If you could go back to December 2019, what would you tell yourself?
Kelley Butler, award-winning journalist and Businessolver‘s director of marketing content, told herself to keep showing up and creating space for diversity and inclusion at work—and that’s exactly what she did.
Kelley created a platform to share the importance of diverse representation in the work we do as content marketers do; Sadly, there remain too many situations where marketing content ends up being problematic due to a lack of diversity throughout the content process.
During Managing Editor Live 2021, Kelley shared that by taking more care in words we use, the images we put with those words, the teams we build, and the investments we make, we will have a far more significant outcome when it comes to representation, diversity, equity, and inclusion in marketing.
Kelley revealed to us that she can be profane, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care deeply about grammar. Indeed, when it comes to using pronouns such as “they” in the singular, Kelley appreciates that embracing a person’s correct pronouns provides the most effective way to connect outside of saying their name. It’s a reminder both of the importance of seeing individuals as they see themselves and why language must be used as precisely as possible.
Your marketing campaigns have 12 seconds to connect with customers before they decide to either move along or learn more. It’s a small window. Using the correct pronouns in marketing materials, where appropriate (or asked), can help a great deal. (If you don’t take the time to get them right, it can also ensure you won’t make a connection.) “It’s a simple, but a strong sign of inclusivity to those audiences to use pronouns,” explains Kelley. This creates a more inclusive lens of humanity. It decenters the binary structure of gender. A similar approach should be applied to race.
Kelley reminded us that those that we generally call “minorities” statistically aren’t that. (After all, if the minorities are added up, they form a majority.) Minorities haven’t been that for a long time if they ever were. Using the term “minorities” centers white as the majority. People of color are defined as “others” (namely, all those who aren’t white). Kelley recommended shifting our language away from “minority” or “people of color.” Instead, try actually naming someone’s race, an act of specificity which leads to accessibility with our words.
To Kelley, accessibility means easily obtained, used, or understood, which also aligns with our default words. For example, instead of “pregnant women,” you can say “pregnant people.” Instead of “homeless people,” you can use “unhoused.” Making those intentional changes in your default words will make it easier to be understood and embraced by more people.
Ultimately, this comes down to leading with empathy. We should understand the perspective of other people and their lived experiences by honoring our differences through the content we create. “It’s intentional thought and planning and choice, which takes way longer than 12 seconds,” Kelley explains. “But the impression lasts longer and is more effective.”
Color (and Click) Outside the Lines
As content marketers, we know how important words are when it comes to content. We also know words can be overshadowed. Our minds will always see and process images before we even get to read the words. When she was in elementary school, Kelley’s class was assigned to draw a self-portrait. Everyone split up into groups with crayons on each table. Guess which ones everyone fought over—the peach and brown.
This example shows that if we want to be as diverse and inclusive as possible in our writing and images, we have to think outside the box, be it the crayon box or any other kind. How can we achieve this? Audit your image libraries and identify the gaps in inclusion and diversity. Then purchase or source the images that fill those gaps accordingly.
During her presentation, Kelley shared that 64% of all respondents took some action after seeing an ad they considered diverse or inclusive: “When you color outside the lines, you’re able to make a bigger picture.”
Revisiting the Reading Rainbow
Many people who read the above title are probably singing the show’s theme to themselves right now. This is great, because that song holds a relevant and timely lesson for content marketers. It’s stated right in the theme song— “Friends to know and ways to grow, reading rainbow.”
In the world of content marketing, we need to actively seek diversity and inclusion throughout every aspect of the content marketing process. We have to make sure that we are surrounded by people who have different perspectives and experiences than our own. Networking with people different from us can often be an uncomfortable experience, but Kelley says we need to get more uncomfortable to find those different perspectives.
When you walk into a room, Kelley advises asking these questions: “Who doesn’t look like me? Who doesn’t live like me? Who doesn’t have my shared experience?” This leads to having different voices in the room and understanding the difference between appreciation and appropriation. (Or, as Kelley puts it, “Finding the fine line between personalization and tokenism.”)
Show Them the Money
It’s essential to have diversity equity and inclusion in marketing, along with all aspects of the business. Yet like many things in the U.S. and the world in general, it comes down to money. Making these changes to a business come at a cost.
There’s a cost to restock your image library services to ensure your content reaches diverse audiences. Some leaders see only the expense and decide it isn’t worth it. Kelley says we shouldn’t be surprised by a prioritizing of profits, because “at the end of every day ending in ‘y’, leaders care about getting richer.”
So don’t fight their overriding motivation: Appeal to it. In short, show them the money! Connect the benefits to their wallets. The bottom line is that diverse and inclusive teams are more effective and efficient. Not to mention diverse organizations are more attractive to potential buyers.
Kelley provided valuable advice that content marketers can implement within our work. It’s up to us and our teams to provide content that is diverse and inclusive. Remember, in the words of a rockstar content marketer: “Rebel, Rest, Repeat.”