What's with all this "diversity" business?
Diversity is one of those words that conjures up different images. The token (insert non-white ethnicity here) being brought onto a team. Cheesy group activities with the goal of "increasing sensitivity", but the only outcome is that you've wasted a day of work, eaten stale donuts, and left the meeting without anything useful to your work life. Diversity has a deeper meaning than just "team building exercises", or making sure that you hire the first non white face that walks through your door.
Diversity means being able to see things that are outside of your world view and that you may not be intimately familiar with. It means being aware enough of your own blind spots that you make at the very least a marginal effort to fix them. Diversity in the workplace is one thing, but what I really want to touch on is the role that diversity plays in marketing.
Last year I had the pleasure of attending a design conference, and one of the breakout sessions that I attended was focused around the benefit of design sprints. During this sprint, our individual teams were responsible for coming up with ideas on how to reach new audiences for a product. While this was an actual product, we were assured that what we came up with was only for the scope of the exercise.
I won't name the product but I will say that it's a drink product made with kombucha. Now, thinking of the types of people that drink kombucha brings up some very specific imagery. Now, the people in my group were also the kind of people that you could imagine finding at a design conference - hip, middle class, educated, the usual. Then there's me - a n00b from the hood who's still finding her place in the design scene.
When it came time to talk about demographics and outreach of the product, there was one glaringly obvious issue that I noticed - the demographics that the team focused on the most were the same ones likely to be buying the product already. It wasn't until I brought up that an effort to market to lower income and less affluent people could be beneficial that things got interesting. I put forth the idea that with all of the benefits that kombucha is said to have, at a lower price point (we were allowed to include this in our potential marketing plan), it could be presented as a healthy alternative to sodas and juices. I also mentioned how some of the language could be changed to be more relatable to those outside of the "usual" kombucha" circles. The reactions ranged from curious agreement, to confusion about why it would even be necessary to reach out to these groups.
Over the rest of the experiment I was able to convince some of the others that yes, it is nice to attempt to engage with and reach out to groups other than the ones we're most familiar with. Yes, it is important when marketing a product to not just focus on the audience that you already have, but to also reach out to new ones so that your brand presence can grow and so can your sales.
The fact remains though that the hesitation in considering these other groups - the ones that maybe can't shop at Whole Foods, or who don't have a choice of "paper or plastic", - is quite sad. And bad for business. Diversity also means having people on your team that know how to craft a message for all types of audiences. While me and the other people on my team don't work for this company, we work for other companies. We run companies. We work in positions that make decisions in companies. At all levels we have the power to influence either the direction of the brand itself or the people in the position to influence the direction. We should all be doing what we can to increase our sensitivity, and make sure that we're listening to voices that are different than our own. We can make sure that we're hiring people from all backgrounds and experiences, and we can make sure that when the opportunity comes to experience different things, we listen. That's much more rewarding than stale donuts and forced bowling trips.