The bottom-line value of multicultural insight

Insights from both the inside and outside only serve to strengthen an organization's culturally inclusive practices that can lead straight to the bottom line.

With the official start of the 2013 holiday shopping season just around the corner, retailers across the country are gearing up to shower us with endless ads, jingles, promotions, and deal-of-the-day sales. Considering the holiday season accounts for roughly 20% of all annual retail activity and that many businesses make 40% to 50% of their profits in this quarter, it's no surprise retailers put so many of their proverbial eggs in this basket. 

However, there is something retailers and other organizations who want to win the season can do differently that would truly give them a competitive advantage. By using their internal diversity and inclusion assets year-round to provide critical multicultural insights to their marketing teams  – and vice versa – companies can create a 360-degree formula for internal diversity and multicultural marketing success in every season. 

The psychographics – e.g. the values, beliefs, motivating factors, and cultural nuances – of target segments generally don't change whether they are sitting at home reading a magazine or at work reading a report. As such, it stands to reason that diversity teams would share company-commissioned or other relevant multicultural research with the marketing teams, and that marketing teams would share their insights also, as well as leverage internal assets such as employee resource groups (otherwise known as affinity groups, business resource groups, or employee networks) to serve as focus groups for new products or external campaigns. 

Yes, internal diversity efforts and external multicultural marketing are different, but they are two sides of the same coin. If one part of an organization has data-driven or qualitative insights about a segment or target population, those insights can and should be shared cross-functionally for an organization's maximum understanding of both its employees and its consumers. This point was reiterated for me recently after having an opportunity to review some of the material from the #InTheBlack campaign being led by the Black Media Matters Consortium. While fairly new at just over a year old, the consortium is comprised of a “who's who” of media, agencies, and trade organizations – including BET Networks, Johnson Publishing Company, Nielsen, Reach Media/Tom Joyner, and theGrio/NBC News, among others – that have joined to raise awareness and create a sense of urgency around the economic opportunities presented by the African-American market. While I initially began browsing the data and insights from a marketing purview, I soon realized that much of the information was also valuable from an internal diversity perspective.

Internal diversity teams may not find traditional marketing data – such as the fact that 42 million black consumers spend nearly a trillion dollars a year; black women view themselves as the primary decision-makers across virtually all consumer segments; or that black males are the drivers of popular culture – particularly helpful information for their day-to-day jobs. However, when we begin to look at this segment's psychographics, which reveals they are more influenced by advertising than any other ethnic group or that just because they engage in mainstream activities doesn't necessarily mean they are post-racial, we readily see applicability of this information for recruiting and diversity programming as well.

But how many marketers would consider passing this information on to their internal diversity teams? How many internal diversity practitioners would consider that a marketing effort could contain relevant information for them?

Having led both a multicultural marketing practice within a PR agency and a diversity and inclusion function at a Fortune 100 company, I've played on each team and make this case wearing both hats. I've sat in board rooms as internal diversity teams devised ways to convince the marketing teams of their business value. I've also sat in meetings in which marketers questioned and often dismissed (behind closed doors, of course) the value that internal diversity and inclusion teams have on the “business” side.

However, I believe in the value gained from a meeting of these two multicultural minds. The understanding that insights from both the inside and outside can nurture only serves to deepen and strengthen an organization's culturally inclusive practices and behaviors that can, via talent or customer acquisition and retention, lead straight to the bottom line – this holiday season and beyond.

Latraviette Smith, former VP, global diversity and inclusion for American Express, has spent 15 years in communications in agency, corporate, consumer, and multicultural PR, as well as senior marketing roles. Her column will focus 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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