There's no denying diversity

Appreciating the extent and importance of the diversity of communities is the only way forward in an increasingly global market, and public relations has an essential role to play in achieving this.

For more than 30 years, the US has recognised that its melting pot of diverse communities has a huge amount of buying power and influence.

Because diversity is defined differently by industry, these groups cross the range of women, ethnic minorities, faith groups, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) people, the disabled and seniors.

To that end, most Fortune 1000 companies employ diversity directors, whose responsibilities span internal issues, such as ensuring a diverse employee and supplier base, to external issues, such as understanding the demographics of the company’s customer base, and targeting those groups in an appropriate manner, with relevant touchpoints.

These directors work with specialist diversity public relations and advertising agencies to plan and execute sophisticated, integrated marketing campaigns in the media in which the groups consume, as well as in their communities, at a grass-roots level. These aim to work synergistically with the ‘mainstream’ campaigns.

These campaigns engage diverse groups by showing a respect for, and understanding of, their interests and values, as well as their cultural and lifestyle differences. Diversity marketing budgets are often separate, specially allocated funds, rather than reallocations from the mainstream budgets.

In the UK, the power of these diverse groups has yet to be fully recognised. Many organisations have no clue who their ‘diverse’ stakeholders are, or how they should target them effectively.

As an example of spending power, the black and minority ethnic market has an estimated annual disposable income of £32bn, known as ‘the brown pound’. The LGBT ‘pink pound’ is worth £70bn, while the senior market’s ‘grey pound’ is worth £280bn.

Diversity marketing has made many uncomfortable in the UK. Arguments presented against the need for it have included ‘We don’t need to talk about diversity in this country’; ‘That’s just something used to make middle-class, straight, white men feel guilty’
and ‘It’s positive discrimination’.

Simply stated, all are incorrect. There is a definite business case for diversity marketing in the UK, and it’s time to embrace it and benefit from it. Research and improved market share have proven, on both sides of the Atlantic, that recognising these communities’ significant contribution to an economy shows a respect that leads to unprecedented brand loyalty.

The tide is slowly turning. Some UK companies have recognised the potential for this brand loyalty by employing diversity directors, and targeting certain communities due to their existing or potential influence as key stakeholders.

However, these recent efforts are only scratching the surface. It is time for the rest of the UK’s commercial and public sectors to establish the make-up of their stakeholder groups and think creatively about what they have to offer the diverse groups within; as well as how they can truly reflect the society they serve.

So, how to get started? Begin with a diversity audit: assess your website, advertising and DM, packaging and PR campaigns. Look at your employee, supplier, constituent and customer bases, and employ a diversity marketing expert to ask the difficult questions, as well as tell you the possibly painful truths about where you stand. If you don’t have this information, then start gathering it through market research.

Once you have analysed your information, then act. Change your website. Be more inclusive in your customer and employee marketing. Develop diversity campaigns that are planned and executed sensitively and correctly, or you risk achieving the exact opposite of your goals, and losing your diverse customers by alienating them. However, do not let the fear of getting it wrong lead to inertia.

Inertia is not an option because homogeneity in marketing can no longer continue to be seen as acceptable. Diversity is the only way forward if the UK is to successfully compete in an increasingly global market.

Zena Martin is founder and managing director of Acknowledge Communications

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