Inclusion and Profit in Harmonious Alignment

Written by Jared James, Senior Associate Planning and Strategy, New York

Brands appear to be inundated by the demand for authentic inclusivity in their campaigns. According to filmmaker, Cheryl Miller Houser, during her Discussion Session: Storytelling and Empathy in a Purpose-Driven Economy, 78% of consumers want to align with companies that share their values and create positive social impact.

We are witnessing a social revolution in lieu of a 4th industrial uprising; wherein, socially conscious consumers are changing the dot-com world and marketing place. To drive performance, advertisers need to be active instead of reactive. Meaning, brands are required to represent the widest range of people, including — but not limited to — people with disabilities. A great example of how an organization can authentically drive conversation about representation is Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller efforts. CEO Satya Nadella talks about how today Microsoft consider accessibility right from the outset when designing a product. This was also reflected in its TV spot aired during Super Bowl this year, which shows how the Adaptive Controller has changed the lives of many young gamers with disabilities.

Listening to many of the sessions at SXSW this year, it was inherently clear that sentiment and empathy are a radical tool in technology and a marketing vehicle for media.

Frances West, former IBM Chief Accessibility Officer, defines inclusion as “ensuring technology creates no barriers”. That said, how can brands align their business goals in a genuine and emotionally engaging way? There are two approaches which I believe reflect the theme of authentic inclusion at SXSW this year.

Firstly, story-telling methodology, which goes beyond a symbol of inclusion next to your logo. It’s about creating content and messaging which reflects the needs and values of your company and the audience. Cheryl Miller Houser says, “Regardless of the medium, powerful stories bring people inside an emotional experience. They communicate through showing not telling.” To maximize impact, if brands echo the sentiment of its audiences, it creates a much more memorable experience.

The second approach is about empowering others. Championing people is at the forefront of audience first approach. Increasing visibility and representation in media needs to happen within the medium, but also at the executive level within a company. For many years, storytelling and shared experiences have been established and dominated by one gender and race: white men. While it is great to talk about change, advertisers must employ action by trust the vision and leadership of Gen Z. Recruit or cast representatives and specialists to support multi-cultural brand campaigns and look beyond the resume.

From the commentary shared by SXSW veterans whom I chatted with over the week – unlike previous years – the message of this year’s festival is about thinking beyond traditional current strategies and how you leverage content to elicit an action. Authentic representation will transform your brand into a social and cultural movement, drive positive change, brand awareness, and revenue.