Being different is not a deficit. To the contrary, it’s our differences that make us stronger. According to McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Matters’ study, companies in the top quartile — from a gender-diversity perspective — were 15 percent more likely to generate financial returns above their national industry median. What’s more, companies in the top quartile — from a racial diversity perspective — were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. So embracing our differences and a more inclusive approach is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also very good business.
No matter how unbiased we think we are, bias affects us all. Forbes reports that, according to the Perception Institute, 85 percent of Americans consider themselves to be without bias when in fact the vast majority of us carry biases that exist and operate beneath our conscious awareness. That’s because we do 98 percent of our thinking in our subconscious mind. This is where we collect and store our implicit biases.
Awareness of Bias (Which We All Have) Is the First Step
If we’re going to move the needle on removing inherent bias, we must question both our assumptions and what we believe of ourselves — accepting that we have bias but with a commitment to act from a place of inclusion.
Reflecting on these questions is a great place to start in recognizing implicit bias that you may not have realized was even there.
- Have you ever avoided sitting next to someone in public based on how you perceived their race, religion or ability?
- Picture your three best friends. Do they look like you?
- Have you ever joked around and told someone to “stop acting like a girl?”
- Have you ever specified someone’s race when it was not necessarily relevant (for instance, referring to someone as a “Black doctor” or “Latina sales person”)?
- Have you ever ruled out certain neighborhoods as places you might live based on the town’s demographics?
(Source: Questions to Self-Reflect, lovehasnolabels.com)
Removing Bias From Marketing
As marketers, we have the unique ability to not only reflect but to also mold society. With that ability comes much responsibility. Like it or not, we are all biased in some way. With awareness, we can begin to extract the bias from the subconscious and move it into our conscious mind. Left unchecked, this subconscious bias in the work we produce as marketers makes its way into society and can reinforce unfortunate stereotypes.
Bias can be found in marketing in many forms, but the most common are age, gender and racial bias.
Initiate Bias Checkpoints
One way to prevent harmful bias from making its way into your marketing creative is to build in checkpoints. Here are some practical examples.
- Segmentation: In thinking about your target market for an ad campaign, are you relying on actual data about past buyers or your assumptions about who they are? Do the age, gender and ethnicity of your targeted customer align with the imagery you’re putting out? If 40% of your customers are Black, then 40% of the people featured in your ads should be Black.
- Creative Review: Is your content and imagery regularly checked by team members of a different gender and race to ensure it is bias-free? Are those team members encouraged to raise diversity issues or fearful to do so? Are specific he/she pronouns needed in each instance? Are you generalizing or otherwise stereotyping in unintended ways? Is your symbolism culturally appropriate?
- Channel Targeting: Has your digital advertising been checked for minority bias? Are you needlessly targeting based on age, gender or race due to gut versus data?
- Brand Alignment: Are you marketing to minority groups because they are aligned with your ideal customer base or are you exploiting these groups simply to generate attention for your brand?
Leaning In On Inclusive Marketing
Beyond adhering to these basic checkpoints, there is much we can do to ensure advertising is inclusive. Even if 90 percent of your current customers are white males, consider whether there is an opportunity to broaden your customer base by being more inclusive in your marketing.
Advertising with embedded bias will generally underperform a more inclusive approach. Delivering more inclusive marketing begins with moving beyond the familiar and challenging your assumptions. If your ads generally feature stay-at-home moms, consider shining a light on a stay-at-home dad. If your ads usually feature girls in dance classes, could you occasionally feature a boy? If you sell a beauty product that is usually consumed by white women, is there an application for women of color that could be highlighted?
The point is to question your assumptions so that you are inclusive of all people from a wide variety of backgrounds. That’s the beauty of this country. We are a fusion of so many wonderful nationalities, cultures and ethnicities. Let’s make sure our marketing supports that foundation.
Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals that integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, offering its clients a results guarantee.