Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How brands and influencers can work together on inclusive marketing to drive real change

By Charlotte Williams, Founder of SevenSix Agency 

2020 – the year that changed everything, right? There are many aspects of our lives where this statement will of course be true. An ever-present threat to health, regular redundancy announcements and an overhaul of our daily routines couldn’t fail to have an ever-lasting effect on the majority of us. Many within advertising and media may also think this applies to diversity and inclusion; the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and an ongoing narrative that the industry must do better must have had an impact, surely?

I launched SevenSix to tackle the lack of representation from brands within the influencer marketing space, so spent significant parts of last year on the frontline of conversations with brand marketers. It’s fair to say that there was an information overload in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, followed by plenty of uncertainty from brands not knowing what they should or shouldn’t do against the backdrop of heartbreak, anger and confusion.

At times the conversations were pretty uncomfortable, particularly when brands realised they might be part of the problem themselves (kudos to those who did make that leap – it’s not easy). We built up lots of momentum with all sorts of brands who were looking to rethink their marketing strategies, as well as build understanding internally amongst employees; we were able to match brands with black and brown influencers from our network, plus run internal trainings sessions to kickstart company diversity and inclusion programmes.

However, months on and momentum has definitely slowed. There has been some progress of course (news such as Publicis Groupe hiring a Head of Diversity and Inclusion demonstrates this), but we can see from our day-to-day work with brands that interest in diversity in influencer marketing has waned. There are different reasons for this – some brands have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic more than others and so in some cases leaders have been pulled in different directions.

Saying that, it’s hard not to be disappointed when progress has halted for teams we worked with on inclusive marketing strategies in the summer. The silver lining is that my pessimism in this area is the driving force behind SevenSix – we want to help as many marketers as possible make a change for the better. In my view, diversity is viewed as a trend, and until that changes, or it’s back in the headlines again, it will remain lower on agendas.
So, how can we help make 2021 the year that a significant change is made?

Brands and influencers need to work together, moving in the same direction.

It sounds obvious, but education around the importance of diversity and inclusion is absolutely key to this. Whichever part of the ecosystem you sit in and whether focused on internal teams, partners or even consumers, understanding is the first step to any significant progress. There’s little point trying to do things differently without those around you understanding the context around the decision as it’s likely it won’t carry the punch it would if you brought them along on the journey with you. We’ve built the agency around education, even running our first Influencer Summit last week.

Sitting hand in hand with education is having the tricky conversations. We’ve worked with brands who have taken the first steps to improving their inclusive marketing, only to pull back at any dip in audience engagement. Instead of walking away, have a conversation with your agency partners and influencers themselves about why that might be. It’s a hard thing to accept, but as a society we have been trained to look for so-called perfection (and a very specific definition of perfection at that); it may simply be that the content in question sits outside of the traditional definition of perfection, meaning it is being overlooked, rather than being rejected by the audience.

Following on from that, marketers, this is a call out to listen to your expert influencers more! As brands start to widen the selection of influencers they work with, there may be a temptation to attempt to micromanage across the board, but remember – you chose to work with them for a reason and they know their community inside out. If they flag that a certain creative direction or content type won’t sit well with them, chances are they’re right. Trust in the experts you chose to represent your brand and you’ll see the improvement in results.

In the planning stages, get visual – take a good look at your customer base and compare it with your content. Is it an accurate reflection of who you’re trying to engage with? If not, make the change. Similarly, when it comes to the conversations you’re having with consumers, are you getting out and speaking to a properly representative selection? If not, there might be key insights you’re missing. On an individual level, widening your circle in and outside the office will also make a difference. Seek out opportunities to meet new people (even virtually) and have conversations that get you thinking.

We’re all craving connection right now, so it’s actually a good chance to reach out to people outside of your normal ‘bubble’.
Finally, ask for help – no one has to tackle this on their own.

Whether you work for a brand, agency or are an influencer yourself, collaboration is needed across the board if we are to see genuine change. Everyone is able to participate in the conversation and process, so take the leap and get involved.