Equality & Inclusivity Drive Brand Growth and Offset Potential Risk

Equality & Inclusivity Drive Brand Growth and Offset Potential Risk

By Carlos Santiago

In 2020, more than 500 companies and marketing executives signed the ANA AIMM Pledge, doubling down on eradicating systemic inequities and achieving equity in the marketing and advertising industry. In the years that followed, there were remarkable transformations, increased investment in diverse media, improved representation behind and in front of the camera, a rise in inclusive marketing and authentic cultural portrayals in ads and content, and far-reaching commitments to diversifying talent.

With a rise in affirmative action lawsuits in 2023, the DEI momentum began to recede, and a loud, organized minority found it opportune to threaten and attack companies, first on the inclusion of trans people in communications, followed by brands with LGBTQ+ pride efforts, and finally, on brands displaying DEI missions and DEI personnel on their websites.

The industry witnessed palpable apprehension as many brands perceived it risky to appear as "woke" and questioned the value of their DEI and inclusive marketing efforts. As a result, ANA AIMM commissioned the Cultural Inclusion Accelerator (CIA) with a projectable study of 9,277 consumers. The magnitude of the findings is short of startling.

Equality emerged as the most significant driver to win over consumers. Consumers overwhelmingly reward brands that guarantee equality for both employees and consumers across race and ethnicity (72 percent), abilities (72 percent), gender (71 percent), age (68 percent), and sexual orientation (66 percent).

Consumers overwhelmingly support multicultural and inclusive marketing efforts, with 76 percent of consumers comfortable with Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and people with disabilities representation and culture in marketing efforts. At the same time, nearly two-thirds are comfortable with LGBTQ+ inclusivity in marketing.

Furthermore, the AIMM/CIA study found that most consumers (62 to 64 percent) are motivated to support brands with inclusive marketing across event sponsorships, targeted product and service offerings, tailored customer experiences, and diverse storylines and influencers. In contrast, only about 12 percent of consumers are unmotivated by brands with these diverse efforts. In other words, for every consumer who opposes brands with multicultural and inclusive marketing practices, five consumers are motivated to support the brand.

Although two to six percent of consumers are unmotivated by all tested measures of equality and inclusive marketing practices, the threat of a boycott due to diverse values and actions is real with 37 percent of consumers having boycotted a brand at some level in the past and 76 percent of those saying that they will not repurchase the brand or only return if the brand changes its practices. However, the study found that the negative impact of a potential boycott does not stem as much from the consumers who oppose brands that stand up for their DEI actions in the workforce, vendor selection, and advertising but rather from the 60 percent of consumers who expect brands to stand firm in the face of criticism.

Pro-wokeness consumers more than offset anti-wokeness consumers. In fact, among the 83 percent of consumers familiar with the term "woke," for every customer who would not support a brand described as "woke," there are two customers who would support a "woke" brand, and three customers who would remain neutral.

The study demonstrates that by reinforcing core values of equity and inclusivity, brands can optimize growth. In fact, over half a million evaluations by the Cultural Inclusion Accelerator over the last two years validate that communications with high cultural relevancy in combination with positive representation, fairness, and authenticity lift purchase intent five times and trust 16 times over culturally indifferent ads with poor DEI reflections.

Brands can optimize brand growth through 10 actions including, among others, correctly allocating resources, incorporating DEI measurement tools, committing to advancing diversity for the long haul, and maintaining transparency and resolve around diversity and equity commitments.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Carlos Santiago is co-founder of AIMM.

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