The NOW Gen

Andrea Castillo

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Beating Stereotypes: Diversity and Inclusion for the NOW Gen

There is a lot of talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion going on globally. This isn’t about fitting the global trend to our companies but joining the NOW generation in this matter. 

In previous blog posts, we have addressed this global issue, and it continues to be an essential topic for the NOW generation. NOW Gen brands are in the middle of this conversation and are focusing on making a real change.

NOW Gen brands have a unique opportunity to change history with respect to diversity, equity, inclusion, systemic discrimination and racism, just like they are changing history by moving us into the digital age, but without DEI transformation, digital transformation won’t be any transformation at all.” 

In a recent SXSW panel titled “Beyond Black Stereotypes: Redefining Black Fatherhood,” Kendricks Thacker shared some insights about what needs to be done to incorporate better DEI practices. He said that brands couldn’t just start talking when convenient, especially when they wade into topics they never previously championed. 

“Don’t say nothing, if you haven’t said anything before,” Thacker said. “In those cases, the best a brand can do is listen, and donate their platforms to voices that understand the issues.” 

As Thacker mentioned in this panel, to overcome the stereotypes of adapting DEI practices incorrectly, we must first learn to listen to those in the middle of the issue and understand their movements. We must not act before we think because DEI is not a vane issue and its impact on our society goes beyond participating as a brand or not.

With change comes trial and error; it will be utopic to believe that just making one change will forever change the global conversation. However, making this kind of amendment will often make us face errors. For example, DE&I has been one of the main focuses for many global companies for a while now. And although inclusion is vital to this global change, the mistake we are making is stereotyping that inclusivity. So from being stereotypical in the ways we present our DEI to making inclusion a stereotype. 

In the case of DEI, stereotypes are fogging our judgment and blinding our inclusion. We are so used to boxing people according to their race, gender, religion, and even their jobs that we see individuals as groups of people. Stereotypes have been known to humans for a long time now, and much work has been done to eradicate them in society, but the truth is that stereotyping is more natural to our minds than we can imagine. We could blame heuristics for this, but the truth is we can all do better. 

Heuristics, where stereotyping begins, are useful mental shortcuts that help us navigate life. These rule-of-thumb strategies help us shorten decision-making time and allow us to function without constantly wondering what needs to happen next. Overall, heuristics is a fantastic tool called “common sense,” but the downside is that it can lead to inaccurate judgments or biases, like stereotypes.

Theoretically, we should replace stereotypes with actual knowledge. Realistically, stereotypes are seldom challenged unless something creates a reason to change them. But this current DEI issue is a practical reason to make an effort to break from assumptions and demolish stereotypes. As Now gen brands encounter these roadblocks, they must stick to their DEI efforts and strive to make changes happen. 

“The past year has shed light on what many people already knew: Much of the onus (obligations) of diversity, equity and inclusion was on the appointed DE&I leader, who historically often worked in isolation to carry out these objectives.”

In short, as companies, we must find ways to set objectives to beat stereotypes and be more inclusive. Still, we must learn to hear those affected by the situation and work together to impact how they are perceived in society positively. In the eyes of The NOW Generation, being inclusive speaks volumes, and as the saying goes: actions say more than words.

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Can Marketers Really Make a Difference?

Less than three months into 2022, which has started with as much gusto as the first two years of the decade, presenting us with not only a resurgent pandemic, but a land war in Europe for the first time since World War II (this time with nukes, how fun), we’re going to try to take a break from a new season of doom scrolling and get super positive in order to answer the rhetorical question: “Can Marketers Really Make a Difference?” The answer is an emphatic yes! Yes! YES! Marketers can make a difference, and they can’t just take that for granted; consumers are demanding that marketers make a difference, and the long-term success of their brands depend on it. 

First, let’s talk about the stats. According to McKinsey, 68% of consumers say their social values shape their purchasing decisions. IPSOS has also found that approximately 70% of consumers tend to buy brands that align with their personal values, and in the UK, France and the US this number has increased by at least 15% in the last 10 years. IPSOS and McKinsey are not alone. Edelman has found that consumers want CEOs to speak out on social issues, and Taluna has found that almost 60% of consumers believe “it is the responsibility of brands and manufacturers to drive change in society and better support social issues.

As for issues themselves, we’ve already talked a lot here about the importance of DEI. “Digital Transformation without DEI is no transformation at all,” talked about the moral imperative of DEI, and in “Talk is Cheap: Consumers Demand DEI Action” we cited the data, which speaks for itself: 

«According to Facebook IQ 71% of NOW Gen consumers expect brands to promote DEI in their advertising. According to Microsoft 70% of Gen Z consumers are more trusting of brands that show diversity. A study conducted by The Female Quotient, Google, and IPSOS found that 64% of NOW Gen consumers took some action after seeing an ad that incorporated DEI. That same study found that 69% of Black consumers were more likely to purchase from a brand whose ads positively represented their race, and that 71% of LGBTQ consumers were more likely to click ads that authentically represent their sexual orientation. Furthermore, 75% of Gen Z consumers will end relationships with companies that run ad campaigns perceived as macho, racist, or homo­phobic. These statistics pretty much speak for themselves, and the trend is that DEI is only becoming more important to consumers.»

As we have already discussed in detail, DEI is not just a business imperative but a moral one and companies that turn their backs on the opportunity this cultural moment presents will be left behind. When it comes to DEI, marketers don’t just have the opportunity to create change but a responsibility, and most importantly those who have accepted the challenge are making a difference

Sustainability and reducing environmental harm are two other major issues for consumers. In fact, according to Google, 78% of consumers think big brands must play a role in fighting climate change. Marketers in turn have a duty to inform consumers about what companies are doing to fight climate change and spread the message that action to fight climate change is possible. Data shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable CPGs. In 2022 consumers are going to continue to demand that brands turn everything on its head to have the most minimal environmental impact possible.” Fifty-nine percent of consumers say they prefer buying from brands that are addressing the climate emergency, and “91% wish to see brands ‘show by example’ and demonstrate the actions they are taking to support the planet.”

While all of this data shows there is strong consumer demand for these types of initiatives, the recent Unilever kerfuffle is illustrative of the fact that not everyone agrees that brands should be trying to do things to make the world a better place. Unilever is loud and proud about its commitment to sustainability. It says that it is “working towards a better, fairer, greener world for all,” and that “taking action on climate change is taking action on human rights.” Recently one of their shareholders took issue with the strategy, and it generated a lot of press, but an equal amount of backlash. In the end, it boils down to a political argument between those with a vision  of a soulless capitalism trundling blindly forward in the name of short term shareholder profit and those that think the purpose of capitalism “is to produce profitable solutions to problems of people and planet.” That debate won’t be settled anytime soon.

But to frame “brand purpose” as somehow anti-capitalist is absurd, and the debate is founded on the basis of a false choice. Whether to pursue a “brand purpose” or to work towards sustainability and human rights is a strategic choice. And as all the data above shows, the strategic choice for brands to move to sustainable practices and to support DEI would be based on meeting consumer demand. That old dichotomy of supply and demand might sound a little old-fashioned, but it’s rather new that multinational corporations who adjust their strategies to meet consumer demand might be accused of being anti-capitalist. The Unilever debate mentioned above may well be better framed not as a debate over brand purpose but whether brands should dedicate themselves to shareholder demand rather than consumer demand, which would be way way way beyond the scope of this article. 

Since “behavioral science teaches us that when we feel positive about our actions, we are more motivated to continue to act” we are going to try and crank up the positivity here. As all the overwhelming weight of data shows, consumers are demanding that brands take action when it comes to making changes to make the world a better place. As marketers, it’s our job to communicate with consumers and when consumers are communicating to bring that message to the c-suite and to make sure that consumers are heard and that brands are delivering what consumers want. Consumers are telling brands what they want and the only question is whether brands will listen. In this historical moment, marketers really do have an opportunity to “make a difference. Marketers can really make a difference and they should.

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Talk is Cheap: Consumers Demand DEI Action

NOW Gen consumers want more than lip service from brands when it comes to DEI and anti-racism efforts.

DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and lots of people are talking about DEI. People talk about DEI in boardrooms, in schools, on TV, in movies, on the radio, in science, in sports, in journalism, in literature, and, of course, in marketing. DEI talk is literally everywhere, which is a good thing, but talk is not enough.

What is DEI?

In breaking down DEI into its parts it’s useful to start with a metaphor. Imagine the world as a big dance, like prom or homecoming. Diversity means that everyone is invited to the dance. Equity means that everybody has an equal opportunity to dance, and Inclusion means that everybody is able to contribute to the dance’s playlist. Pretty simple and if it was implemented as easily, the world would be a happier place.

Diversity in marketing means that different voices are heard and that each group is spoken to. In an age where personalization is increasingly more important, consumers really don’t like to be sent messages that aren’t applicable to them, and, on the flip side, consumers are more likely to respond positively to brands that portray the groups they’re a part of in a positive way. Diversity means that everyone can find themselves and people like them represented. 

Equity means that within this wide group of diverse people each different identity and every perspective is treated equally. It means that not only is everyone represented but that within this framework each group has an equal opportunity to participate, and that each voice and each experience is valued equally. 

Inclusion is pretty literal and Inclusion is where the real action happens. It means more than just that everyone is equally represented. It means that all voices and all perspectives are included. Inclusion means that different voices and different perspectives are actively sought out, listened to, and incorporated equitably. It means that the myriad identities and perspectives of all consumers play an active role in development and decision making and pushing conversations about the things that matter to people further.

Why DEI is important

There’s two simple reasons why DEI is important: it’s good for the bottom line and it’s the right thing to do.

Research is basically unanimous that consumers want more diversity. According to Facebook IQ 71% of NOW Gen consumers expect brands to promote DEI in their advertising. According to Microsoft 70% of Gen Z consumers are more trusting of brands that show diversity. A study conducted by The Female Quotient, Google, and IPSOS found that 64% of NOW Gen consumers took some action after seeing an ad that incorporated DEI. That same study found that 69% of Black consumers were more likely to purchase from a brand whose ads positively represented their race, and that 71% of LGBTQ consumers were more likely to click ads that authentically represent their sexual orientation. Furthermore, 75% of Gen Z consumers will end relationships with companies that run ad campaigns perceived as macho, racist, or homo­phobic. These statistics pretty much speak for themselves, and the trend is that DEI is only becoming more important to consumers.

DEI goes beyond consumerism. DEI is about social justice and building a society in which all people are treated equally, where everyone feels safe and where everyone feels they have the opportunity to achieve the things they want. DEI is also about curing the very real harms of systemic racism. Still, in the United States of America in the year 2022, more than half of black and brown consumers report that they have felt discriminated against in a store. There is simply no reason to justify this and brands should be doing everything in their power to change it. When you add the statistics about how consumers are demanding that brands use their power to support DEI, there is simply no reason for brands not to be leading the way in helping create a more equitable and inclusive society. As James Baldwin once said: “And once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.”

Why Talk is not Enough

While it is undoubtedly important that brands send the right message to their consumers and their communities by speaking out in favor of DEI and against racism, talk is not enough. In the wake of the protests following the brutal killing of George Floyd, many brands made promises about their commitments to DEI. People are not going to forget these promises. Consumers want brands to make measurable DEI commitments. They want brands to ensure that their teams and suppliers reflect the community that they serve and that diverse voices are made a part of the conversation. They don’t just want culturally sensitive and culturally informed messaging, they want customer intimacy, they want concrete action, and they want to see change. Soon DEI is going to be part of every conversation, and if brands are talking the talk without walking the walk, people are going to notice