When courage is capital, safe moves are a dangerous game
The theme of Inclusivity has made a strong showing in recent years. Culturally (National Pride Month), historically (50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots), locally (our favorite Mom and Mom’s shop mavericks Ladyfingers Letterpress), globally (Mastercard’s #acceptancematters), and of course, socially (did you notice Instagram’s @typewithpride?). It left us inspired to share a few thoughts on Inclusivity in modern America.
If you’re a brand paying attention in this intensely divisive cultural climate, you’ve been giving increased consideration to the once-optional ideas of diversity, inclusion, and “cause-related” marketing. And here’s the thing about those things:
WE HAVE TO DO THEM FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Shallow messages about deep issues are dangerous. They’re dismissed, distrusted and broadly displayed. Because, even in the midst of “ALL THIS” (**gestures everywhere**), we still want to keep each other safe, regardless of how we vote or parent or what we believe in… because we need each other.
And, the beauty of being wired for connection—is that its equal and opposite is true: we’re primed to detect deceit.
Check out this evolution of brand behavior, from our partners at Stylus.
Where is your brand in the Evolution of How Brands Take a Stand?
|Purpose replaced authenticity as the key driver of consumer engagement. Businesses began to bake social responsibility into their brand identity.
||Brands start to take stronger positions on more controversial issues, as a way of ensuring they shape, rather than just reflect, culture.
||Brands create passionate connections with consumers by helping to redefine social and political narratives, placing themselves at the front line of the cultural conversation.
|From “The Currency of Dissent: Brands Take a Stand”
And, if “redefining political narratives” feels too tall an order, not to worry.
Taking a stand doesn’t always mean taking a side. It’s equally powerful to rise above the fray and stand for universal values amidst a deafening debate.
So, what harmonizing statement can your brand make?
Start with what you can own, and own the hell out of it.
(And, don’t fall in love with finding a super unique “white space.” Start with where you are now. Because here’s a little secret: the last real white spaces we all can agree on are probably penicillin and the internet. Neither were brands trying to save the world or make a statement. Things like love, simplicity, honesty, ease, discovery, and human emotions are vast, deep, real, ownable places.)
On that note, no… we aren’t actively curing cancer (just yet).
But we are paying attention. And we’re showing up. And here’s what we know works for us:
KEEP A PULSE ON THE NEW CULTURAL EXCHANGE
“Multicultural” no longer exists, and “minority” is no longer credibly (or easily) defined, as we see the equalization of voices. We’re now a Polycultural society—where diverse cultures affect the mainstream, just as much as the mainstream affects each unique culture.
In recent years, a long-overdue cultural conversation has been cracked open by groups who’ve made their “distinctions” mainstream conversation. Our LGBTQIA+ communities, those with learning differences or disabilities, and those pursuing citizenship are the human forces defining Polyculturalism.
OBSESS ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION
Understanding the human condition doesn’t require special skills. It’s about listening. And responding, wholeheartedly, to those who in any way, at any time, have experienced feeling isolated from the whole. And this understanding comes with the knowledge that modern diversity isn’t just about ethnicity and language. You can’t call diversity done with more black people or women on your team. You have to Listen Up. And Listen Well.
Listening is what led VJ and the American Indian College Fund on a necessary diversion. Through conversations with Native students, community leaders, and Tribal College leaders, as well as donors and potential donors, we learned we needed to change our tune. Learn how.
So, watch for the rise of Microcultural communities in the world around you, and among those whom you serve, or can serve. These are further subsegments emerging with increasingly specific needs, and to connect with them means going beyond long-held narratives and Census checkboxes.
MAKE UNCOMFORTABLE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Small talk seems safe, right? The truth is, powerful conversations have nothing to do with the weather. And in today’s world, those small, “safe” conversations are becoming the most uncomfortable ones we can have. So let’s move beyond it. Where we’d like to be safe, we need to be bold. And curious. And humble. Because when we stay “safe,” we just sound scared, cold, out of touch.
BE THE VOICE THAT LIFTS THEIRS UP
Avoid the path of guilt, ignorance and just plain ignoring in your strategy. Make the goal of messaging to be conversations, causes and rallying cries, not just advertising. But we know, it can be difficult to know which conversation to join, and when. We start with these questions to identify in our up-front strategy how our output can be the most inclusive.
- What issues does your brand shy away from that you could be delving into?
- Think of the people your brand cares about—what do THEY care about? Spend some time really understanding that.
- When is your cultural moment? It probably happens every year, much like a holiday.
- Would or could you put muscle behind the message (e.g., staffing changes, product shifts, cause-oriented partnerships)?
- How can you make it fun, interesting, challenging (in a good way) for people to engage?
These are all human condition questions that make up open, ongoing conversations. We hold them regularly, spontaneously, and respectfully. Perhaps your elephant in the room will be next.