HOW TO BUILD A BRAND THAT IS INCLUSIVE WITH SONIA THOMPSON

Sonia Thompson

A customer experience strategist and consultant, as well as CEO of the Thompson Media Group, Sonia Thompson talked to us about how to ensure our branding is more inclusive. Having spend nine years in pharma and biotech, Thompson started her own business and has spent the last four years working on inclusive marketing (as an inseparable part of the customer experience.)

 

Historically under-served communities such as BIPOC, or even left-handed or gluten-intolerant individuals, can feel left out of marketing campaigns if they aren’t fully inclusive. Exclusion can occur through age, body-type, or anything which makes the individual feel different or out of place.

 

Engaging Women and Minorities

 

Understanding the specific challenges minorities face will help you to address the problems these customers experience. Representation is important, but deeper understanding is more helpful. Issues of equal pay, the struggles of working moms, and other such challenges can be targeted for specific interventions when you plan your strategies.

 

Be proactive in normalizing difference; for instance, advertising that your food or hospitality business has many options for people with dietary restrictions. Another example might be using gender pronouns in public-facing communication.

You could also celebrate events that are important to certain communities, while bearing in mind that you should ideally be supporting diversity all year round (not just during Pride Month, for instance.)

Leading through Example

Building a diverse team is a good starting point for promoting diversity in your business activities. In this way, you demonstrate in your hiring and team membership choices that you really value diversity. Sometimes this might mean mirroring the demographic make-up of the area you serve.

However, if you don’t have an especially diverse team and want to get there, it’s a good idea to set specific goals and milestones to work towards. The first diverse hires won’t feel so isolated if they know there’s an ongoing strategy to build proper diversity. Communication is key here.

A business case can always be made for learning about an underrepresented community’s needs. Doing so tends to build loyalty, and these customers will come back time and again since they have found a brand that understands their needs. The perception of a diverse brand spreads goodwill throughout non-minority allies too.

As Thompson points out, “The niche consumer is often the lead consumer” – their needs often come first within a family, for instance, because they are more specialist (i.e., gluten intolerance).

Inclusivity can Start Small and Build

Thompson is realistic about inclusivity goals – being all things to all people may prove impossible, particularly for smaller businesses. Decide who you specifically want to approach and appeal to, and who you can realistically target, based on your in-house diversity and expertise.

She gives the example of David’s Bridal including the quinceañera in their list of supported celebrations, which appealed to the Hispanic community. It was a simple thing to do, and it promoted an inclusive brand, whilst opening up a new business opportunity, of course.

Bringing in Diverse Expertise

You have to use cultural intelligence and expertise to ensure you have the appropriate impact. Clumsy attempts at diversity can have a negative overall effect.

Thompson talks about a healthcare company who discovered they had a high attrition rate within the black community, despite a high incidence of the disease they tackled. The company brought Thompson in to analyze what specifically was going in within that community which they did not have the in-house expertise to predict.

Dealing with Objections

There may be those that think that diversity programs are actively excluding certain sectors, but if you share the data on inequities, most reasonable people are convinced. Those that remain indifferent may simply not be the kind of people you want to be in business with.

Furthermore, as Thompson says, “whenever people aren’t moved by the moral imperative […] they are moved by the business imperative, and the business case is more than there.”

Diversity in Teams

There’s plenty of data to show that diverse teams work better. Sometimes resistance stems from the white majority feeling disenfranchised when they are no longer centered. Although we may have little sympathy for such an emotional response, if we alienate the white audience, we won’t get very far.

There’s a strategic approach to incorporating diversity training, for instance. You can use hard-hitting analogies that clearly illustrate problems in inclusion, and make teaching sessions interactive and interesting, rather than preachy and boring.

Once you engage empathy and understanding, you can begin to make a real difference. Ask people to come up with examples from their own life where they had analogous experiences. This helps make key points hit home.

Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Intelligence

Where this occurs, an individual is using aspects of another’s culture without acknowledging the significance of its origin. Cultural intelligence is a deeper approach to sharing culture, where you make efforts to understand the history and cultural significance of your influences, whilst giving credit to their point of origin.

If you are in doubt, it’s worthwhile using sensitivity analysts or readers to ensure your use case and the messaging around it are appropriate.

Expanding from your Culture Outwards

It’s important to be brave and push part any limitations you feel when expanding your offering beyond your own specific community. Your differences can become strengths, and your skills are transferable to a wider business community.

You can weave in aspects of your heritage and background when talking to colleagues, which can help them to understand your perspective. Don’t be shy about doing so. Have confidence that you have lived experience that others don’t, without such insights being a case of bragging or boasting.

By elucidating your background, you can create opportunities for connection and shared experience.