April 14, 2022
We all have unconscious biases; research shows that 90% of people think they're more objective than average. (Source World Economic Forum article on bias) Be honest – how many of your inner friendship circles are truly different from you, how much time do you spend with people who don’t look, sound, or speak like you? And how does that translate into your work, the way you communicate, the brand images you prefer, and the people you hire?
Are you one of those brands who only support ‘causes’ when they appear on your Marketing Calendar? So once a year, your brand posts on Women’s Day, Pride month, when BLM is trending, etc. Two noteworthy points on this – firstly what you do is as important as what you say. Does your brand carry through in its actions and in its communication for the rest of the year on what you post about on those specific occasions? And does your brand do so consistently across all communication channels and across its supply chain?
Secondly, should your brand even be posting for that particular ‘cause’? That would depend on your brand’s purpose, your clearly defined role in society, what you stand for, and what you believe in. It is so easy to be swept away by what is trending, instead of pausing and evaluating what your brand’s core messages should be associated with.
When you are defining or refining your brand purpose, who are you including in these very strategic discussions? How diverse is the team you are working with? Are the communities you are serving being represented?
Let’s take a potential unconscious bias, the use of language, and examine its effects on your brand communication. There are many subcultures that might exist within your target audience. These subcultures might have their own ‘lingo’ or colloquial speak. By tapping into these words used in casual conversations, you can show that you are truly connected to your customer. However, this could also be a minefield for a number of reasons. If you or your senior leaders are not in tune with these colloquialisms, you could either reject the use of the phrases due to your unconscious bias against them. Or use them so incorrectly that the resulting communication is both cringeworthy and off putting to your customer.
Then there is the language which denotes gender. How gender-inclusive are you in your communication? Are there certain professions that you always refer to as a ‘he’, for example when referring to a doctor? And what about the customers’ names – how flexible and inclusive are you being about those who identify themselves as non-binary?
I must applaud Mastercard for their ‘true name’ initiative, a feature that allows for their customers’ chosen names to appear on the front of their cards. What I applaud about this inclusivity initiative, announced during Pride month in 2019, is that it isn’t a standalone project, but part of their consistent allyship with the LGBT+ community. On their corporate site, they state their commitment in these words: “We believe in speaking out on important issues including immigration, gender equity, LGBTQ+ inclusion, human rights and, with our In Solidarity initiative, racial justice.”
Another unconscious bias I would like to comment on is that of physical characteristics. Included in this would be race and gender, but also one’s sexual orientation, how one dresses (including religious dictates), having physical disabilities, your shape/size, and even your physical features (like height or hair color). Challenge yourself (and your brand) on what your definition of beauty includes. What physical attributes do you automatically exclude from your brand images due to your unconscious biases? And how authentic are you when your brand portrays a more inclusive approach? An example of this would be a brand stating that it includes fuller figure models, only for those models to be what I would define as ‘average’ size (instead of super skinny).
As Marketing leaders, what should you be doing about the unconscious bias factor?
Awareness of Unconscious biases is the first step towards uncovering them and interrupting them. Taking Accountability as a Marketing Leader and driving the change (the Action that results) are the next steps. As much as you should lead this change, also be sure to communicate to all involved, that this is everyone’s responsibility as everyone plays a role in making the change happen.
Kathryn Sakalis is a Keynote Speaker, Business coach, and consultant specializing in Marketing & Communication. Before the Retail bug bit, she previously spent time as a strategic brand marketer. Kathryn is passionate about raising awareness of one’s unconscious biases and their effect on your business interactions. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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