It’s not uncommon to see brands get in some hot water these days due to some sort of insensitive message or a less-than-subtle pander that alienates a big chunk of existing customers. Today’s cultural and political climate almost requires brands commit to a balancing act that supports a wide variety of movements.
So how should brands handle this?
Get inclusive content right, and you’ll keep your current target audience and expand into new markets. Get it wrong, and people will label you as a brand that simply follows the trends for more profits.
The answer? Follow the “Golden Rule.” You know, that ancient kernel of wisdom that every decent parent since recorded time began drummed into their kids’ heads. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Put yourself in your audience’s skin and walk around in it. If you were a member of a minority group, for instance, would you feel left out or pandered to as you read your blog post draft? If so, it’s time for a major revision.
However, if the content puts out a digital welcome mat for both regular audience members and newcomers alike – from all walks of life – then you’ve succeeded in creating inclusive content.
Start with Your Content Strategy
Your content strategy lies at the foundation of your company’s content marketing program. As such, it should reflect the inclusivity your brand wants to infuse your content with.
If it doesn’t, update it to reflect your brand’s core values. Then, publish your strategy on your content calendar so all stakeholders can refer to it as they collaborate on, plan, and create content.
Next, Put that Strategy into Action
You should probably start with a brainstorming session with your content teams. Content collaboration can be much more than “What content can we create this month to boost our sales of X.”
During content planning, teach your teams to think outside the box and research various cultures’ ways of seeing the world. Then, encourage your creatives to use words and images that reflect the fact that everyone’s welcome at your table.
When you welcome everyone to feast on your content, you’ll have a better chance of achieving your sales goals. As Ann Gynn points out, statistics show that nearly two-thirds of people today trust brands more when their content reflects the diversity of their audience.
Authentic content that included people with disabilities across all ethnic spectrums rated 23 points higher than the content that the audience judged “most appealing.”
Like the fictional Don Draper pointed out, it’s not appeal that sells, but rather the tug at one’s heartstrings that drives conversions. Inclusive content does just that.
Make Your Content Formats More Inclusive
Once you tweak the content itself for more inclusive language and images, review the content format itself. There are several format-related changes you can make to make it more inviting for people with disabilities.
Closed-captioned text for videos
People with permanent – or temporary – hearing disabilities or other life situations that make closed-captioned content formats a great choice. Meeting their needs positions your brand as one that cares about making life easier for its customers. That’s the whole point of content marketing, after all.
For example, a new parent might prefer to watch his favorite TV programs with the sound off to keep Baby sound asleep. Or, someone else might have had a hearing loss due to an eardrum rupture or other injury. Closed-captioned text can help these people, as well as others with permanent hearing issues, understand what’s going on in your videos.
Additionally, providing captions in other languages can also help people whose native language is not your own to comprehend the meaning of what’s happening on the screen. The easier you make it for people to understand, the better your content communicates.
Alt text for images
Do you always include detailed, inviting alternative (alt) text for your images? Alt tags are that portion of your HTML code that describes the appearance and intent of your images.
Using them helps the people with visual impairments in your audience understand what each image is and how it relates to the point you are trying to make. And, as a bonus, alt tags help search engines to better index your image.
Recognize How Your Culture and Background Has Shaped You
Don’t assume that your audience has the same cultural background as your own. Your staid New England background might make you shudder the first time you meet your Facebook friend in, for instance, France or Turkey.
Let me warn you, French and Turkish natives won’t probably ask permission before they embrace you, landing two kisses in the process, one on each cheek. Or, you might be from one of those Mediterranean-encircling countries and wonder, “What in the world makes Americans so cold?”
Cultures and family backgrounds make a huge impact on the way people see the world. If you don’t step outside of your own, you’ll never understand how your customers from other backgrounds think.
Learn about other cultures’ communication styles
Instead, do some research. Even better, make a few new friends among people who don’t look like you, think like you, or love like you. You might discover you have more in common than you think – and you’ll gain a better perspective on how others think.
Then, when you create content for people outside your cultural comfort zone, ask questions, challenge your assumptions, and learn how they express themselves.
Blend your own communication styles with your prospects’
Find areas of commonality and express yourself in a way that reflects their culture as well as your own. Studies show that marketers and salespeople who mirror some of their prospects’ communication styles have more success than those who do not. But take care not to go overboard, lest you seem to be pandering or, worse, mocking them.
For example, when I email my Australian colleagues, I sign off with “Cheers” rather than the staid American business standard, “Best regards.” Often, I change my spelling to their own (such as “favourite” instead of “favorite”).
But if I started using all kinds of Australian slang, they might think that I’m pandering to them. It’s a fine line. Proceed carefully.
Use Inclusive Imagery and Text
Use positively charged words and images that bring people together rather than pull them apart. Show people of varying backgrounds working together in harmony.
Then, when giving examples, use ones that upend gender stereotypes. For example, when describing a child’s caregiver, use the word ‘he” to show your laundry brand’s openness to a diversity of roles. You’ll be likely to endear yourself to all the stay-at-home dads out there.
Make the exotic familiar. One of the finest examples of inclusive imagery and text is Coca-Cola’s 2018 ad that ran in the US during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Featuring a young woman in a hijab walking down a hot sidewalk just before sunset, the ad captured the intense thirst people experience during the fast, where they abstain from food and water from before sunrise to after sunset.
A young non-fasting woman sees her walking, buys herself a Coke and one for the stranger. The ad ends with them sharing a Coke as the sun sets over a seaside scene.
During the ad, subtle text rolls across the screen, educating viewers about what Muslims go through during the Ramadan season. It builds empathy and a bond with people many Americans never get to know on a first-name basis.
Finally, Use Localization and Local Translators to Reach out to Foreign Markets
If you’re like most larger companies, you have – or are planning to have – subsidiaries in countries that don’t speak your language. But it’s not just the language. It’s the cultural nuances that you need to consider to reach your prospects’ hearts.
For that reason, it helps to have locals on the ground to help you build your brand image from the ground up. Having people who can interpret both the language and the local customs will create an excellent first impression – one that lasts. It marks your company as one that wants to include people worldwide in your success.
As you make your move toward more inclusive content, it helps to have a content marketing platform that allows your content teams to partner with each other and with your company’s customer-facing teams. These teams can provide valuable feedback that enables you to check whether your efforts are connecting with your prospects and customers.
With DivvyHQ, you have everything from ideation to publishing and beyond – even content analytics – all in a single place. Try it free for 14 days to see how it simplifies your move toward more inclusive content!