Why Diversity in Marketing Should Be a Top Priority in B2B Brand Messaging Strategies

By Liz Alton on February 15, 2018

Representation and diversity in marketing is a key focus in 2018. While B2C companies have been evaluating their image choices, messaging, and other areas of the business to reach a diverse consumer base, B2B organizations are still catching up. However, many companies are taking a deeper dive into ensuring that their diversity commitments and values are reflected throughout the organization-and seeing growth and positive business ROI as a result.

Understanding trends in B2B marketing is a critical consideration for today's marketing talent. Recruiting, image choices, investor relations, customer analytics, and messaging all communicate your values-and let prospective customers, talent, investors, and partners know whether representation is a focus for your company. From the major decisions you make while conceptualizing campaigns to detail-focused choices around the names and images you use in collateral, you're communicating to different audiences that they matter. Sadly, many marketers today-along with the writers, designers, and other talent who work as part of the team-haven't been formally trained to systematically think about these issues. Now is the time to educate yourself and act as an advocate within your firm for your company's diverse partners, customers, and other audiences.

Diversity in Marketing: A Look at B2B

As a marketing professional in the B2B world, you see these issues come into play in simple ways. Thinking back over the past year, a number of examples come to my mind.

One series of think tank events that I worked on for a tech client featured about 20 prospective speakers on the original guest list-and didn't include a single woman or person of color. After exploring options for wider representation, the panels were more balanced and, frankly, more interesting thanks to a wider range of expertise and insight.

In another instance, the stock images for a website redesign didn't include any diversity in race, age, or family structure representation. After exploring the lack of quality options available through their stock photo provider, the company commissioned more diverse bespoke images.

During another project for a Fortune 500 tech company, I was developing sample use cases to help the organization's target for a specific project-administrators and office managers-understand different ways to use the software. Every example that came out of product marketing targeted a hypothetical 25-year-old white female administrator. If you can't even imagine a more diverse customer base, how can you market to them?

In a blog post on this topic, Jason Miller, LinkedIn's content lead, notes that there's not great data available on diversity in marketing-especially when it comes to B2B: "When it comes to the representation of minority ethnic groups or LGBT people in the marketing industry, there's almost no data and far less discussion. That doesn't mean these areas are any less of a diversity issue. If anything, it means the opposite."

Tracking those specific issues isn't enough. He goes on to note, "There are other diversity issues bubbling under the surface for marketing as well. In an industry that's traditionally obsessed with youth, do we need to keep a close eye on how representative marketing is of different age groups? Are we doing enough to welcome people from different socio-economic backgrounds or with different political views?"


Image attribution: Zeyn Afuang

The Business Case for Inclusive Brand Messaging Strategies

If you're at a company where the brand could be doing better, or you're working with clients where you have a voice in diversity topics, it often helps to start with making a strong business case for diversity. (I had to stop for a moment after writing that to ask why it's even necessary to explain that in 2018. I hope readers feel the same way.) With that said, companies are moved to do what's in their best interests, financial and otherwise.

McKinsey research shows that organizations with a higher rate of diversity perform better. A campaign for Maltesers that prominently featured a disabled woman led to an eight percent sales increase while the campaign was in play, according to Marketing Week. Customers, employees, and investors care-and acknowledging this fact leads to better business results.

Leading B2B organizations that are focused on these issues are taking an approach that's both broad and deep. "Their diversity view is not narrow like only race and gender, but goes far beyond into areas like generational diversity, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), people with disabilities, veterans, multicultural diversity, and more," says Stan Kimer, founder of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. "They do not just execute diversity and inclusion in one area of the business (like recruiting) but across multiple areas like employee engagement, client services, diversity procurement, diverse community support, and more."

Authenticity in Representation Matters

One key lesson B2B marketers should focus on is that diversity and representation must be embedded in the way you do business. Buyers from different groups need to feel they're truly part of your community, and that inclusivity is reflected in your organization. "Gone are the days of contrived representations of diversity. You do not need to have every group represented in a single photo to 'prove' your inclusivity. B2C marketing started the attitude adjustment, but I see B2B picking it up faster and more naturally. This was a huge hurdle for business to jump, but now we're on the other side," says Kyle Golding, CEO of The Golding Group.

tree stand with different autumn colors

Image attribution: Nathan Anderson

Diversity Is Not a Single Layer

Diversity is a complex and dynamic topic that requires implementing ideas on several fronts. "The marketing team has to stop thinking about diversity in a single layer. It's just not that simple. You cannot put a person of color or a same-sex couple in your marketing one time and call yourself champions of diversity. Embrace diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and subcultures along with thought processes and other natural ways people are different but yet similar at the same time. Do not perpetuate stereotypes or go for the obvious representations. Take all your preconceived notions off and simply be open to showing real people how they really live and work," says Golding.

He continues, "Don't force it. Do not get stuck on skin color or lifestyle just to be used as a prop. Embrace the idea of diversity, not just the presentation of it. The best marketing is a two-way conversation, so listen to what your audience tells you about diversity in your marketing, business operations and organization. Communicate that back to the client or C-suite."

Remember Your Own Team

Measuring diversity within marketing also means that representation on your own team matters. Miller writes, "Diversity in marketing isn't just about the number of people from different groups working in our industry; it's also about achieving representative headcount across different functions, skillsets, roles and seniority levels."

Does your marketing team represent individuals with diverse experiences that can help speak to a wider range of customers and audiences? Representation can also be key to attracting top talent. One study found that 63 percent of women pursuing a STEM degree have struggled with confidence in their abilities-and technology is critical to today's marketing landscape. The presence of diversity within a department can be key for both attracting and retaining the top talent you need to make your brand a success.


Image attribution: Audi Nissen

Get Serious, Get Measuring

Another trend includes "getting more serious about truly executing diversity initiatives instead of just paying it lip service. This includes instituting metrics and measurements around diversity and holding executives accountable for diversity goals," says Kimer. As the saying goes, you can only improve what you measure. Establishing a baseline for inclusion, diversity, and representation at all points in your business is vital. From there, it's possible to set goals and map a strategy that takes you to the next level.

Need ideas on how to measure progress? Every year, DiversityInc publishes a list of its top-performing companies. Many brands are B2B, and the analysis covers a variety of issues such as employee makeup, percentage of procurement spent with diverse companies, and specific practices the organization has taken to make diversity a priority. Exploring the list can give you concrete examples of how to focus your own efforts.

For B2B marketers, the message is clear: Diversity and inclusion are critical. From the way you structure your brand messaging to how you understand and market to your customers, representation matters. Start thinking about the ways better representation of diversity can help you more effectively communicate with your audience-and you'll see significant returns in revenue, reputation, and attracting the best marketing talent in the market today.

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Featured image attribution: Eye for Ebony


Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.