methods and expectations.

Working alongside individuals inside the community enhances the credibility of the business. In contrast, working without their input is likely to result in misdirected and/or ignored messages.


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