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Integrating Inclusive Messaging for Effective Marketing

Pushing for social change is more than participating in a march, donating money, and diversifying your social media feed. While those actions are necessary, they should never stop there. 

It is also crucial to implement ways to be more effective in daily life. Some methods may be continuing difficult conversations with family members from older generations or more conservative areas, volunteering at a local nonprofit organization, or rethinking processes at work.

Yes. At work. 

Using effective marketing techniques, we have the skills to capture people’s attention, and we have a voice to affect the way they see that world. We can’t waste it. 

People read what we have to say. Unless we do the work to unlearn our biases and are intentional in what we write and what visuals we use, we can unintentionally perpetuate harmful beliefs about others.

Therefore, even when we aren’t explicitly talking about diversity, equity, or systematic racism, we must be aware of the power and responsibility in our messaging. 

Here are five practices you must implement for effective marketing for social awareness:

Identify your own unconscious bias

Everyone has an implicit bias stemming from different facets of identity. While these biases are nothing to be ashamed of, we must work to unlearn them to contribute to a better, more inclusive world. 

Most marketers are white. According to the 2020 Marketing Career and Salary Survey from Marketing Week, 88% identify as white while only 4% as mixed race, 5% as Asian, and 2% as Black. Additionally, 82% of marketers reported they grew up in the upper, middle, or lower middle class.

Since marketers tend to come from these more privileged backgrounds, we are likely to unconsciously perpetuate biased beliefs against stigmatized groups unless we do the work necessary. 

Therefore, the first step to effective marketing must be to uncover and identify our own unconscious bias. 

Learning about other people’s life experiences through conversation can help open our eyes to larger societal problems and recognize our beliefs about them. However, your learning should not depend on others. There are plenty of reflective activities you can do on your own. 

Start by taking Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test and completing the short Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack activity. Then, listen to podcasts or TedTalks to learn about the barriers other populations face. You can also journal to reflect on what has challenged your old ways of thinking. 

Whatever your preferred method of unlearning, don’t try to rush through it, and remember that building social and cultural awareness should be an ongoing practice.

Rethink buyer personas

Even if you think your day-to-day functions at work have nothing to do with social change, there are still processes where your unconscious bias is seeping in. Take a step back and look over your responsibilities to rework the areas most vulnerable to your bias.

In marketing, one of these places is buyer personas. These are crucial for effective marketing, as they help us nail down our target audience and what voice, images, and topics we need to appeal to them best. 

However, to execute a buyer persona brainstorming appropriately, think critically about how aspects of customers’ identity influences how they perceive and interact with your brand. 

To make sure buyer personas contribute to effective marketing, avoid stereotyping. Just because we have an ideal buyer persona, that does not mean every individual with the same characteristics will want the same things. 

Also, make sure your ideal persona matches your brand. Just because your brand appeals to you does not mean everyone who is drawn to the brand looks or thinks like you. 

Furthermore, keep in mind that the ideal buyer is never the only one reading your content. Your brand may appeal to a population you initially overlooked. You don’t want to lose their interest by strictly marketing to the buyer persona and excluding all other possibilities.

Use inclusive language

Writing is the heart of effective marketing, and those words hold weight. 

Using exclusionary language can turn off customers from your brand. For example, coming across racist or sexist casts your company in a negative light for many people. 

On the other hand, inclusive language lends itself well to effective marketing. For one, it ensures all your customers feel welcome and safe. On top of that, it can introduce and normalize for many readers a more respectful way of thinking. 

Here are some examples of exclusionary language to avoid:

  • Phrases of racist origin (ex: ‘eenie, meenie, miney, mo’; ‘crackdown’)
  • Assuming that everyone in your audience shares a similar experience (ex: studying for the SAT’s)
  • Presenting heteronormative gender roles (ex: implying that women care most about domestic matters)
  • Discussing the potential for romantic relationships as strictly between a man and a woman
  • Defaulting to ‘he/him’ pronouns instead of the singular ‘they’

For tools to improve the use of inclusive language in your writing, check out Hubspot’s list of resources.

Vary the representation in your content image

Beyond just what consumers read on your website and social media, what they visually see is equally impactful. 

If your company frequently uses stock images featuring people, be sure there is diverse representation. Images should present various ages, races, economic standings, ranges of physical ability, and more. 

Also, be careful that your representation of a group of people does not feed into stereotypes. For example, including images of people of color is a must. However, if you only ever choose pictures of Black people for fitting the bill of “angry,” “frustrated,” or “annoyed” expressions, that’s not effective marketing for social awareness. In that scenario, your overall messaging feeds into the bias that Black people are aggressive. 

In part, your choices are limited to what options for photos are accessible.

A survey conducted in 2017 by the stock image company Shutterstock found that 41% of marketing professionals in the U.S. believed it was important to use images that represented modern society. 

It is apparent, however, that this did not encourage Shutterstock to offer enough diverse options. During the summer of 2020, the company released a promise to “consciously feature current, relevant and diverse visuals and contributors across all pages and collections.” This announcement was three years after their own survey demonstrated that these changes were necessary. 

When those companies drop the ball on what they offer, I urge you to explore more non-human visuals like nature or objects to avoid having a white-washed blog or social media page.

Edit for awareness

Every content marketer knows that there is no chance for effective marketing without first editing. Typically, this crucial pre-publication step polishes up readability, flow, accuracy, and focus. 

effective marketingEditing is also the perfect place to add in a filter to check for unconscious bias, exclusive language, and misrepresentations in images. 

If you work with an editor, you are in the perfect position. Having someone you trust read over your writing is a huge benefit to understanding how your words come across. That being said, the responsibility is never just on editors. Work together to develop a style guide that includes limiting bias in publications so that the whole team is on board with the expectations.

If you are in the practice of editing your pieces yourself, you have to hold yourself accountable. It’s difficult with your own writing because you just finished writing a blog post, maybe you’re exhausted, and you’re ready to wrap it up. But do not cheat yourself by cutting corners on social awareness

On your checklist of things to straighten up before hitting ‘publish,’ you must include a step to double-check for inclusive messaging. Implementing this habit is crucial for harnessing your voice for social change.

About Sanya Grace Kunicki

Sanya Grace is an intern at Ride the Sail Marketing, serving as a Marketing Associate. Writing, researching, and learning new approaches have always been a favorite that never gets old! In her free time, she is busy playing board games with loved ones, spending time in nature, and gearing up for her junior year at Hood College.