Recently, our Strategy team attended 4A’s StratFest 2023 in New York City, hearing from the best in the industry on how to create compelling strategic work. Inspired by the conference, our Senior Strategist, Malav Naik, penned their thoughts on an exploration of the delicate balance between inclusion and alienation. The core theme of the conference this year was Strategic Bravery: the willingness to take risks and push boundaries as the catalyst for impactful work. It's this bravery that propels brands into the limelight, daring to be inclusive without sacrificing their core audience.
In an era dominated by purpose-led marketing campaigns, brands are rising to the occasion as consumers increasingly demand authenticity and alignment with their values. Citizen’s inaugural Connections Report found that nearly 90% of survey respondents want brands to address a social issue. The push for inclusivity has spurred brands to use their platforms to address social issues, cater to niche audiences, and enhance representation across the board.
While the evolution of brands in response to societal shifts is critical, the landscape is not without its challenges. The current climate of heightened polarization presents a paradox. Despite brands operating with a spirit of inclusion, brand managers are becoming more risk averse in the face of growing backlash. All this is a direct result of our current crisis of social connection; our Connections Report shows 15% respondents have lost friends due to polarization and 30% don’t even want to talk about anything controversial.
So, how can we navigate this delicate balance and avoid the dreaded feedback, "We do not want to alienate our core audience"? Afterall, the best creative is hyper targeted and specific, and being everything to everyone will fall flat.
Here’s a few ways that we can continue to push for a mindset shift i.e. seeing niche audiences as an engine of growth, instead of seeing it as a limitation or constraint.
1. Don't Fear Specificity:
Embrace the idea that the more personal, the more universal. Dive deep into a community to find insightful nuggets that can create emotional resonance with a broad audience. An unconventional example for this is the hit Netflix show Never Have I Ever. It is one of the most specific depictions of Tamil immigrant culture. However, it struck a note with audiences across the globe as it conveys the universal themes of teenage angst and coming of age.
A generic message risks getting lost in the noise; specificity is the key to standing out. Remember, when you try to talk to everyone, you end up talking to no one.
2. Understand Your Brand DNA:
Define your brand's purpose and consider how it can be applied to specific communities. Authenticity is crucial, and your brand's legitimacy to speak on a particular topic should be evident. Purpose isn't a mere reflection of social media trends; it's about driving long-term advocacy by seamlessly connecting your purpose to the product you're selling.
An example of this is the widely successful Vaseline See My Skin campaign. The brand did an incredible job of exemplifying their purpose of ‘healing’. Hence, even when the campaign centered the Black & African-American community, they were able to create emotional resonance with the masses.
3. Build Bridges, Not Walls:
Instead of contributing to the polarization, focus on narratives that bring communities together for constructive dialogue. In a world divided, your messaging should facilitate conversation rather than force people to choose sides. Be a unifying force, emphasizing shared values and common ground.
Coke Studio Pakistan is the perfect example of building community and fostering dialogue. Coca Cola was able to not only generate a ton of impressions, but they also managed to bridge the gap between Indian and Pakistani music lovers.
4. Stick to Your Purpose:
Recognize that abandoning your brand's purpose in the face of backlash may exacerbate alienation. Staying true to your core values is essential, even in the face of criticism. A powerful example of this is when North Face defended their campaign featuring a drag queen, despite backlash from several fringe groups.
By implementing these strategies, brands can navigate the complex landscape of inclusive marketing, fostering connection and engagement without alienating their core audience. It's a tightrope walk, but with purpose and authenticity as your guides, you can successfully bridge the gap between innovation and tradition.
About The Author:
Malav Naik is an artist, activist and an award-winning marketing strategy professional. They have honed their multi-disciplinary approach to communications from their experience across brand strategy, advertising and public relations in the USA, Canada and India.