It’s now a given that brands need to be inclusive in their marketing to meet the needs of all their audiences. Steve Wheen, CEO and Founder of distillery, explains why B2B brands need to catch up.
A commitment to diversity and representation in content is not only the right thing to do. It’s also a key driver of business growth and sustainable profitability.
Brands are increasingly recognising the need to step up their marketing in order to meet consumer expectations in diversity and inclusion. This was made clear by Kantar in its 2021 Global Monitor, which found that 39% of global consumers believe that brands are not doing a good job of representing people ‘similar to me or my community’.
More brands are getting D&I right in their marketing. But it has been the B2C sector that’s leading the way in diverse representation and storytelling, particularly in advertising and online video content. Take for example, Renault’s 30 Years in the Making, which is a great example of inclusive queer storytelling, or Starbucks’ narrative from the trans community, Every Name’s a Story, which was a former winner of Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising Awards in 2019.
B2B brands are missing out by lagging behind in diverse and inclusive marketing. Sharing perspectives from different communities brings new and exciting stories to the table. These are stories that reflect the reality for today’s consumers and of the modern corporate world. And telling diverse stories drives acceptance in society – 80% of those exposed to LGBTQ+ people in advertising and media are supportive of equal rights, compared to 70% who are unexposed, according to a 2020 study from Procter & Gamble and GLAAD.
Having the right diversity in marketing is key to a brand conveying the right messaging in the right way. But it goes beyond this to leveraging the power of diverse storytelling. Some experiences – falling in love, playing football, planning a holiday, even buying new software – are universal and it’s that universality that B2C has already tapped into. Take, for example, Habitat’s Seb and Dad’s Habitat, which tells of the story of the shared shopping experience of a black father and son. Or the Christmas story that we can all relate to, featuring a gay couple, told by Etsy in Gift it like you mean it, new guy.
So why is the B2B sector struggling to embrace inclusion in its marketing and to leverage the power and potential of diverse storytelling? There are potentially many reasons, but one key one is simply the lack of diversity in some B2B sectors. For example, in the UK technology sector, only 15% of the workforce are from BAME backgrounds, according to Diversity in Tech, and gender diversity sits at 19% compared to 49% for all other jobs.
There is also the issue of historic and unchallenged target audiences in B2B. In technology, the ‘target demographic’ often falls into the presumptively white male category. For tech – or any B2B sector – to grow and flourish it must become more accessible and diverse. B2B also suffers from the general lack of diversity in marketing. A recent study from recruitment company Zippia in the US found that 71.2% of marketing managers are white and 91% identify as heterosexual.
So for many B2B businesses, the starting point for diverse storytelling is to ensure that all the voices are properly represented within the business. You can’t hope to have diverse storytelling in marketing without creating an inclusive environment inside the business. And this runs throughout every function and level within the organisation, but it should be led from the top.
Businesses with diversity in their leadership teams outperform those with more homogeneity. In its 2019 study, McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.
In marketing, B2B businesses should move towards diverse teams across all functions right from the planning stage, through to creative, production and distribution and amplification. This is one of the reasons why we set up studio d at distillery. It’s a diverse network of creatives from all over the world and every facet of life focused on enriching the creative output for clients. Tapping into our studio d team helps our clients to leverage the skills and insights of a talent pool full of intersectionality and smarts.
But no business can hope to have entirely the right diversity within its teams for all areas of representation, so it’s essential for the B2B sector to listen to other voices and to seek the opinions of those with relevant lived experience. Even if you think you have expert knowledge of a community, if you are not part of that community, your approach to storytelling may not be a true or relevant representation of that community and you may also be influenced by unconscious bias.
Despite B2B’s lack of speed in embracing inclusive storytelling, there are some companies that are getting it right and leading the way on diverse marketing. Google has won praise for its social videos. The More We Learn, the Closer We Get, featuring footballer Marcus Rashford, depicts what it’s like to be an outsider, focusing on the importance of understanding difference. Google has also created films on personal journeys in resilience, such as one featuring a woman in South Korea who finds strength and hope in sport after a life-changing injury.
Microsoft is using in-depth storytelling to showcase the initiatives it’s supporting, like Inner-City Computer Stars, a programme that provides young adults from low-income communities with the tools to develop the technical and leadership skills needed for a career in technology. This online content series shows that Microsoft is doing more than paying lip service to diversity, which is vital to customer engagement, particularly among younger people.
By embracing inclusive storytelling and representation in marketing, companies can reflect the world we live in and meet the needs of all their audiences. As Joseph Taiano, Global Head of Marketing at Accenture Song, puts it: “Because we’re also the storytellers, the creatives, and the owners of the company’s image and brand, we have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from inclusion and diversity on a much larger scale.” Doing so is a win for society, for brand loyalty and for overall business engagement.