This post about the role communications play in social inclusion first appeared in the Yorkshire Post.
Communication underpins everything we do as a society, and for businesses, it is a crucial part of their brand-development strategy. And it is not only a trust and identity-building tool for customers, but their workforce too.
Lucy Beldon is the planning and inclusivity lead at CDS, and here she explains the vital role communications play in fostering inclusion and how brands should make this a core component of their strategy.
A society that is diverse is rich in differences – and one which is a melting pot of culture, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, religious and political beliefs, and more. As such, businesses need to be sure their communications – whether they be digital or print – are tailored to their audience accordingly, otherwise they run the risk of alienating their customers, creating content that isn’t impactful, and damaging their reputation in the process.
To be effective, communications should deliver a genuinely useful message to the audience you are seeking to engage, and if they don’t, they haven’t served their intended purpose. It might sound obvious, but the best place to start is with understanding. Organisations need to think about who their intended audience is and what information they need and want. Once established, a period of reflection is needed. Are the communications written in a way that is relevant and resonates with them personally, or are they generic and missing the mark?
If the message isn’t something the recipient understands or cares about, they won’t feel motivated to take action and get involved. And without this, the aim of the outreach is lost. Without a doubt, authenticity is a crucial factor in helping to achieve this level of engagement, and the only way to craft this is for companies to ensure the people who are writing the content and developing the strategy are representative of the people they are trying to reach. Messaging should never be the result of guesswork, as this risks showing a lack of empathy for the intended audience, and as a result, can lead to them feeling isolated or excluded.
A useful – and truth-bearing – exercise is for brands to hold up a mirror to their organisation and teams, to see if the right attitudes, culture, and diversity in talent exists. If not, this is a key area for change. Within business, diverse teams create the best outcomes. For instance, when planning a campaign, involving people who embody and understand the end-user is a vital step to achieve better results. While the involvement of more people may mean the end-result takes longer to reach – due to testing and refining a concept – it also means that the final product will be of a higher quality.
This rigorous planning and testing process eliminates the potential of an ‘echo chamber’ forming, allowing a variety of perspectives to be heard – and the finished product is reflective of this. But to achieve real change, the intended audience should be considered in tandem with the wider business objectives, at the very beginning of building and planning a strategy – not two or three steps later.
There is no denying that 2020 has been challenging for businesses, and the road ahead will be bumpy, but one of the biggest takeaways from this year is that good communications have to be authentic, sincere and consider the audience, in order to be truly inclusive. Organisations can’t simply pay lip service to accessibility and inclusion without taking real action, as they will be easily found out.
And when organisations truly embrace an inclusive approach, they have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the communities and citizens they serve.
But it’s not only the end-customer who benefits. By prioritising people, companies gain trust, loyalty and respect for taking the time to truly assess and meet the needs of their audience – whilst also saving time and money by producing better communications that are specifically designed and created for the people they are trying to reach.
Taking a stance and embracing inclusivity can sometimes attract attention and spark debate, and for this reason, brands shouldn’t shy away, but absolutely have to be authentic. Audiences are rightly sceptical and will rally against brands and organisations that approach purpose and inclusion in the wrong way.
It’s no secret that society’s younger generations vote with their feet – research from Edelman has shown that 64% of consumers are belief-driven and choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. Taking a stance has to be done with substance and authenticity, or not at all. Definitely food for thought for enterprises across the region.