Fueling diversity efforts with the innovation of marketing

A brand must succeed in consistently fulfilling its promise to consumers across all points of interaction. The same holds true for employees and diversity and inclusion strategies and practices.

Last week, my colleagues attended the Now/Next/Why session in Chicago and returned to New York ecstatic to discuss their takeaways. This day-long trends briefing, hosted by Contagious Communications and social media agency Social Deviant, focused on the next big social, technological, media, and marketing shifts impacting brands. Perhaps as importantly, it energized and empowered my colleagues in a way that felt, well, contagious.

As they shared insights gained from the event, I, too, became eager to learn and hear more. Here’s why: although the conference was targeted to marketers – and specifically those marketers looking to push beyond the limits of conventional thinking – the more my colleagues shared, the more connections I drew to other disciplines and roles. 

The ideas exchanged highlighted similarities among concepts that we might otherwise never think to link – in this case, cutting-edge marketing and diversity and inclusion. Although these likenesses may not be readily obvious, once we recognize them, we can approach diversity and inclusion not with the tepidity and anxiety of unfamiliar territory, but with the confident excitement generated by innovative and purposeful ideas.  

The theme of this year’s Now/Next/Why, "Obsessing Experience," is meant to stimulate in-depth discussion around a central question posed by the organizers: How can brands obsess "experience," from the fleeting (or fulsome) interactions they have with people, to the way in which companies organize themselves to align commercial objectives with the genuine needs of everyday folk?" 

As I listened to my colleagues answer this question, guided by both the ideas presented during the session and their own revelations, I had one of my own: How much more impactful could organizations who embrace this concept internally be in driving new insights, new levels of interaction, and a new involvement around their diversity and inclusion programs.

The first insight my colleagues shared was that a focus on experience has the potential to change the way marketers build relationships with consumers. The premise is that "an experience is the interaction that a person has anytime, anywhere, or anyhow" with a company and that a brand must succeed in consistently fulfilling its promise to consumers across all points of interaction. 

The same holds true for employees and diversity and inclusion strategies and practices. We must be deliberate about the experiences we are delivering and ensure they are aligned with the goals of our organizations. Do they reflect an inclusive environment – in hiring, in development, in promotions, and in everyday team interactions? If the answer is no, or even "I don’t know," the employee experience must be reconsidered and reframed to ensure the interactions are supportive of the desired – and expected – culture.

The second learning was derived from years of studies by Cornell University’s psychology department, which found that regardless of demographics, consumers had more happiness from experiential purchases than from material ones. The core reason: our experiences continue to live within us – whether via memory or talking about them – while our purchases have a much more finite and fleeting relevance. 

In the context of diversity and inclusion, this insight leads us to understand that the ongoing experiences we cultivate with employees will likely be far more meaningful and substantive than temporary monetary rewards. This in no way means financial compensation isn’t valued, but long-term relationship value will more likely be gained from ensuring all employees feel as if they are appreciated, valued, have opportunities to excel, and can succeed.

The final takeaway was that companies must begin to foster belief and collaboration among internal stakeholders to help create a common understanding of what is possible. In other words, "seeing is believing," which means that organizations must embody, not just espouse, the abstract values often found in strategies. When this happens, companies will be better able to cultivate a collective understanding of their diversity and inclusion goals – and help ensure they become organizational, not just departmental. 

In the strategic briefing book shared at the session, the organizers quoted Voltaire, asking, "Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?" Today, I challenge us to embrace this type of wisdom and continue to search for diversity and inclusion lessons in unexpected places. We might just uncover the next innovation we’ve been seeking.

Latraviette Smith-Wilson is SVP of communications for Sundial Brands. The former VP, global diversity and inclusion for American Express has spent more than 17 years in communications and marketing in agency, corporate, consumer, and multicultural roles, including at Edelman and Deloitte. Her column focuses on the PR industry's ongoing efforts to advance diversity among its ranks at all levels. Connect with her via LinkedIn or at latraviette@gmail.com.

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