How to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Brand?

What is Diversity and Inclusion Branding?

David Oglivy, known as the Father of Advertising, defined a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) branding is not new. To respond to the increasingly diverse profile of their target customers and hiring candidates, brands have been paying closer attention to featuring more diversity in commercials and marketing content for some time. As a 2016 study found, these efforts have not gone nearly far enough. The Future of Work Mastermind group recently focused on D&I branding, why it's important and how organizations can enhance their D&I branding beyond merely featuring people of different backgrounds in ads.

It’s the Economy, stupid! Or Is It?

In the early 90's, political strategist James Carville coined the phrase "It's the economy, stupid" during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. Just as in politics, showing growth and profitability has been the key to sustainable initiatives in business. This was how Patricia Neuray of Tangelo Media began our Mastermind conversation about the importance of D&I branding for attracting customers and talent, which are most directly linked with profitability.
There have indeed been numerous aggregate studies about the linkage between profitability and D&I. While agreeing with the importance of linking D&I branding to achieve better business outcomes, Joe Bosch, long-time HR executive and human capital management expert, cautioned that "If external branding statements are not followed by action, and/or are inconsistent with the internal culture, it may backfire and make matters worse." As always, branding tactics can only go so far. Any level of dissonance between branding tactics and the true intangibles will render them hollow and even deceitful.
Furthermore, individual organizations often find it challenging to establish causality or even direct linkage between their D&I efforts and business outcomes due to the complex nature of workplace culture and the time it often takes to make significant progress. Perhaps we must look beyond economics to find the real value of D&I branding to a business.

Business schools have long taught that the key objective of a business is to increase shareholder value. "While value has been synonymous with financial metrics, it's becoming clear that value is in the eye of the beholder, and what it really means has been slowly changing across organizations from their Boardrooms to the shop floors," noted Sonya Sepahban, OurOffice CEO and long-time corporate executive. The increasing popularity of rating systems like the LEED designation for green buildings and B Corp certifications for businesses that balance purpose and profit are indications of this trend. As Angie Hamilton, Culture Leader, Inclusion Engineer and Founder of HR Chique Group, added, "Value goes beyond profitability and includes what a company stands for and how they serve the communities they work and operate in. As an example, Proctor and Gamble has done a lot recently in their programming and advertising."

How to Build Your D&I Brand.

Assuming that you are convinced D&I branding is critical to your success, the question becomes, how do you do it? Below are a few insights and suggestions made by the Future of Work Mastermind group.

1. Get the right advisors and decision makers -- There are many recent examples, including the Pepsi ad debacle of 2017 (and their prior one in 2013), where having the right people involved could have avoided the embarrassment caused by both the ad and Pepsi's initial reaction to the public outcry over it.

2. Plan ahead -- Especially at a time like this, be thoughtful about the statements and branding that your organization is putting forward, and plan ahead for the different types of reactions you may get. Your initial reaction to any unexpected outcomes may say more about your organization and have a more lasting effect on your brand than any branding tactics you may have developed and implemented.

3. Act consistently -- Statements and branding around D&I are being more critically observed and analyzed than ever before. You should expect to answer some questions if you try to brand your organization as a champion for D&I, but lack any diversity on your Board, or if you eliminate your most senior D&I position, as Hiton just decided to do by laying off Jon Munoz, their head of global diversity and inclusion.

4. Have a long-term strategy -- Your D&I branding should be part of your long-term D&I strategy. Like safety and quality, it requires a continuous improvement mindset that permeates your entire organization. Target is a good example of a company that has consistently acted with a focus on D&I in their staffing, supply chain, and community outreach efforts over the past decade.
With consumers, candidates, investors, and other key stakeholders more focused than ever on making sure a company’s rhetoric on D&I actually matches their actions, new challenges, as well as new approaches to branding will continue to emerge. If you are an HR, workplace culture, or D&I expert who is considering new approaches to your D&I branding, please drop us a note at You can also stay ahead of the curve by applying to join the “Future of Work” Mastermind Community.