So You Want to Create More Inclusive Content?

To get it right, brands need insight, authenticity, respect—and voices at the table, CDW’s Lauren McCadney tells us.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests over the past two years, there has been an increasing desire for more diverse and inclusive representation in media, including marketing and advertising. 

Generation Z and millennials are leading this push. In a recent study from Quantilope, 76 percent of Gen Zers and 72 percent of millennials say diversity and inclusion is an important topic to them, and they’re demanding that brands keep up. 

As companies try to meet audience expectations, how can they ensure their inclusive content is more than just lip service? How can this content not just appear authentic, but actually be authentic? Are brands that are careful to add more racial diversity to images simply checking a box? If they are, they’re doing a huge disservice to their audience, their reputation and ultimately their bottom line. Because the truth is, inclusive content is not just good for the world—it’s good for business. We sat down with Lauren McCadney, head of marketing delivery at CDW, to find out how to get it right. 



Q: Where do you think diversity in marketing stands today?

I believe there is a heightened sense of awareness regarding the images being depicted. This is a step in the right direction. However, to be truly effective, diversity marketing requires insight into what’s driving the purchase behavior of the target audience. 

I’m not seeing a significant increase in diversity representation at agencies, which in turn makes me wonder about the voices at the table pushing for the research and true insights to ensure we aren’t defaulting to merely including a Black person or showing a gay couple in a picture as a sign that a brand embraces diversity.

Q: What can happen when brands don’t get the insights correct?

During my early days in advertising, I received a frantic call that we were running an ad in Ebony and we needed to release “the Black ad.” I kept asking, “What Black ad?” because from my vantage point, we didn’t have an ad that addressed why [Black people] would embrace the brand. Then my media buyer said, “You know the one. There is a Black kid in a dorm room.” It was that simple: There was a Black face, so that was our targeted ad. Never mind the fact that there was also a white student in the ad, and nothing in the copy spoke to the uniqueness of the target audience for the publication.

I intuitively feel that some of this might still be happening today.

Q: What questions should be asked when developing inclusive content?

Great inclusive marketing isn’t any different from great marketing or great content overall. It’s rooted in the fundamentals: 

  • Who is the target audience? 
  • What insight do we have regarding the problem they are trying to solve? 
  • What do they believe today? 
  • What do we want them to believe in the future?
  • How do we craft a compelling story that moves them?

I’d also challenge us, the entire marketing community, about our practices now. Are we homogenizing what are truly unique experiences? Did you just create a general market ad or content, but in the name of “inclusivity” dropped in a Black person or a Hispanic person? Or have you dug a little deeper to understand how their experience might be a little different, and woven aspects of that into the story?

Q: How do you avoid missteps when crafting a content strategy that focuses on inclusion?

  • Insight: If you are truly on a mission with inclusivity and celebrating all, have you taken the time to get to the heart of why the experience, motivations or needs of this group might be unique?
  • Authenticity: Create a precisely targeted story that can lead to an emotional response as the target audience realizes that you get it.
  • Respect: Do you respect the differences, or are you checking a box? There was a recent campaign that featured historically Black colleges. The brand didn’t use the correct font or logos for the schools, but they used the names of the schools printed on clothing. As an alum of an HBCU, it was evident they didn’t respect the schools and instead were using them strictly for promotional purposes.

Q: From a revenue perspective, how can diversity play a role in building a business?

If we put this into a business context, “diversity” is another word for “segment.” From there, the answer is simple: What percentage of the market (either buying or influencing the purchase of your product) is from a diverse segment of the population?

From there, it becomes a function of relevancy. Do you want your brand to appear out of touch, or do you want to come across as operating in the world that exists today? People buy based on emotion. If they can’t have an emotional connection with your brand because they can’t connect with how your stories are being told, inevitably your brand will have a challenge on its hands.

Q: How does CDW incorporate diversity into marketing?

First and foremost, from a content marketing perspective, we take diversity out of the equation. This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s the truest sign of inclusivity. When it comes to our publications, we are going to include the best examples of companies and institutions delivering innovation solutions to achieve their strategic outcomes through the use of technology. Period. Hard stop. If that great story is from a Black-owned business or driven by a Black CTO, guess what? They get the cover story. 

Second, we make space for co-worker opinions, including dissent. When I think about some of the failures in the marketing landscape, I’ve often wondered, “How did that happen? Who was in the room?” But I’m not being judgmental. Early in my career, I remained silent when I saw things that I didn’t think were right. It haunts me to this day. So, I get why someone would feel they need to remain silent. But at CDW, we have an environment where it’s OK to say, “Wait a minute. Is that right?” And I’m delighted to say that I’ve personally experienced the voice coming from all levels, all genders and all races. 

There’s no one way to create inclusive content, but failing to do so not only puts your brand at risk of alienating certain groups, but also indicates an unwillingness to keep up with the new demands of your audience. Compelling and respectful content driven by deep insights can yield increased engagement among key audiences while showcasing your brand’s commitment to its best values. 

Are you ready to create inclusive content for your brand? If you want to learn more about Manifest and how we turn out award-winning work, click here.

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