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Want to Ensure Your Marketing Is Inclusive? Make Sure Your Research Is.

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Employees working towards creating inclusive marketing

As marketing professionals it’s our responsibility to celebrate people as they are and respect the depth and nuances of the audiences we speak to on our clients’ behalf. That means we must be intentional about creating content that authentically reflects our audiences’ lived experiences. But how to know if your marketing is truly inclusive?

Before you even get into creative, the most important place to infuse DE&I thinking is in your research. “Inclusive marketing research is about being truly human-centered in your approach,” says Media.Monks Strategy Director, Naomi Heckroth. “The key is in designing research to address real challenges so that brands can connect with their customers on a more meaningful level.” More inclusive and equitable research approaches and techniques will help you show up with eyes wide open for a more accurate and diverse view of who to reach and how to better connect. The result will be better strategies, better campaign performance and deeper, more empathetic connections with your target audiences.

Cultivating a DE&I mindset for marketing research, whether managed by internal teams or external partners, can be the difference between creating meaningful and sticky messaging or completely missing the mark. That’s why we put together an Inclusive Marketing Research Tipsheet chock full of tips for conducting radically inclusive marketing research. Here’s a quick rundown of just some of them from our resident experts.

Start at the Beginning

In creative work, your job is to reach and attract people to your brand, product, or experience.  Ideally, they represent various groups who respond to messaging based on their diverse backgrounds, upbringings, and world views. And marketing research is the starting point for better understanding and engaging with those ideal audiences. But if that research is flawed—let’s say you’ve inadvertently missed an entirely underrepresented group, or asked questions that have an unintended cultural tilt—the results will color everything you do. “Flawed research leads to flawed insights which, in turn, means missing the mark when you’re trying to connect with audiences,” says Sam Haskin, Media.Monks Inclusive Marketing Lead. “So starting with an awareness of DE&I in your research—who you’re asking, what you're asking them, and how you’re asking—is a very important step in creating authentic messaging.”

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Marketing research that’s designed for diversity brings the right perspectives into the room and ensures that all voices are heard. And effective research teams challenge every assumption to get to a better outcome. Here are a few tips for starting your research off on the right foot:

  • Know your team’s biases. Even the best-intentioned individuals and teams cannot completely know and understand all audiences. And, as humans, most of us have unconscious biases. Assembling a diverse team can help but will not completely counter bias—the key is to be aware and honest about gaps in understanding to try and sidestep inadvertent exclusions.
  • Build a representative sample. This includes counteracting weaknesses in general population statistics by oversampling commonly undercounted groups that are relevant, and paying attention to how weighting may provide more inclusive insights.
  • Examine secondary research resources closely. The more diverse your secondary sources are (who funded the research or who authored a report can provide hints) the more inclusive and complete your insights will be.

Choose Inclusive Partners

Conducting marketing research can be a lengthy and time consuming undertaking. If you’re considering collaborating with an external partner, evaluating a potential partner’s commitment to DE&I from the outset will help set you up for success. “Neutral” does not equal diversity.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Include diverse vendors in your RFP process.
  • Look for partners who are committed to DE&I in their own organizations.
  • Select the partner with an intentional approach to representing all consumer voices.
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Hold Yourself Accountable

You don’t have to wait for a new research project to start integrating more inclusive and equitable approaches. To help set a baseline for measuring your progress and hold yourself accountable to real change so you can continue to build your practices with inclusivity at the forefront, conduct audits of existing research methods such as customer segmentations and personas, customer needs studies, brand positioning research and campaign effectiveness tracking. 

“Although the primary goal of an audit is to discover where you currently stand, keep in mind the longer-term goals that you plan to accomplish once you have implemented your DE&I marketing efforts,” says Executive Creative Director Susan Parker. “Goals will help you keep your eye on the ball as you evaluate and formulate recommendations.” Here are a few questions to help guide audits and ensure your marketing research efforts are focused on inclusivity:

  • Participant demographics. For target audience studies, what was the rationale for screening only that set population? What relevant perspectives may have been missed as a result?
  • Primary research. Are surveys provided in multiple languages? How are quantitative studies weighted?
  • Secondary research. What are the biases, perspectives and lived experiences of the authors or financial backers of these sources?
  • Question framing. Does the way you ask questions reinforce stereotypes or cultural biases?

Including diverse perspectives and voices in your marketing research increases your potential to produce work that better represents—and resonates with—the world around you. It balances listening, empathy, and data. The effort you put in at the beginning, and throughout the journey, will pay dividends for your business and society in the long run.

Want to dig deeper? For more detailed information on conducting radically inclusive marketing research as well as a wealth of pro tips, insights and helpful resources check out our tipsheet.


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