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Dear Inclusion At Work,
My company’s mission is to help more people travel, and we regularly hear incredible stories from users about the impact of travel on their lives. But one area we aren’t doing well in is diversity, the company is mostly white. Unsurprisingly, so is our customer base, but we really want to improve this.
We did some research and learned that potential users, especially people of color [POC], have been turned off by our website because of the lack of diversity. They didn’t “see” themselves in the existing images.
So, I’ve been asked to find more images of our users of color from our trips (we do not use any stock photos). The problem is, we really don’t have that many customers of color, so I’m not sure how to move forward.
I’m concerned that these efforts might be disingenuous, or even predatory. I have some experience being on the other side of this from college, when my image was over-used in promotion materials that made me uncomfortable. But as one of the more junior members of the team, I feel limited in what I can do.
I would hate for our customers of color to feel like we’re using them to sell some facade that doesn’t exist. Yet we need to do SOME marketing to even make more diversity possible. What’s the best way to go about this?
-Chicken Or Egg
Dear 🐔 Or 🥚,
You’re in a catch-22 that many marketers (and recruiters!) are currently struggling with: If you lack diversity, how do you appeal to people from diverse backgrounds? To be honest, there is no quick or easy answer to this question.
We understand the temptation to jump into “let’s get more photos of POC.” But the work of diversifying your audience requires deliberate thought and intentional action. Otherwise, you end up becoming a bit like the stereotypical shady car salesman –– he can make a lot of quick money by fooling people into buying lemons. But eventually, trust runs out and the business becomes unsustainable.
Put another way, your website, as part of your company’s brand, is a promise to customers. By adding more images of POC to the site, your company is implicitly promising an inclusive experience for people from diverse backgrounds. But if the product can’t deliver on this expectation, any gains in diversity won’t last.
So, if your company is taking steps to improve your services for new audiences, then marketing is simply an extension of that work. And you have many options to move forward.
First, we suggest digging deeper into the feedback you already have. Get curious about what it means for customers of color to see themselves in your marketing materials. Maybe folks are looking for destinations that are aligned with their interests, or content that addresses their specific concerns. Or maybe cost is a significant barrier – there’s no way to know without asking, so get curious and find out.
Once you’ve identified specific needs of potential customers, your job as a marketer is to showcase how your company’s services will meet those needs. You could build out a content campaign that incorporates diverse voices, or you could experiment with promotions, like discounts or referral bonuses. The key is to build alignment between your marketing tactics and the needs of your customers of color. Don’t be afraid to try new things, as long as they’re rooted in the real needs of your users.
But, it’s important to note, your marketing strategy will only be sustainable if it’s matched by improvements to your service. It’s common for companies, eager to appeal to diverse audiences, to jump straight into marketing without improving their offerings. But your potential customers deserve more than that, and earning their business goes beyond “blackwashing” a website.
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Chicken Or Egg, perhaps that’s why you’re concerned about marketing efforts potentially feeling disingenuous, or even predatory. If your company’s diversity efforts are primarily focused on marketing changes, this challenge might be beyond the scope of your role as a junior marketer. And you may need to express your concerns to leaders at your company.
Speaking up can feel risky and requires patience and emotional bravery. It might also cost you some social capital. Chances are, it’s probably not part of your job description to champion D&I. So we want to make it clear, you do not have to speak up. At the same time, if you can take the concerns from your letter to us and can express it to your team, that might be the biggest contribution you can make to your company’s diversity efforts.
Chicken Or Egg, we wish we could offer you some tactical advice or guaranteed steps that will lead to a diverse audience. Instead of offering superficial solutions that has you spinning your wheels – at best, are inefficient use of resources, and at worst, are potentially unethical – we want you to be set up for success.
Truly great marketing starts with a product worth buying. But the work of creating an inclusive product is slow and hard. And many companies opt out of building products that truly serve diverse audiences.
So take heart, and know you are not alone in navigating this difficult work. Continue asking these questions, and pushing your team to meet your customers where they are. That’s what good marketing is – connecting with people and helping them get to where they want to go.
Bukky & Jen
- In a previous column, "Why Product Builders Need D&I," we covered how to speak up about building products with inclusivity in mind.
- Read up on the concept of "racial capitalism" – a common practice where diversity is reduced to a brand.
- Highly recommend looking into work of Tom Burrell, who said that "Black people are not dark-skinned white people" and pioneered new era of marketing in an increasingly diverse world.
- Woman of Color in Wide Open Spaces – a beautiful essay by Minda Honey
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