A few weeks ago, Brandemonium, a branding-focused conference and festival, made its first appearance in Cincinnati, creating waves in the city. Of the impressive line-up of speakers, some of the notable brands represented included Kathleen Hall, CVP of Brand, Advertising and Research at Microsoft, Jaideep Kibe, Vice President at Coca-Cola, and Kirk Perry, President of Brand Solutions at Google, as well as agency-led panels and speeches, including a Best Global Brands panel facilitated by Interbrand. There was a feeling in the air of creativity and inspiration. While the collection of speakers and topics was diverse, there was a single theme that emerged as a common thread throughout all of the talks. This theme is one that is needed more now than ever before: inclusivity in branding.
With the current state of our society, from both a cultural and political perspective (which some even say are intertwined), inclusivity and diversity are consistently hot topics in the media. From the acceptance of unisex bathrooms to the first female Democratic presidential nominee, society has embarked on a transformation to become more inclusive. TV shows like Project Runway are now including models ranging in sizes, breaking the stereotype that a certain body type can succeed in the fashion and model landscapes. Looking through a brand lens, inclusivity in branding allows for all customers to see themselves in that brand. From marketing campaigns showcasing a diverse consumer base to physical representations of diversity in-store or online, brands need to transform instep with society to maintain relevance in the marketplace.
Brands have to actively choose inclusion; it doesn’t happen overnight. There needs to be deliberate effort and thought invested into how a brand can become more inclusive. Brands should create environments where consumers feel like they belong. Consumers seek relationships with the brands they interact with. In order to foster strong relationships, the brand must enable the consumers to be able to see themselves within that brand. Brands can’t just add people of different ethnicities into their marketing campaigns and call themselves “inclusive.” Inclusivity has to be at the core of everything a brand is and does. Across the brand, there needs to be a passion and adherence to inclusiveness that resonates with the audience everywhere they interact with that brand. If there isn’t, the effort just comes off as inauthentic, causing more harm than good.
Target’s CMO, Rick Gomez, presented on Friday of Brandemonium. He discussed Target’s integration of new mannequins into their stores that showed a range of sizes, in addition to the inclusiveness of their ad campaigns. They created five new boundary-pushing mannequins ranging from size 4 to size 22 to showcase female clothing on real body shapes and sizes. “People loved them! The most popular mannequin size was actually the size 22 mannequin,” he said in his 40-minute presentation. They put inclusivity at the heart of their initiatives, and had buy-in within the organization. Target wanted to make a change in the marketplace, and they followed through. Consumers can expect other retailers to start to follow suit.
Building a relationship with every consumer is crucial for repeat purchase, as well as acceptance of cultural values. Brands need to turn strangers into friends before they turn strangers into customers. Seth Godin, a renowned author, blogger and lecturer, also presented at Brandemonium. He talked about how important the connection between brand and customer is. “Word of mouth is more important than actual marketing. If people talk about you, word spreads, in turn, driving brand recognition,” he stated. Being able to connect with customers and meet them where they are on a mental, emotional, or spiritual level, rather than trying to bring them in to where the brand is, will allow for them to feel like they are being seen, heard, and respected. When a customer or, even more broadly, when a person feels respected, their affinity for the brand will build, and they will talk about it.
At the moment, inclusivity in branding is at a communication strategy standpoint. However, brands like Google, Target, and Microsoft are weaving inclusivity into their brand’s foundation and business strategy, showcasing this at every consumer touchpoint, all while remaining authentic, approachable, and aligned on the company’s core values and beliefs. The more a brand can personally connect, build relationships and trust, and include all customers, the more they will differentiate themselves and push the boundaries in the marketplace.