(This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse)
A bit related to Emotional Intelligence, learning about diversity is challenging me to look at audience engagement more holistically. I'm finding an inclusive lens can guide a brand strategy and marketing communications to be more useful, more meaningful and more valuable for clients. But inclusion doesn’t happen without the freedom to talk about diversity, that which makes us different.
I went into advertising as an art director who’d already won awards in publishing with a style that wasn’t a style. It was simple, graphic, with a love of words and intent. So ads didn’t start with placeholder headlines and body copy, one ended up as a full page of crafted copy with a quirky photograph behind it. Sound stood in for copy in a commercial that was all image and original music, closing with a logo and tagline. A product catalogue transformed into a décor trend magazine. I liked sidestepping the language of advertising and all its placeholder bits to help clients’ brands stand apart from the rest.
It’s what I still do; ignore the paths clients' competitors are following and strip away the jargon and extras to help them cultivate brands that resonate with people better, stand apart from the pack and are truly remarkable.
One of my favourite examples of a budding brand that has stood out effectively is solar energy nonprofit, SunFarmer. I met co-founder Jason Gray two years ago when he was prepping for a pitch competition. My advice was just a little touch that had a big impact: buried in the checklist of Must Includes were inspiring micro-stories of the effects they were having on people in remote Nepal, where the lack of reliable power for health clinics was affecting patient outcomes. These were dramatic real-life hits with beautiful images. Pulling that narrative out and bringing it forward, their story led with the emotional impact of solar energy improving life and the rest just flowed as support. They won the pitch competition and have continued to build a following with a natural story-first voice that’s attracted media coverage everywhere. And though the growing team is scattered between Brooklyn, Toronto and Nepal; as Jason puts it, “No matter who is posting to Twitter or Facebook or developing email campaigns, our brand is consistent and truly present.”
A few months ago I might have described that as building an authentic brand but inclusive is how I’m starting to rethink authenticity. For me, inclusion in marketing communications means embracing the emotional connections that come from recognizing diversity; taking that which makes the brand different, turning it into a hero rather than camouflaging it. Helping the brand rise and click with how people feel. What I’m learning from the new Diversity Leadership course is creating fresh contexts for me.
The Canadian Centre of Diversity & Inclusion partnered with Centennial to offer the program and I chatted with CEO, Michael Bach, about just what it is that makes it relevant, trying to figure out why it has resonated so deeply with me; “This isn’t about accreditation for HR or diversity professionals; that’s another track we’re working on. This is about giving middle managers the tools and language to be more inclusive with their teams by recognizing everyone’s differences. We’re all different,” Michael told me. “And now we’re seeing that building strength from the differences is helping teams outperform competitors.”
“Don't hide your differences but shout about them. Be proud of them.” Thank you, Sir John Hegarty.
Brenda van Ginkel
Every brand that is making a difference to people or the planet deserves to stand out and be noticed. I write about creative direction and brand strategy for entrepreneurs and those supporting them, packaging concepts with messaging for growth and audience engagement in a crowded, noisy digital space.