Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Diversity: an extra marketing tool

For those interested in my oeuvres, here is an article I wrote about the advantages of including diversity to a company's corporate communication for the blog of the now defunct Design for Diversity:

When uttering the word “diversity” in the corporate world, you find yourself more often than not being directed towards the HR department. And it is true that any drive for wider diversity has seen the emphasis being put for many years now on equality within the workplace and the only external application of diversity for a company is often limited to monitoring the ethnic background and disability or lack thereof of job applicants.

Indeed, there are many consultancies out there ready to help companies with equalities and HR issues; offering training and awareness courses.

The D word however encompasses much more than industrial relations and there is no reason why companies should not take this on board and turn diversity into a marketing tool to expand their customer base. It simply makes good commercial sense.

Accessibility is the obvious starting point. You may have noticed recently in the papers and on the tube a series of adverts for a long-awaited film and its “global partner”. There are different versions of the ad but the main feature is always a typographic piece usually defying reading. This is due to the colours and the typefaces used and not simply because the message is coded. While there are semantic reasons for this to be the case in this context, many people have found themselves frustrated (and therefore possibly antagonised) at not being able to decipher those adverts. For a person without vision restrictions, this is very much a one off incident which can easily be dismissed but also a chance to experience what, for a person with a visual impairment, is another example of a daily occurrence.

This is obviously an extreme example but all too often, the wrong choice of colours or a typeface a little too original can render an ad illegible to millions of people (About two million people in the UK self define (which means that an unknown number of people might choice not to self identify) as having a sight problem or seeing difficulty) (1). A little consideration to make your marketing and corporate communication truly accessible can go a long way. Inclusion (of which accessibility is a part) is, however, the big challenge raised by diversity. A good example of lack of inclusion can be found in the car industry where marketers seem to watch Men and Motors perhaps a little too much. In 2004, Volvo found that 80% of car purchase decisions are influenced by women, yet, most marketing is still very obviously targeted at single white men; cue Pirelli model. Presumably with this in mind, Toyota US, have decided to target women both in what their cars have to offer and with their advertising campaign. The result? Women purchase about 55 percent of all Toyota vehicles and 60 percent of all Toyota passenger cars sold in the U.S.

Major companies now showcase their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on their websites, focusing mostly on the environment. Most of the time, diversity does not seem very high on the agenda; sometimes never even influencing the composition of the board room. CSR obviously offers opportunities for PR and brand building for companies and social inclusion is possibly the single most effective part of this from a marketing and PR point of view because of the very direct impact it can have on people’s life and experience. In addition to the design of marketing campaigns, diversity and inclusion can apply to PR (thinking about accessibility in the organisation of sponsored events, for example) and to all instances of corporate communication (using plain English and accessible typefaces and colours in end of year reports to name but one obvious instance).

Still not convinced? The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and several other anti-discrimination laws (the anti age discrimination act to be introduced in October this year or the bill looking at preventing discrimination in the provision of goods, access and services currently under consultation, to name but two) should prove a further incentive for companies. Many companies are not aware, let alone ready for these laws which they have or will have to comply with whether they like it or not. In March of this year, the Department for Transport ruled that South West Trains could not longer benefit from an exemption from the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998 for the size of the letters on their on-board information system which did not comply with these regulations. This meant that the company had to withdraw 28 trains from the network before their normal end of life. It would have cost £750,000 to install new information screens.

It is important to not to see these new laws as problems but rather chances for best practice and to remember that by embracing diversity more widely, companies could not only save money but actually develop their market shares. Marketing and PR are after all about getting a message across to as many people as possible.

(1) Estimate derived from the Government Disability Survey conducted by the Department of Social Security in 1996/7. Source: RNIB

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