Does An Inclusive Marketing Approach Matter More Than Ever?

Experts believe that focus today has shifted from products to people, owing to digital storytelling

We all, at least once, have tasted being out to place when shopping for clothes online because we couldn't relate with the oh-so-perfect body type the model exhibited.  

However, there is a significant change in these usual encounters, with brands becoming more sensitive and practicing an inclusive marketing approach. It is currently a topic running at the forefront across industries, creating and promoting opportunities that reflect the diverse communities that these brands serve. In a deeper sense, it goes beyond cultural bias and inspires a positive change through meaningful and thoughtful marketing strategies, so that all consumers connect and remain loyal to a brand. 

Shobhit Agarwal, Director, Cornitos asserts how inclusive marketing is elevating the stories and voices of people that have been typically marginalized or underrepresented, deepening connections with customers, and even influencing positive social change, “The marketing scenario has changed in the past years, there are innovative campaigns that are now taking place of traditional advertisements. This creates a positive environment for brands as well as individuals to showcase their support to the communities that need empowerment.”

Naila Patel, Executive Creative Director, Mirum India admits that inclusive marketing is a win-win situation for both brands and communities. “In a world overloaded with choices when it comes to products and services, very often customers tend to choose brands that are honest and show integrity. Inclusive marketing helps brands build strong connections with the community and within the community,” she says. 

While diversity is often a part of organizational culture values, inclusive marketing is how brands are effusing authenticity and value to cater to diverse communities.

Inclusivity From The Marketers' Lens

In today's era, society is not just experiencing a change in technology but also in expectations and responsibilities. As India continues to awake to different forms of discrimination practices, consumers are looking to buy products from brands that fit their values and ethics. They want to know that a brand understands them psychologically and aspires to meet their needs and pain points in real life.

Experts believe that focus today has shifted from products to people, owing to digital storytelling. This has, in turn, made the brands more human. Inclusive marketing is one such change that has been supported by both, marketers and consumers. Leading to conversations that were either taboo or not considered main-stream are being appreciated and celebrated.

Ratnapriya Mitra, Vice President of Client Services, Blink Digital agrees on inclusive marketing becoming a key focus for marketers these days, “It matters more today as it forces you to throw everything you assume about your audience out of the window and think deeper about why and how your product may be used. It makes you look past preconceived notions of gender, age, race, income, sexuality, language, and religion and seek commonalities outside of these social labels to connect with your audience at a deeper human level.”

Asawari Pawar, CMO, LetsShave propagates, “People want to find inspiration in people who look like them. A marketer needs to understand and focus on what a customer expects from the brand and what is the best way in which the customer can relate to the brand. On the other hand, if the customer is able to relate to the content of the advertising, it increases the purchase intent of the customer. Hence, inclusive marketing is the best way to gain a customer’s trust and convert them to loyal customers.

Shuchi Sethi, India Lead- AnyTag, POKKT holds a rather contrasting view. She believes that going inclusive in one's attitude is not necessary. "It totally depends on what the brand vision is and how it sees itself in the funnel. It is a very conscious choice that marketers make these days."

Brands Who Got It Right

True inclusiveness, for Mitra, comes with acts and not just ads. P&G, Microsoft, Google, Coke, Bumble have been some of the noteworthy brands that have time and again reiterated their belief in an inclusive attitude.

A great example from recent times is Stayfree’s #Projectfreeperiod initiative for sex workers & Mitr, India's first transgender modeling agency. Another commendable international initiative is L’oreal’s dedicated consumer call centers for people with hearing disabilities and texts in Braille for its brand La Roche-Posay in France.

Fast Track’s Come out of the Closet ad, Brook Bond Red Label’s Swad Apnepan ka Campaign, Vicks showing the transgender mother are a few other pieces of work that seemed to have got it right.

Even Tailor & Circus’ concept is a great example of Inclusive Marketing. They simply use images of real people having fun and hanging out in underwear, as a normal person would do. “What better would help a customer relate itself to a brand? They promote their products with a sense of body positivity which helps more and more people to relate themselves to the brand,” comments Pawar.

Inclusivity To Drive Brand Affinity & Equity

Marketers truly believe inclusive marketing communication is the way forward. Consumers today are increasingly diverse and multicultural and to build a relationship between the brand and the audience, marketers need to reflect on their consumers’ cultural values and beliefs. Meaningful and diverse content, addressing real-life scenarios yields great results. 

Experts are of a unanimous conclusion that placing more value on individual needs and experiences has become the key for a brand to solidify the connection with existing customers, expand reach, find potential new customers, acquire more loyal customers and grow multi-folds. “People want to see a reflection of themselves in a brand advertisement rather than a big celebrity to relate more to it. The brands that are successful in breaking the stereotypes and embrace the people in the real world with real-life scenarios will gain more acceptance amongst the customers,” points Pawar.

Patel also advocates, “Inclusive marketers will enjoy their fruits of labor in many ways. But one of the most important outcomes is witnessing communities become brand advocates. When a brand is inclusive and human, it is allowed to evolve, participate and even fumble with far more understanding and acceptance than one that is not inclusive.”

Sethi accepts that inclusive campaigns will always stand out as consumers these days are smart and go for brands that they resonate with, "The buying habits sometimes change if they have a deeper connection with the brand so I think in the longer run inclusive marketing is going to be a very important part of the marketing mix."

Mitra further comments that the possibilities are endless in this space, “When a brand focuses on inclusiveness it is perceived as progressive and having the ‘right kind’ of values. This, in turn, helps in garnering consumer trust that paves the way for brand love and loyalty.”

"However, fact-checking is integral to the pre-stage as well as research that supports facts and lastly, it should have emotions. In the post-stage there should be a regular ORM done so that all comments are responded to,” suggests Agarwal.

Mitra also alerts that it is important to establish that these marketing efforts do not come across as inauthentic or as a part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility. More importantly, it should have its heart in the right place and make a sensible point.

While inclusive marketing could be a potentially powerful tool to challenge social norms, change prejudiced mindsets and bring about cultural change, we in India have a long way to go yet. Marketers must not look at it as a trend but a habit. It should first begin within the marketing teams with an aim of bringing cultural awareness and solving the problems of unique audience groups.