Why Applying Intersectionality to Marketing is Key

This article on intersectionality is an abbreviated version of a research report prepared for a Kindred member by Kindred Concierge, our on-demand research and insights team that helps our members get the data and information they need to make important decisions within their organizations. To learn more about the Kindred experience and member benefits, apply here.

Organizations are recognizing the need to incorporate a contemporary and nuanced approach to multicultural marketing. In 2020 especially, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts became a business imperative in part because consumers and employees have made clear the bar has been raised. The key takeaways of using intersectionality as a framework is to consider who may be adversely or positively impacted by our decisions and intentionally taking action to include voices of those who may be excluded.

Intersectionality: (n.) the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. (Oxford Dictionary)

WHAT IS INTERSECTIONALITY?

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw recognized socially marginalized groups, like women of color, faced multiple consequences with identities intersecting: race and gender, heterosexism, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, and other social dynamics. 

This intersection, plus the challenges of its impact, instead of one identity alone, for marginalized people, was thus given a name: intersectionality. The term was coined and introduced in 1989 by Crenshaw for a paper published in the University of Chicago. 

When referring to marginalized populations, the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health described them as groups and communities that experience discrimination (social, political, and economic) due to unequal systemic power relations. The social movements that drive attention and awareness to these inequities seek to enact political change or address social injustice (Communication Research Trends). 

However, corporations and brands are often quick to focus on trending issues on a surface level rather than diving deeper into the stories, identities, and systems that make the problems impacting marginalized groups trend in the first place.  

A decade ago, people trusted brands based on their slogans — today, consumers look to the messaging, actions taken by the companies, those represented, and the values of a company behind the slogans before making purchasing decisions. 

The Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science evidenced cause marketing and profitability are influenced by consumer choice or response, making intersectionality a value add for companies and brands. To create value add for companies requires including voices differentiating from the mainstream, rather than excluding them. 

One proposed Journal of Business Research benefit for inclusive marketing suggests a multi-dimensional approach leading to empowerment, belongingness, acceptance, equality, and respect. Marketing and advertising professionals must begin to take a mindful approach to their communications strategies for consumers, not just for relevance and profitability, but to build an inclusive culture inside and out. 

INCLUSIVITY, REPRESENTATION, & IDENTITY MATTERS

Regarding multicultural marketing, in an interview, Syndi Craig-Hart, CEO of Smart Simple Marketing, stated the importance of understanding different perspectives, different goals, and challenges of multicultural consumers. Ignoring multicultural marketing opportunities would mean discounting one-third of the population. 

Kimberly Paige, CMO of BET Networks, defined multicultural marketing as to market initially to a specific ethnicity, then moved deeper into consumers’ stories, culture, and integrating participation into the brand. “Everything in my mind starts with great data and insights. There is no greater time to be courageous,” Paige shared.  

Jill Kelly, CMO of GroupM, that shift in the American landscape paradigm is now not siloed or individual, but now multidimensional. Kelly stated, “If we are not doing multicultural marketing today [in 2020], we are for our future or to our future…Meaningful change is an outcome of intentional shifts.” The future of businesses will rely on multicultural consumers in 2025 (AdAge) and LGBTQ+ consumers who hold $1T of purchasing power in 2020.

An example of this opportunity is developing a more nuanced and diverse representation for the LGBTQ+ community, whose presence is relatively new to mainstream media. The Trevor Project suggested ways to support the trans and nonbinary community, including choosing to educate oneself because it is unfair to burden the community in question with educating about their lived experiences.

A common misconception, reinforced by well-intentioned representation, is the conflation of sex and gender. A person’s sex is assigned at birth, based only on genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, or hormones. Gender describes the internal understanding of the experience of gender identity—which cannot be known by merely looking at a person. Common genders include cisgender, transgender, nonbinary, two-spirit identities, and gender expression is different from gender perception. 

Gender nonconforming or gender nonconformity (GNC) refers to people who do not follow other people’s ideas or stereotypes about how they should look or act based on the female or male sex they were assigned at birth (SRRLP). 

This binary breaking, the rejection of the idea that gender has only two options and embrace of a spectrum of gender identity, is not only crucial to representing the LGBTQ+ community wholly but also applicable to representation of many other identities and combats the stereotypical shorthand and archetypes that crop up in unsuccessful and harmful multicultural marketing.  

STEREOTYPES, APPROPRIATION, & BIAS: COMMON PITFALLS 

In marketing and advertising, stereotypes, cultural bias, and cultural insensitivity can lead to negative consumer response consequences. According to a Harvard research report, stereotypes highlight differences between groups, mostly inaccurate (often unlikely, extreme types) when groups are similar. 

Cultural sensitivity refers to respect for people’s cultures, customs, and values; cultural insensitivity refers to the nonacceptance and intolerance of other cultures (NYC Human Resources Administration). Cultural bias may lead people to form opinions and make assumptions about others in advance of any experience with them, which can be ethnocentric (APA). All components of diversity and inclusion play a role in inclusive marketing; intersectionality acknowledges unconscious and existing biases.

Keep the 4 areas below in mind as you are crafting your marketing strategy:  

Appropriation: Shelina Janmohamed of Ogilvy UK explains that cultural appropriation takes elements of other cultures while passing them off as your own, then deriving commercial benefit from it without crediting the people who created that culture or letting them be at the forefront.

Stereotyping: According to a Harvard research report, stereotypes highlight differences between groups, mostly inaccurate (often unlikely, extreme types) when groups are similar. There is the benefit to countering stereotypes: in 2019, Kantar found non-stereotypical advertising created 37% more branded impact, a 28% rise in purchase intent, and a 35% increase in ad enjoyment.

Tokenism: Merriam Webster describes tokenism as “the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.” It is important to note the appearance does not translate to actual change within a company culture.

Unconscious Bias: These are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Leaders must recognize their own biases before unintentionally perpetuating poor stereotypes or portrayals of people who do not look or speak like them, even if actions may be well-intentioned. 

Bringing an intersectional lens to communication strategy can be a powerful tool to prevent common and harmful multicultural marketing missteps. 

GOOD INTENTIONS, GOOD OUTCOMES

Companies have successfully advanced their commitment to inclusivity into their messaging and brand values. For example, Teen Vogue expanded its buyer persona from focusing on fashion, style, and beauty, then concentrated on its demographic of “civic-minded, really socially conscious, politically active curious ambitious young people who crave the truth, and who aren’t afraid to speak the truth.” 

(ABC News) Companies such as Chevrolet (2012),  Cheerios (2013), Honey Maid (2014), Campbell Soup, Fenty Beauty (2017) created diverse, inclusive advertising (multicultural, blended, and LGBTQ+ representation), which soon after proved its value and profitability. Well-executed initiatives lead to Cheerios’s branding going up 77%, Honey Maid Google searches jumped 400%, and Fenty Beauty raked in $72M in its first month.

Chevrolet GLAAD’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, said, “It’s about time my children were able to turn on the television and see families like their own represented in mainstream advertising.”
 According to Campaign US, television, media, and advertising play a critical role in education to drive the social acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. Authentically understand the historical and societal contexts of your potential targeted audiences’ perspectives. Learn about their views because 94% of consumers disengage from mistargeted company messages.

THE GROWING AUDIENCE FOR INCLUSIVE MARKETING

We call this generation the ‘call-out generation’ because we are very quick to be able to spot when that line’s been crossed.

— Ollie Olanipekun, Superimpose

Trends continue to shift as will the demographics of the market and who holds the purchasing power. Millennials and Generation Z purchasing decisions will influence how brands will engage with them through communications, articulation of brand values, to representation.

Millennials are more tolerant of differences than previous generations. Sentiments of unity and community need are trending themes through multiculturalism for the millennial demographic in the United States and the UK. Among millennials, 18.5% are Hispanic, 14.2%  are Black, 4.3% are Asian, 3.2% are Mixed Race or other, and 59.8% are Caucasian (Millennial Marketing, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing). 

In the United States, 44% of the population are millennials while being more racially diverse; the post-millennial (51.5%) and pre-millennial (68.4%) people were majority white in 2015, will substantially decrease in population by 2035 (an estimated 46% and 64.8%) (Brookings). 

Millennials represent the largest generational cohort that has ever existed, reaching more than 83.1M people (US Census). GLAAD published a survey by Harris Poll, which found 20% of millennials identify as LGBTQ+. According to empirical research, millennials are more aware of societal issues or causes such as LGBTQ+ advocacy, anti-racism, discrimination, multiculturalism, and closing inequality gaps (Journal of Business Research, Colorado State University). In a study of Millennials globally, 28% hope brands provide innovative new products, and 27% want to improve their knowledge and skill, while 63% seek expert opinion before making purchasing decisions (Global Web Index). Millennials have the purchasing power of $600B each year in the US (Lexington Law). Millennials were estimated to spend $1.4T in 2020, much of which was influenced by cause marketing (5WPR, Accenture).

Brands are looking to the Generation Z demographic as well. While data capture for Gen Z is not as extensive as millennials in the last few years, Gen Z roughly makes up 32% of the global population; almost one-third of the world’s 7.7B people were born since 2001 (Bloomberg). Nearly 48% of Gen Z are from communities of color; one in four are Hispanic, 22% have at least one immigrant parent  (Pew Research Center). In 2019, Newswhip reported that Gen Z is expected to account for 40% of all consumers by 2020, often engaging with content focused on politics, inclusivity, and social responsibility and being more vocal in their stance on specific issues in the United States. Generation Z’s values align closely with their predecessors by being mission-driven, with 74% ranking “purpose” as necessary ahead of a paycheck (TNS, Reuters)

CONCLUSION: NOT JUST A TREND & BECOMING THE NORM 

Here are ways in which brands can bring intersectionality to their inclusive marketing:

  • Hire experts such as multicultural and inclusive agencies or consultants to inform your businesses; allocate funding and a budget for training and adopting for cultural competency.
  • Elevate the communities you want to represent and expand their paid opportunities to work with the brand.
  • Avoid virtue signaling (taking a stand for a cause ostensibly but not authentically) and tokenism (symbolic yet empty effort) through thoughtful action.
  • Consciously use proper pronouns throughout all communications. Recognize the harm in misgendering as a form of erasing identity.
  • Create accessible content for different viewers who may be differently-abled.
  • Put effort into implementing dynamic inclusivity as a business mandate.
  • Pay attention to decisions in the context of social trends and marketing best practices.
  • Create opportunities for conversations with diverse audiences or consumers and get to know them and their stories.

Intersectionality requires diving deep into the nuances of multiple identities and perspectives. There is no one-size-fits-all solution from one diversity, equity, and inclusion course to address intersectionality. Still, it is a necessary step to bring leaders in the right direction for the benefit of themselves, the communities they hope to serve, and their organizations. The recognition of multiculturalism and the LGBTQ+ community in marketing may be relatively recent in the mainstream discourse, however diverse identities have always existed, and they are here to stay. 

Understanding the intertwined complex societal systems in place, such as gender to racial hierarchies, patriarchy, sexism, heteronormativity, and so on, is to better understand the underrepresentation and inequality in our society. Businesses should not integrate the intersectionality framework into their communications because it is a trend, but rather, because it is a valuable perspective to align your brand with its values.

Author: Trisha Hautéa, Senior Research Analyst at Kindred

Editor: Racquel Joseph, Chief Experience Officer at Kindred

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Trisha Hautéa

Published on February 02, 2021