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‘The diversity dollar’ – marketing’s new frontier

Technology & Data

‘The diversity dollar’ – marketing’s new frontier


Lauren Wilkin and Stuart Malcolm discuss how brands can avoid tokenism and ageing stereotypes when becoming closer to their diverse audiences.

Lauren WilkinsThe front end of the calendar year is filled with great events and cultural movements: we’ve steam rolled through Mardi Gras, International Women’s Day, and Easter. All were great opportunities for marketing organisations chasing the highly lucrative ‘diversity dollar’.

And with Mother’s Day just around the corner, we find ourselves braced and ready for the pink-tinged catalogues trying to sell us rice cookers and foot spas for our Mums.

As much as we’d like to say we live in a world where token social cause strategies are a thing of the past, it’s not the case in 2017 (not when some still think it’s acceptable to compare womens’ breasts to cows’ udders).

As Mia Freedman pointed out in her commentary of International Women’s Day, the old mantra of ‘just paint it pink and women will fall over their strappy sandals to buy it’ no longer cuts the mustard with sceptical consumers.

Brands now need to take a much more considered approach to their cause-related marketing, or else their authenticity and commitment will risk critique: is the company actually investing money in this cause? Does it flow from the top down, from internal staff to external customers? Or are they simply paying lip service in the hope of appealing to particular audiences?

In addition to these big questions, there are other specific challenges facing brands playing in the diversity space.



Stuart MalcolmFirstly, the landscape has increased in complexity. Although more people are shining a beacon on diversity, the light has become highly fragmented, moving beyond the simplistic gender and ethnicity boxes that existed a few decades ago.

There are now multiple dimensions to consider such as religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, culture, lifestyle, socioeconomic background, cognition and experience – whichever way you want to cut it, you now can.  The challenge for marketers is to identify the most relevant stratifications and cultural nuances when identifying their target audiences.

How do they identify themselves? Are they mums, migrants, Muslims, marginalised or all of the above? Or which other groups do they identify with? For example, many Millennials support the LGBTQI community regardless of their own sexuality.



Secondly, marketers also need to understand how consumers want their individuality to be recognised. Would they like their differences to be explicitly identified by companies, or would they just prefer to be  welcomed under the umbrella of a great brand or customer experience, no matter who they are?  

Smirnoff’s recent ‘Always Open’ campaign delivers to the former need. The ads cleverly announce the brand’s proud stance on inclusion, and celebrate specific groups such as LGBTQI with copy lines including “homosexual, heterosexual, who-gives-a-sexual”.

The campaign is likely to appeal to their Millennial audience who have been found by many research studies to be loyal to brands with clear social awareness.

In another example, the recent Target Australia activewear ads positively bring disability to the forefront via wheelchair racer Robyn Lambird: “We embrace all Australians regardless of race, shape, size or disability,” the Target spokesperson said. “So when we approached Robyn, we thought she would be perfect”.

Both great starting points but how can these brands now build on this?


Touchpoints, message and relevance

Further, companies now need to think about which touchpoints are the most relevant for communicating and, importantly, delivering on their diversity messages.

Training up front line staff to deal with unique customer groups is particularly critical. Especially if we consider a recent Deloitte study that found one in three customers from diverse backgrounds walked away from a transaction in the past year because they felt disrespected.

The same research also revealed diverse customers were twice as likely to dissuade others from using the services of businesses they felt treated them unfairly.

With customer satisfaction in mind, companies such as Optus and CBA have ramped up efforts to drive inclusion, for example both companies introduced the Hijab into branch staff uniforms despite anti-Muslim backlash. CBA stated “We have a lot of Muslim employees and our customers are very diverse, so it’s important to make them feel supported and included.” A great demonstration of how the message needs to be both an internal and an external one.

With all of these hurdles, there is a role for insight to help brands become closer to their audiences, to understand their social motivations, their lifestyle, and the cultural nuances at play ultimately bringing an in-depth picture of the consumer into the marketing department and the wider business.

Research can help brands discover who their consumers really are, the groups they identify with, the cultural references that influence their behaviour and drive their purchase decisions. All of this will not only bring brands closer to the lives of their diverse audience groups, but should also help them turn their differences into bottom line dollars.


Lauren Wilkin is insights and strategy director at The Leading Edge.

Stuart Malcolm is senior research consultant at the Leading Edge.


Further reading

Image copyright: jazzia / 123RF Stock Photo


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