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Black Lives Marketed: 5 Ways to Collaborate with a Culture to Make It “Seen” vs. “Shown”

It's time to take a look at how supporting a culture is different from casting a culture.

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Let’s first start with defining BIPOC. As a non-BIPOC, you may be asking yourself, what is BIPOC and what is the difference? In a June 17th, 2020 article in the New York Times titled “What Does BIPOC Mean”, it states the meaning as “Black Indigenous People of Color” and was coined to make sure all colors are represented. But how do you apply that notion to marketing and is it as easy as making sure all colors are represented? The short answer? NO.

“I feel lately that brands are reaching out to more ethnic ambassadors, however they are still not offering payment. I feel especially in this time the best support you can show is paying me for my labor, my brand, my influence.”

Johanna Thompson, Miami-based pilates instructor and model

Plain and simple, there are two extremes in marketing. A check box on a creative brief to “cast for diversity” and just like it sounds, it’s a “cover yourself” checkbox, to make a brand appear as though they value all people. And maybe they do. But if you’re only going so far as checking a box, then you are simply casting for “inclusion” vs. supporting the “excluded”.

The second extreme is the north star. Thinking of diversity from insight to execution. Celebrating the culture and paying homage to it vs. misappropriating it for financial gain.

In 2010, as the Strategy Lead for the retailer, Target, for the African American account on the advertising agency side, I saw what making BIPOC feel “seen” really meant.  You may be surprised to know that Target has an African American Marketing team, made up of BIPOC, with a goal of making this consumer feel “seen” at Target.  The goal was not to ensure a box was checked, but to reflect and celebrate black culture from the beauty products that are carried, to the way aisles were labeled, to the celebrities partnerships to private label fashion recommendations. At that time, Target had not yet collaborated with a Black designer for their re-known private label partnerships. We helped to craft missions and marketing plans and sold these recommendations into the senior management. Target didn’t just check a box. They wanted to make a difference. And years later, they now partner with BIPOC-founded brands from beauty to fashion.

“Something I see is a lot of brands just going with the flow and not being authentic about what or how they want to be involved. While everyone is trying to figure out how to go about it from a crisis management standpoint, it would be great to see people be authentic in just being open and honest with their lack of understanding in the past and openly call out for help, answers, and solutions for how to combat the issue at hand. Rather than a couple social media posts or donations to causes, actually take a proactive approach to being part of the solution.”

Amobi Okugo, Professional Soccer Player for the Austin Bold

Ironically, fast forward 10 years, and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 stemmed from the very hometown of Target…Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The death of George Floyd was the cry heard around the world for change across everything…from laws to school curriculums to marketing to downright human decency.  But the problem is, these pre-existing thoughts and actions are so ingrained, companies need to be taught how to “do right” by the culture.

For brands that need to make a shift, I created the “Five A’s”:

  1. Admit – If you have not been inclusive, or you have been, there’s always room for more. Admit your faults internally and externally.
  2. Ask – Question your audience about what they think you can be doing better. Make them feel seen and included in the change.
  3. Announce – Make your plans known, internally and externally. And be as detailed as possible, authentic brands are transparent brands.
  4. ActIf you want to be valued by BIPOC, show value to them. Don’t just show them, see them. Make them feel seen by your brand on all levels. Support their causes, hire them, pay them fairly, create products with them in mind.
  5. AccelerateFollow-up with increased speed. Put your foot on the gas and continue to do more with clear company goals, standards and product development.  For example, provide a platform, grants, mentorship, hiring, mission statements, research, influencer approaches, etc. And create a multi-year plan, vs. a short term goal.

If you’re not a brand, and you simply want to make changes, get involved with The Loveland Foundation, an organization that article contributor, Johanna Thompson supports. The Loveland Foundation is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls.

#blacklivesmatter

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