How companies can close the ‘Brand Inclusion Gap’ and embrace DE&I

Respect, Radical transparency, Responsibility, Resourcefulness, Reliability... RAPP's Chris Freeland on inclusivity

According to the new British Social Attitudes report released last week, despite the current culture wars raging on our shores, the majority of the UK public now have liberal and inclusive views on racial equality, sexual identity, gender equality and more. The report shows we are an increasingly progressive society and as a result, diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important to consumers — however, new research from RAPP has found that brands are falling massively short on truly embracing DE&I.

In first-of-its-kind research, my company RAPP has just done a deep dive into how brands are keeping up with this fast-changing world, where there’s been a significant shift in attitudes over recent times and we’ve discovered that brands are simply not keeping up. We found that consumers are 25% less likely to buy something from a brand which isn’t delivering diverse and inclusive representation in its communications, and 39% would talk negatively about them if they didn’t. Just 28% said they were seeing any genuine progress on this from brands.

This is creating a gap between brands’ performance and consumer expectations, which we’re calling the BRAND INCLUSION GAP, and it’s leading to consumer backlash, which is having seriously negative commercial impacts on brands not stepping up to the plate. RAPP and research partner Material polled 1,500 consumers to understand the impact of DE&I content, and we found that diversity from brands is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but a necessity, with 64% of respondents saying that diversity in marcomms should be the norm and 74% saying it’s vital that brands take the time to truly understand their customers. Basically, it’s now the bare minimum expected from consumers.

There really is no place to hide for brands

Some 63% of British consumers say they actively keep up to date with news surrounding diversity issues, 52% will go out of their way to research whether a brand is authentic when it comes to representing DE&I in its marketing and two thirds say they have seen tokenistic or virtue signalling comms, another turn off for them. Trust and transparency in a brand’s marcomms is vital.

So what can brands do to really embrace DE&I, close the Brand Inclusion Gap and head off any potential consumer backlash against a perceived lack of inclusivity? How far does the brand show respect, radical transparency, responsibility, resourcefulness and reliability? Diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of everything that RAPP do, and we have a ‘5 R Framework’ to analyse how your brand is doing when it comes to DE&I. Here’s what your brand needs to do to show respect, radical transparency, responsibility, resourcefulness and reliability.

  1. RESPECT: For the individual and their experience. Understand customer expectations and when, how and why they can fluctuate. It’s also essential that you acknowledge intersectionality and what people are navigating in their lived experience, rather than via broad categories.
  2. RADICAL TRANSPARENCY: You need to be open about EVERYTHING, from process to provenance to purpose. Be clear in all language and communication used.
  3. RESPONSIBILITY: Talking about DE&I is not enough, you need to be able to demonstrate the brand’s purpose and commitments and make sure it runs through all brand actions. Deliver on the customer experience and engage every employee in the company culture.
  4. RESOURCEFULNESS: Do no harm and work smart. Achieve the most with the least data and resources and tread lightly upon the earth.
  5. RELIABILITY: Keep your promises, even the smallest ones, and show evidence of consistency when it comes to action over time.

Ultimately, by looking at your customer relationships through these five lenses, you’ll be more able to build trust and transparency in everything you do for your customers and communities, as well as demonstrate your brand’s commitment to social responsibility. Only then can you close the Brand Inclusion Gap and truly thrive in our increasingly progressive times — and help make society and the whole planet a happier place to boot.

Featured image: Bruno Figueiredo / Unsplash

Chris Freeland, Executive Chairman, RAPP UK

Chris is unquestionably an industry stalwart, having held leadership positions in the UK for the last 21 years. His experience and talent lie in setting the standards for operational excellence, as well as building a strong cultural ethos of doing the very best for clients. Responsible for overseeing and running the UK operations across data, media and creative, Chris remains committed to helping talent excel in a supportive and highly strategic and creative environment.

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