Does your brand live up to its DEI messaging?
Does your brand live up to its DEI messaging?

By on in Branding

Does your brand live up to its DEI messaging?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become a huge business talking point. The #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation–among other things–have brought to the forefront the importance of actively seeking to create diverse and welcoming spaces.

Today’s consumers care deeply about DEI and social impact. Surveys show that 82% of consumers make a purchase decision based on a brand’s purpose.

With DEI holding such sway over consumers, it’s understandable that brands would scramble to proclaim their commitment to the cause. But creating DEI messaging is not the same as living those DEI values. And if there’s a misalignment between what you say and what you do, you might be causing more harm to your brand than good.


Your approach to diversity and inclusion must be holistic. If you’re a makeup company that features Black folks in your ads but still only produces a narrow range of light-skinned foundation shades, you’re missing the point.


It’s not enough to only present diversity.

Yes, representation matters in ad campaigns. We love to see a cereal commercial featuring two moms with their children at the breakfast table. But don’t think that casting someone other than white, cis, hetero people in your commercial means you’ve “checked the diversity box.”

Your approach to diversity and inclusion must be holistic. If you’re a makeup company that features Black folks in your ads but still only produces a narrow range of light-skinned foundation shades, you’re missing the point.

How many years have we seen negative press coverage about brands that slap a rainbow logo up on social media for Pride Month but do nothing to actually support the LGBTQ+ community within their workplace or the wider world?

Consumers can see right through that virtue signaling, and they’re over it. Psychologists have found that people think it’s worse to engage in hollow virtuous behavior than it is to do nothing at all.


Get diverse voices in the room. Then listen to them.

You’ve seen the research about the positive impacts of building diverse teams. It’s clearly beneficial to have diversity in the room. But you only reap the full benefits when you create a safe space for everyone to voice their opinions, concerns, and questions.

If you think your new marketing campaign is great, but the AAPI voices on your marketing team express a concern, listen to them. It can be uncomfortable to hear that something you think is eloquent or clever might not be delivering the message you think it is. Do not take it as an attack on your DEI bona fides. That only leads to defensive actions and behaviors, which creates a hostile environment and ultimately leads to you releasing a weak–potentially damaging–piece of marketing.

Instead, view these moments as a chance to learn something and do better. If you’re open to hearing the feedback, everyone feels safe voicing it. And you all end up with better marketing output and a happier, more inclusive workplace.

This scenario perfectly encapsulates the difference between diversity and inclusion. It’s not enough to pull up a chair at the table–those newly-seated folks must be invited to participate equally and without fear of retribution or rebuke.


Sometimes silence is the best option.

There’s this culture on the internet where everyone feels compelled to chime in on every issue, news story, or zeitgeisty moment.

You can do whatever you want in your free time on your personal Instagram, but brands should think carefully before wading into public discussions around DEI-related topics. If you don’t have anything substantive to add, you might be better off sitting out the discussion.

No one is perfect, and no one brand will be the paragon of DEI and social impact on every single issue.

Maybe you run an outdoor sporting goods company that’s done lots of meaningful work supporting environmental causes. If you want to chime in on the latest IPCC report on climate change, go for it! You’ve put in the actual work to speak authoritatively on that subject.

However, if your board and leadership are predominantly white and male, you might want to take a step back on Black Lives Matter conversations.

If you had an epiphany about racial justice in 2020 and now want to take bold steps to correct past errors, that’s awesome! But you’re better off quietly doing real work behind the scenes instead of trying to curry favor with consumers through empty public displays of diversity.


Let your work speak for itself.

There’s this marketing truism that showing is better than telling. That’s certainly the case with DEI.

If you have to make a lot of noise to draw attention to your DEI efforts, your efforts likely aren’t big enough to warrant real discussion.

However, if you put your nose to the grindstone and work to realize meaningful progress on DEI initiatives, something amazing may happen. Your efforts may start to get noticed.

Your employees might post excitedly about their inclusive workplace on LinkedIn. The local press might do a story about your brand’s contributions to social justice causes in the community. Suddenly, word is getting out about your DEI efforts without you having to share it yourself.

Your brand is showing rather than telling. And that signals to you, your team, and your customers that the DEI work is real.

Getting DEI right can feel like a lot of pressure for a brand. You want to get involved in causes your customers care about, but you don’t want to be insincere or opportunistic. Living the ideals of DEI within your organization is the best way to ensure any DEI messaging you create will be well-received.

If you want an outside eye to weigh in on your DEI marketing messages, we’re happy to give you our honest assessment.