Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Deborah Harper: Why we need representation in data

Deborah Harper, Global Media Expert, is NDA’s new monthly columnist. She has over 20 years’ experience in the media industry and is an honouree for both The Campaign Female Frontiers Awards, and The Top 50 Leading Women in Europe, 2021.

Although we’re surrounded by a plethora of audience data, using it ethically and meaningfully tends to be a more significant challenge. From a media insights point of view, the ethical use of data to reach under-represented audiences, who usually have protected characteristics, can end up excluding a valuable audience from receiving brand messages.

The challenge stems from a lack of primary Black or Asian audience data availability. Without the basic data, it is hard to quantify audience sizing or attitudinal and lifestyle statements from a sample size robust enough to be credible.  

This leaves a gap in our understanding of the validity and value of trying to reach or include  audiences from a Black, Asian or multi-ethnic heritage.  Which means if you’re, say, a Black woman aged over 50, you’re invisible and seemingly not valuable to most advertisers.

What if there was a tool or a verified report that we could access to help understand the spending power of Black women over 50? Happily, it does exist in the form of the “The Black Pound Report”.

I sat down with Lydia Amoah FRSA, Chief Executive Officer of Backlight agency, and the brilliant author of The Black Pound Report, to learn more about her motivation to produce it, how it’s being received by the industry and how everyone in media-land can get their hands on a copy.

  1. When did you first realise that The Black Pound Report needed to be created?

Throughout my working life, either as an employee or a business owner, I noticed three distinct patterns of behaviour in business. First, most senior positions were held by similar people from the same backgrounds, which created a particular way of thinking. It also set up an invisible wall of entry and access to people who didn’t look or sound like them.

As a business coach with psychology skills, I recognised a second pattern: talent from multi-ethnic backgrounds were experiencing something unique to their counterparts. A term we now recognise as ‘psychological passing’, a behaviour where people edit down their personalities and characters to blend in with their environment over time. This has an impact on both abilities and mental health.

The third systemic pattern I found most disturbing is the lack of products and services catering to the needs of people from Black, Asian Multi-Ethnic backgrounds. In 2022 brands are still asking the question, why do we have to create a brand specifically for Black or brown skin? Why can we not just include it within our range?

All of this inspired me to create a report to educate brands, agencies and businesses on their limitations and clarify the opportunities laid before them.

2. How did brands and agencies respond to the first Black Pound Report?

When I launched the first wave of research in 2018, I was blown away by the number of agencies accepting the invitation and showing up to the launch. M&C Saatchi hosted the event in a room filled with BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and more. That’s when I recognised the appetite for this type of study led by a British Black woman for the very first time in history. I’ve had talks with Procter & Gamble, and L’Oréal; with beverage brands and apparel brands, all of whom confirmed that they had made strategic business decisions because of the Black Pound Report research.

Universities are now using it as a paper for students who have written dissertations on the study and much more. It’s a considered paper and a highly regarded piece of research, and there is still more room and progress.

3.  With Wave II about to launch, what’s the most striking statistic you’ve discovered, and why does it benefit advertisers to know about it?

The annual collective disposable income of the Black Asian and Multi-Ethnic consumers in the UK is £4.5 billion. The overlooked potential gets me every single time. Human beings who are being overlooked and underserved.

4. Regarding spending power, who has been the most overlooked consumer?

The research shows that the Black consumer is the most underrepresented and overlooked.

The opportunity here is to develop a deeper understanding and a relationship with this audience and to learn about their preferences. It’s also an opportunity to create products and services specifically for Black consumers, which means the report can also be used to uncover new business territories that drive brand growth.

5. Could this additional layer of audience data help enrich the current syndicated tools to make them more inclusive?

The level of data the Black Pound Report provides is there to empower the planning process for marketers.  It is integrated into the Telmar platform, so subscribers to Telmar have full access. Users can multi-base the data to do cross comparisons, segment the data and pull relevant insights to suit their needs.

6. Where to next for the Black Pound Report?

This is the most rigours and largest research carried out for under-represented audiences, so for the third wave, the data must be continuous. Some people are under the impression it can sit for two years without an update. However, with the ONS figures coming through it will reveal more data, more patterns and behaviours around Black and Asian audiences.

There’s a wealth of data and insights uncovered in the report.  It’s been received in the media world with high acclaim.  Well done to Lydia and her team for leading the way with data representation.