Fear's Influence on DEIA: Moving Beyond Superficial Marketing Initiatives

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June may be over, but Pride is not. This year we have seen more and more brands pulling away from Pride and other DEIA initiatives. The internet is ripe with memes of brands painting their logo rainbow, and then promptly ditching it on July 1st.  We’ve heard from BIPOC creators and business owners that the influx of donations and support following the George Floyd tragedy have all about dried up. Our attention spans have moved on while these individuals are once again left to fight on their own. 

Fear's Influence on DEIA Decisions

Fear can manifest in various ways, leading brands to make reactive DEIA decisions. Some common fears whether accurate or not include backlash from customers, negative press, potential loss of market share, and damaging brand reputation. These concerns often result in superficial or tokenistic initiatives that don’t address the root causes of inequality or provide long-term solutions. We’ve seen many brands opt for safe, low-risk actions, limited-time campaigns, or one-off donations, rather than engaging in meaningful systemic change. While brands flood our feeds with rainbow logos, they’re also pulling queer products from shelves out of fear and abandoning their queer creators to defend themselves against hate.

At Helen + Gertrude, we believe our work plays a substantial role in how consumers engage and develop their views around these issues. Marketing and advertising provide consumers with exposure to various backgrounds they may not otherwise have. We aim to support brands to be brave and continue to fight alongside consumers for what matters. To be a true ally means sharing their fear and relieving some of its burdens. If you have privilege, whether that's money, power, race, or whatever, it is your responsibility to leverage it and be as uncomfortable as the people you're trying to protect. 

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Overcoming Fear: Building Authentic DEIA Initiatives

Educate and Empower Internal Teams

There is still a severe lack of understanding and familiarity with DEIA issues. Invest in training programs to educate yourself and employees at all levels about the importance of DEIA. Empowered teams will feel more confident and brave in their decision-making and better equipped to navigate potential challenges. If you’re in a leadership position, don’t put all the weight on your team. Ensure you’re also doing the work to be able to adequately support them in their decision-making.

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Example: Engage with an organization such as 540WMain that can customize workshops to your organization's particular needs and meet you where you are. They are even able to audit your policies and marketing materials to support your DEIA actions.

Establish a Year-Round Strategy 

DEIA efforts should be embedded in the core values and long-term goals of the brand. According to eMarketer, 73% of consumers said they think more highly of companies that advertise with LGBTQ+ media, but only 1% of ads outside of Pride month contained LGBTQ+ messaging. Rather than focusing solely on seasonal or trendy campaigns, dedicate a portion of your marketing budget to developing year-round initiatives that demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Sustainability is key to building trust, and credibility. It also proves that your intentions are more than just performative.

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Example: Consider your brand making a recurring donation to a particular cause and highlighting their work on your marketing channels or working with content creators that are aligned with your particular initiative all year not just during a themed month such as Pride, Women’s History Month, or Black History Month. 

Communicate Transparently

Brands should openly communicate their DEIA initiatives to their customers, employees, and stakeholders. Be transparent about intentions, progress, and challenges faced along the way. Encourage feedback and actively listen to diverse perspectives to ensure continuous improvement. There is a strong chance you may fumble and make a mistake along the way. Think about how you can prepare ahead of time.

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Example: In some cases, brands are caught off guard when they get backlash. Forward-thinking can help support your team in how to respond when it's time to decide between fight or flight. Develop a list of scenarios that could happen, and discuss the appropriate response as a team involving both your internal team and your external partners such as PR and ad agencies.

Cultivate Authentic Relationships

Avoid tokenism by building authentic connections with marginalized communities. Engage with community leaders, influencers, and grassroots organizations to understand their needs and collaborate on sustainable solutions. Additionally, what is the makeup of your team? If you all look, act, and think the same, and you don’t have the power to impact hiring decisions, how can you bring in outside voices? All the education and training in the world is not going to replace real lived experiences. It is crucial to involve these voices in decision-making processes and allow them to shape the direction of your initiatives. Be willing to collaborate with these experts and give them a voice on your channels. 

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Example: This is where that year-round strategy comes into play. A long-term partnership with an influencer in the community you are supporting shows a stronger investment than a one-off campaign. Can you develop a moderation plan together on how you will both respond to comments? How can you make the relationship a true partnership and not just transactional?

Stand By Your Decisions

Now that you have pro-actively thought about how you will respond if an initiative does not go smoothly and you have selected experts that align with your brand, be ready to defend your choices. A surefire way to lose not just trust, but also a consumer’s spending power from both sides of the fence is to make a wishy-washy stand. Prepare with your influencers ahead of time about how you will support one another in the case of backlash. Involve leadership in what actions will be taken and what those consequences may be prior to launching an initiative. If the answer is to shut it down if it does not go well, then maybe this particular initiative is not true to your brand and is not the right fit.

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Example: Your moderation team is expecting to receive a lot of negative comments on a particular social post. Rather than removing the content, you could choose to hide or block comments, or if you are a brand that isn’t afraid of a little snark, one of our favorite responses is to simply respond with a link to donate. 

Celebrate Stories of Joy

Social media and 24/7 news coverage bombard us with images and stories of violence, conflict, and hate. Yet there are countless uplifting narratives that go untold - stories of resilience, community, creativity, and joy from marginalized groups and individuals. While it’s important to share their wisdom and perspective on how we collectively get to a more equitable society, there’s so much more these groups offer. Honor their full humanity by sharing artists’ work, learning about the culture of underserved groups, and celebrating them! While injustice and oppression remain realities, they alone do not define marginalized communities

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Example: Consider hiring an artist from a marginalized community to create unique branded materials for your next marketing campaign. If you hire an LGBTQ+ artist, for instance, hire them to create work not just related to the queer community or Pride month, but embrace their work beyond just one identity.

Managing a large brand comes with power, and with that power, we can enact change. But, we also know the bottom line is important, and ROI is a key performance indicator for many brand managers. If we take a look at just the LGBTQ+ segment, their spending power globally is estimated at $3.7 trillion annually. That’s a lot of $$$ being spent elsewhere if your brand decides to inauthentically engage with this community. It is time to move beyond fear, embrace discomfort, and make a genuine, sustained commitment to equity and inclusion. By doing so, brands can become true allies and create a lasting impact that extends beyond themed months and trendy campaigns.

Becca Post
Co-founder + CEO

With a background in New Media Design, Becca has spent her career building world-class creative teams developing content for the world's most well-known brands, including Walmart, Starbucks, American Express, GE, and Jose Cuervo. On her off hours, she can be found tackling a home project, getting her hands dirty in the garden, or convincing her husband to adopt another dog.

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