3 Common Mistakes Brands Make With Representation in Marketing and How to Avoid Them

Over the last year, a lot of brands have started to do a much better job when it comes to representation in their marketing. Whether it is in diversifying the speaker lineup at conferences or ensuring the visual imagery portrayed in ads and photography looks more like the people who are attending the conferences and or consuming the content, there is a noteworthy positive change.

For instance, a few months ago, I talked to the chief marketing officer of one brand whose team had even gone so far as to put clear metrics in place as to what representation should look like, by matching it to the latest population demographics of various groups from an ethnicity standpoint, and noting that negative stereotypes should be avoided. 

Even though there is plenty of progress happening on the representation in marketing front, there are some common mistakes being made that prevent the brands creating them from getting the results they seek.

1. Including the token diverse person

When you’re looking through a conference line-up, and you see the same usual speakers and then one person who is part of an underrepresented group, it feels like the brand did it to check their “diversity and inclusion” box. As a consumer, it feels kind of insulting.

Same goes when you’re looking at the makeup of a brand’s internal team, and they’ve got one person who looks different from all the rest.

If you really want to signal to your customers that they belong with you, particularly your diverse and niche consumers, don’t make representation feel like an afterthought, or something you have to do. 

Instead, focus on diversifying your network and circle of influence so you’ve got plenty of diverse talent to feature for events and to work with on your team.

2. Thinking that photography is enough

I recently conducted a representation in marketing research study with more than 1000 consumers. One thing that came through loud and clear was that consumers want more than just representative photography from a brand.

Your customers want features, storylines, and more in-depth content from people who look like them and have backgrounds similar to them. 

That may mean featuring more diverse experts in your educational content, spotlighting the stories of your customers from a number of different backgrounds in your ads and social media content, or showcasing testimonials from your diverse and niche consumers on your sales pages.

Photos can be bought, but real stories and expertise from real people cannot.

If you want to make diverse and niche consumers feel like they belong with you, go deeper than the photos. David’s Bridal does a great job of this. They feature a lot of user-generated content on their social channels that feature a broad variety of customers. And on their website, they feature the wedding stories of an impressive cross-section of their diverse customers.

3. Not building a truly inclusive brand

Increasingly, consumers are looking beyond just a brand’s marketing in terms of the products, services, and experiences they deliver to determine whether or not they are truly representative.

They are turning their attention to their internal teams and board of directors to see if they are representative as well. If representation only matters in your marketing, and not in your team building, then consumers get the signal that diversity, inclusion, and belonging aren’t as important to you as you would have them to believe.

The fix is to build an inclusive brand from the inside out. Your customers, particularly diverse, niche, and marginalized consumers want to spend their money with a brand that aligns with their values. They prefer to steer clear of the brands that are only being representative in their marketing just to get diverse and niche consumers to spend money with them, and those they don’t feel truly value or care about those who are a part of their community. 

Representation matters. More and more, this is becoming accepted. But not all representation is created equal. Avoid the mistakes above to ensure your representation efforts are seen as authentic and by the customers you want to serve.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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