To say it has been a tumultuous past week in the United States would be quite the understatement. The death of George Floyd and the blatant racism projected at Christian Cooper sparked outrage that unleashed pent-up frustration surrounding centuries of the mistreatment and abuse of Black lives in this country.
Some courageous brands stepped up to bring a voice and take a stand in the face of injustice. Ulta Beauty announced a donation to the Equal Justice Initiative. Nike and Adidas, in a groundbreaking move, stood together in solidarity sharing Nike’s “Don’t Do It” creative. YouTube pledged $1 million in support of efforts to address social injustice while a myriad of other brands put out statements in support of racial equality.
As a marketing practitioner who led multicultural marketing at two Fortune 500 companies for a significant portion of my career, I have been contemplating whether these actions are truly impactful in driving forward true justice, or is there something more meaningful, more impactful that we can do to truly drive change?
As an Afro-Latina and the mother of a Black son, I am personally hurt and enraged by not only the recent events, but the history that has brought us to this breaking point. I will not allow myself to just sit in that anger, but my hope is to mobilize the industry into true impactful action.
We, as a marketing community, have stood at the forefront of bringing forward perceptions of diverse people since the days of Mad Men. We are the storytellers; we literally hold the pen to craft the story of how the rest of the country sees Black culture. As we embark on yet another ugly chapter in our county’s history being written, it is our responsibility do more. We must do more than release a statement, make a donation or craft a beautifully written tweet. This is our moment to drive true change for a consumer base that has served as the muse for aspirational culture for decades. From music to food to clothing, brand advertising has rested and built its success on Black culture and, in return, Black people have demonstrated their commitment to our brands.
How do we move from making this a moment-in-time donation or a public statement to real sustainable commitment to diverse consumers? There are three clear actions we should all be taking within our respective organizations right now if we really want to declare that #BlackLivesMatter:
1. Commit to hiring, retaining and advancing diverse talent across the organizations that are responsible for bringing this work forward. Commit to bringing in agencies that understand and reflect the dimensions of culture. Diverse insights and resonant work come from those who can connect with the very consumers who are the curators of culture. I have spent my entire career climbing the ranks of corporate America, often one of the most senior brown people in many a boardroom. Your Black employees are hurting. They want advancement opportunities, mentorship, promotions, support, visibility and real inclusion. A real commitment is reflected in the diverse talent pool at your organization.
2. Commit to really understand and reflect these audiences through best-in-class work that elevates diverse communities. This includes investing in meaningful consumer research and going beyond surface-level insights to develop work that is truly resonant. For far too long we have rested on the same superficial insights that are reflected in the work—a portrait of Black families around a dinner table, a Latina mom doting over her multiple children, the cool brothers spot chatting it up at a barber shop or basketball court. Get into your diverse consumers’ homes with detailed ethnographies, spend the resources to get a statistically significant sample on your next brand equity study and develop multidimensional knowledge of diverse people the way you do for your other segments. A real commitment is reflected in robust research budgets which leverage targeted quantitative and qualitative insights that develop depth of diverse consumer understanding.
3. And lastly, right size allocations to media budgets that target and engage diverse audiences. Ensure companies are investing in reaching, connecting and engaging with Black audiences where and how they consume content. Make it bigger than a reach formula; design a media budget with robust engagement in mind. Invest in the right branded content deals, leverage trusted social and influencer content to meaningfully connect and look beyond an eyeballs formula to engage your Black consumers. A real commitment is reflected in diverse marketing budgets.
This is our time to truly shift our advertising industry practices and drive real social change, but we must start with tangible action. We need organizations to recommit to this work, and we need to hold leaders accountable once and for all. Make this bigger than a tweet from your social media team, a statement crafted by your communications team or a donation. I am hurt and enraged, but I am hopeful that if we mobilize as a marketing industry, we can drive real, sustainable change. Fix the budgets. Hire and promote the talent. Tell the stories. Let us lead from the front. Let us be the storytellers and the reflection of American culture we have always been. Let us stand on the right side of history. This is how you really make #BlackLivesMatter in the marketing industry. Let us be the change.