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Write what you know. It’s good advice for any copywriter, blogger, or marketer. But is being part of a demographic the only way to know it?

Disparities among creators/marketers and their audiences

Singer Jax recently made it top-of-mind that Victoria’s Secret was created by an “old man” who lives in Ohio. Victoria’s secret? “She was made up by a dude.”

The conversation continues. Enter: Barbie (the 2023 movie). In tongue-and-cheek contrast to Barbieland, which is a matriarchy, Mattel is run entirely by men in the Real World.

It’s not just gender that’s being discussed, and the conversation isn’t limited to a certain age group, either. In Marketing Still Has a Colorism Problem, the author notes the lack of dark-skinned individuals featured in her organization’s content … and an absence of people of color on her firm’s marketing teams.

In Ageism Is Alive and Well in Advertising, which explores how consumers 50+ perceive a marketing bias against them, the lack of age diversity among the people creating content is thought to be a potential major contributing factor to ageism in advertising.

Operating in a grey area

When marketers compete to engage consumers in an environment that’s saturated with content, some blunders can be expected. The problem arises when an advertisement has a negative impact on a consumer.

The “rules” of marketing aren’t black and white, and they seem to constantly be in flux. Even ads that positively impact society run the risk of having a negative impact. Consider Ace Metrix’s Cultural Perception scoring system. This quantitative tool, which applies neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and machine learning techniques to viewer comments, measures the extent to which ads empower consumers versus exploit them. According to the tool, even the most empowering ads contained some level of exploitation.

Is being part of a demographic the only way to know it?

So where do marketers go from here? Well, when you can’t go over something and you can’t go under it, you have to go through it — with awareness and sensitivity.

Ways to develop cultural sensitivity as a marketer

First, know what to avoid: A culturally insensitive advertisement usually includes assumptions or content that implies bias or aggression or other intentionally (or unintentionally) offensive content, including racist or discriminatory statements.

As Ace Metrix’s Cultural Perception scoring system suggests, it may be impossible to create a campaign that’s completely inoffensive to everyone. However, developing your own cultural sensitivities can help you develop thoughtful and respectful campaigns and strategies that are more likely to align with culturally diverse audiences.

1. Start at your workplace
Being culturally sensitive in the marketplace starts with being culturally sensitive in the workplace. Even if you’re not in a leadership role or in HR, you can impact your organization’s culture.

According to Diversity and inclusion: not (just) HR’s job, creating an inclusive culture is everybody’s shared responsibility. If there’s a company-wide goal — and there is if your company has a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement — there should be a company-wide effort to meet it.

Don’t just view the statement as words on paper, think about what those words mean. Ultimately, they’re meant to create a workplace culture that celebrates people for all the ways they’re unique — from race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation or identity — to physical appearance, interests, personality, communication style, values, temperament, and more.

2. Value everyone’s perspective (including your own)
Many companies are working toward having a workforce that mirrors the composition of the population they’re part of, the one they’re targeting, or both. Other firms consult with — or do post-marketing testing with — diverse groups that reflect their target audience.

With the push for corporate diversity to mirror both the local population and an organization’s customer base, many marketers may be left to wonder: If I’m not part of my target demographic, how valuable is my perspective?

Very valuable, especially if you can empathize with your target audience. Empathy is the ability to identify with or understand another person’s situation or feelings. It shapes how we interpret behavior, messages, and images, and it may be a crucial ingredient in mitigating bias and systemic racism.

According to Cultivating empathy, there are several healthy ways to develop empathy that can help you connect to others, including consumers:

  • Ask questions.
    Think of a question you might ask a person in your target audience and research hypothetical answers.

  • Put yourself in different situations.
    Watch movies, read blog posts, and/or read fiction or nonfiction books about (or by) members of your target audience. If possible, attend an event that involves your target audience. For example, attend a Medicare 101 event. Be fully present during the experience.

  • Focus on something you have in common with your target audience.
    Finding a shared connection inspires prosocial behavior, which helps you empathize with your audience. Do you know what it feels like to compare health plans? Have you ever been confused about next steps in an enrollment process?

  • DMW’s creative team understood what it felt like to feel confused about next steps, so they created a “decision tree” to help prospects easily see how to become a patient.

  • Recognize that you’re not a blank slate.
    You bring your own cultural background into every interaction. That’s okay, but if it’s getting in the way of your ability to relate to your target audience, take a step back and challenge your assumptions.

3. Raise your cultural intelligence
Because “culture” can include a person’s race, gender, age, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc., it plays a huge role in how we act, respond to situations, and interpret everything from a handshake to a headline. Once you’re aware of how much influence your own culture can have on your thinking, behavior, and actions, you can begin to develop cultural intelligence, which is the ability to function effectively in different cultural contexts.

Marketing With Cultural Intelligence For Growth And Good explains how P&G uses cultural intelligence to help bridge the gap between marketers and their audience. A simplified explanation of the framework for demonstrating cultural intelligence — originally developed by professors P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang — involves knowing about a culture, having heightened awareness during cross-cultural interactions, and being willing and able to appropriately adapt to a situation based on what you know about that culture.

P&G uses this framework, along with other strategies, to increase visibility for consumers who have been historically underrepresented.

4. Focus on the consumer’s needs
As DMW’s Rachel Silva said in 7 Health Care Marketing Changes to Expect over the Next 5 Years, one thing that won’t change in marketing is our need to focus on the consumer. Understanding their points of pain and goals can help you develop timely and useful consumer-focused marketing solutions — from an omnichannel marketing campaign to an in-person Medicare event.

Market with DMW

Working in an environment where blunders are likely, and rules are constantly shifting, has its challenges. The upside? Your demographic makeup and cultural background are just two of several factors that influence your ability to create culturally sensitive advertisements and connect with a specific audience.

Creating empowering campaigns and successfully speaking to a specific demographic, such as adults 65+, involves collaboration between diverse, empathetic, and culturally intelligent individuals. I believe we have people like that here at DMW, and we’d love to talk to you about your Medicare marketing needs.