Hot Take: Stop Asking for "More Diversity" in Your Marketing Content
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: diversity is incredibly important. There are so many studies that show the benefits of a diverse team and society that there’s no real need to link to a source or share some statistics. What this “hot take” does attempt to do, however, is make a case for how, why and when to diversify your marketing content.
So, if we—author and reader—agree that diversity is important, why am I saying you should stop asking for it?
Why shouldn’t I request “more diversity?”
Diversity is a value—an outcome of shared internal practices and policies. It is a result of a common belief. If you have to constantly remind your content creators to include “more diversity” in your content, then even if you do start to include more types of people in your photos, for instance, you’ve already failed. If it’s something you have to request, then is it really a deeply held value within your team and business?
Take any other value, for instance. If one of your company’s core values is creativity, but your employees only ever use basic templates and never try anything new, then you should re-evaluate your values, not your marketing. It’s the same with diversity. If you have to request or force it, then maybe it’s not truly a company value.
You should re-evaluate your values, not your marketing.
Here are five things to consider if you find yourself asking for “more diversity” in your marketing content:
1. Diversity is more than representation.
So many people confuse diversity and representation, but diversity is much deeper than what’s on the outside. Yes, it is critical to have a visually diverse team, but that’s only one dimension. Your endeavors in diversity must include not only representation in visual but also in social, spiritual, political, national and ethnic aspects as well—to name only a few. How about this: let it suffice to say that the Republican National Convention can feature Caitlyn Jenner and Candace Owens as guest speakers all it wants, but that does not mean that they have diversified their platform or policies in any way whatsoever. They simply made them more colorful.
2. Diversity is a value, not a metric.
If you focus solely on the data of diversity, then you will likely miss the point entirely. You could conduct an audit of how often certain demographics appear in your visuals, but what purpose would that serve? The most homogenous company on the planet could diversify their videos and photos. Yes, they’d have incredible stats on the diversity of their Instagram feed, but as soon as a social media user clicks over to their website and sees a sea of copy-and-paste able-bodied white bros in their About page, then their metrics will mean nothing. If you do want to look at the data, then look at it more holistically. Does the ratio of [fill in the blank] people match the ratio of that demographic in our team? In our customers? In our vendors? Does the amount of times we talk about diversity in social media match the amount of times we talk about diversity internally?
3. Diversity is about equity and belonging.
We’ve established that customers deserve to see themselves not only represented in your content but in your company employee roster. But that’s not the end. Even when your customers speak to someone at your company that is radically different in demographics and psychographics, they should feel welcomed and understood. As an example, if you intentionally include a photo of a blind man on your brochure, you need to be exceptionally confident that your customer support specialists are culturally competent enough to understand his needs. Otherwise, your “diversity” effort will only succeed in making the customer feel tricked by false advertising or “virtue signaling.” And he most certainly will not feel like he belongs.
4. Diversity is a condition, not a person.
Many businesses request that marketers “add more diversity,” but what does that mean? Diversity is a condition, not a person or object. You can’t “add diversity” any more than you can “add trustworthiness.” Trust must be deserved and in many cases it can vanish with one wrong move. The very language of “adding diversity” removes the personhood of those you want to include in your content. Reducing people to “diversity” is antithetical to the values of diversity. Be clear about what exactly it is you want to include and ensure your attempts at diversity are rooted in dignity.
5. Diversity is a result of inclusion.
Diversity is the (ever-evolving) outcome of including multiple people, processes and perspectives in your company. First and foremost, it’s a constant process—one that needs to be tended and optimized—not a destination. And secondly, in the same way that trust is not a destination but a result of consistently accurate communication, diversity is not a destination but a result of inclusive communication. Before you work on showing an array of people in your content, you need to ensure you’ve done the work that fosters and leads to diversity. For instance, don’t show a wheelchair user in your website header photo if your brick-and-mortar store isn’t wheelchair accessible. You have to include people at every level of your business, not only in your content. In fact, I’d say that including people in your content is the last step; you should only feel confident “adding diversity” to your content once you’ve made diversity a given in every other aspect.
How do I improve the diversity in my marketing?
TL;DR: don’t ask for “diversity.” If anything, ask for specific demographics to ensure you’re representing your team, your customers and your company values appropriately. If you feel uncomfortable in making this request, then I encourage you to sit with that discomfort. Perhaps even bring the topic to the whole team. “If we aren’t ready to talk about this internally, then are we really ready to talk about this publicly? If we get questioned about the inclusion in our content, are we prepared to and in agreement on how to respond?”
And at the end of the day, your customers are not simpletons. They can see and smell inauthentic "diversity" from a mile away.
At Elevate My Brand, not only have we worked with some of the most diverse and ethical brands in the world, but we walk the talk in our own team makeup. We pride ourselves on curating culturally sensitive and inclusive content. When you’re ready to elevate your marketing, send us a DM!
Cody H. Owens,