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13 min read

Why we need to amplify diverse voices in marketing

Leadership

This article is adapted from Patrick's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast, "It's a diverse world. Marketing should be too."

I’m Patrick Reynolds, and I’m the CMO of a company called BlueConic, which is a technology company in the customer data platform space.

BlueConic is a portfolio company of Vista, which is the largest technology investor in the world.

I’ve always been an observer of people in life, which is an expression that I learned quite early on. I try to be a cultural anthropologist of humans in the wild, as it were. So on the subway, in the park, when they don't know that you're observing, you're observing (in a non-creepy-weird way).

I always keep an ear open and my eyes open to how people look, behave, and interact. And I think that's always been really core to me. I take a journalistic perspective on how to do marketing, I guess.

It's important to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from a marketing perspective and make sure that we’re building the kinds of organizations that represent us as people and our businesses well.

I’d also like to speak secondarily as a human who recognizes the dramatic and desperate need for a more inclusive, multicultural, multi-palleted world. And then I’d also like to speak to you as a cisgender, middle-aged white guy, because I think that persona is critical to making everything else work better, faster.

Defining diversity, equity, and inclusion

To me, DEI is about creating a space where everyone is welcome. And a different way to say that is that I want to create an environment that broadly looks like the world we live in.

Up until quite recently, the business world was a little cocoon nested within this increasingly diverse world, but immune to it. It was a little white bastion in the middle of a very multicolored ocean or constellation. But that dog won't hunt anymore. So we need to figure out a way to make what happens inside the four walls of the business more closely mirror what happens outside of them.

Business is integral to a better society

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. And belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.”

It's important to be fluent in all of the idioms of the audience that you’re candidly marketing to or selling to. So, even though we're selling enterprise-level software, we're seeing the buyers of that kind of product change. Ten years ago, they looked a lot like me. And that's still the case in certain places.

Now, though, we're finding people who are younger, more diverse, and have a different background. And if I come at them with a series of Seinfeld references, dad jokes, and baseball terms, it's probably not going to land.

So it's enlightened self-interest for me to have people who can make us fluent in the language of our customers. If you want to be purely financially motivated, that's one way to look at it.

The other way is that we need to create a better society, and business is integral to creating a better society for better or worse. We can't fix the fact that business has a large outsized presence because it does. So let's capitalize on it and try to advance the ball as much as we can.

So there's both a financial and business motive. I also believe that a more diverse set of marketers is preferable and better over time than a less diverse set of marketers for business results.

I’d also like to create a world that I'd like to work and live in, and that's one that welcomes and celebrates the diversity of everyone.

Another thing that's really interesting is that younger people are currently making very interesting employment decisions. You read a lot of things that’ll say a lot of people are opting to work less or more remotely, or they'll take less money for more latitude of schedule.

I believe that a lot of that has to do with the fact that the business doesn’t map to their values, and they almost want to limit their exposure to something that's contrary to their values.

If your work life is just too different from your life-life, you're going to want to shrink it so that you can have your life-life. So if we can make work life a little more like the outside world, then maybe we can have a more harmonious relationship between work and personal life.

Establishing authentic DEI in marketing

When it comes to DEI, companies have been talking the talk for a long time, but it’s only recently that they're beginning to walk the walk.

Optics have always been essential. You needed to look suitable for a company. So people would make great efforts in their advertising campaigns to show a vast array of people. But behind the scenes, the people making those things were typically much more like me than what the company was portraying.

Now, I think that’s starting to change. I think it’s changed dramatically in the case of women, but I don't think it's changed as much as it frankly needs to in the case of people of color. I think that it’s happening, but it's just not happening at the rate and pace that I think anyone would be comfortable with.

It's very ironic because marketing is typically the canary in the coal mine. It'll put it out there that this is where we need to be. But then if you actually pull back the covers on the people making the marketing, they're talking the talk but not walking the walk. It's a lot of white people making commercials about how important diversity is.

Now that’s changing, and I think that's critically important. But that's another irony that sticks in my craw a little bit.

A lot of the startups I've been a part of are very clubby. You have a small number of people in the venture capital community giving money to a small number of people that they can rely on. And it perpetuates this handing off the baton within a circle so it really just goes around.

Most of these people are really good people, in my experience. But again, it's a very small circle.

When I worked for MasterCard, which is obviously a large, publicly traded global company, diversity was real there. I’d literally be the token straight white guy in the room, and I’d be amongst all of God's creatures. It was fantastic; the ability to harmonize that energy and get that thinking together and all those broad perspectives.

We also have a terrible fault in the US of thinking in red, white, and blue terms and thinking of a very US-centric world, which is becoming less the case all the time as well.

So for all those reasons, just hearing people, hearing how they talked, hearing their stories, hearing about their families, seeing their pictures and all that, it was an awakening, and it made us better at what we did.

DEI initiatives and their impact on customers

If we look at some examples of DEI initiatives from other brands and how those initiatives have affected customers, I guess we'd be remiss to not talk about the Bud Light fiasco. Just because you say it, doesn't mean it’s so. I’d just file that under that heading.

I think that there was absolutely nothing wrong with what Bud Light did. In fact, I could find a lot of things that are admirable about it, providing it was coming from a genuine place and it wasn’t something they did so that they could get a good DEI grade in their board meeting.

I don't know if the average consumer, much less Kid Rock, has privy into what they're talking about when they're creating that kind of campaign. So I think it's a little self-serving for the haters as well.

But it just goes back to the idea that you’ll make things that work for your audience, provided you know those inputs. I can market to a diverse array of customers better if I have a diverse array of people helping me market.

You can also think about cosmetic companies like Fenty Beauty, who came in with a wide collection of makeup that suits all skin tones. And now this is the norm in the cosmetic industry.

I don't think the initial people who created these kinds of cosmetic products and marketing campaigns were doing it from a place of exclusion. I think they just didn't know. They're more like sins of omission than commission.

I don't think anyone ever intended to make makeup that wouldn’t work for people of color. I think it just never occurred to them that it wouldn't work for those people because they look like me.

If it's all super single-threaded, elitist, white, or American. We're not doing it from a bad place. It's just the language that we speak and the culture that we grew up in. But it doesn't work anymore. So you need to bring other people into the room and they can sanity check your stuff.

How is it plausible that you can ask a very small group of people who aren’t what you want them to be, to be more like what you want them to be?

Imagine I'm going to tell a room of 10 people who are all white, six went to Stanford, and four went to Harvard, “I want you to now be of the people and go out and cast a big net for the people in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Brixton, London.”

How is that going to ever work? It won’t.

So the question is, do you actually want that? Or do you want to look like you want that? If you actually want that, you need to bring in people who have some understanding of those places.

Twitter’s role in DEI discourse

Twitter has recently been going through a bit of a chaotic time under Elon Musk's management. Personally, I view the platform as a vast wasteland that I’ll occasionally glimpse into on my own time just to see how crazy the world is. And then I quickly slam it shut and run away.

I think that Elon Musk is trying to make the argument that it's plumbing. He’s saying, “Put whatever you want on there. We're not here to sanction it. We're not a publisher.” And yet on the 2nd of June, the second day of Pride, he was actively promoting anti-trans rhetoric.

Twitter wants us to think that it's not a publisher, like the New York Times, promoting hate and filth and exclusivity and all these other things. It's a forum, it's a message board, and people put what they want on it. I don't think that’s going to hold true anymore, especially if you're going to charge people to put things on there and you're profiting from that, and you have the owner of the company actively amplifying toxic and harmful rhetoric. It's pretty transparent.

It's also not a place where I think serious business should be done. I'm not sure anything should be done on it. If wishes were fishes, I’d rather it didn't exist. But it’s drawn into a stark conversation about how powerful a weapon Twitter can be.

A weapon is a word that I use intentionally. Words can be weaponized to turn people from pretty sane, normal people into pretty fringy people, just through a constant stream of misinformation and bad information. And it's great that Twitter throws its hands up and says, "We're not posting anything, we're just passing it along," but they're making money from it. That's what's so bothersome about it.

People should just use Twitter very seldom, and never for serious business. In other words, I don't think running B2B software marketing campaigns on Twitter is time well spent. "Do I need software, let me see what Twitter thinks?" It’d just never occur to me as a buyer.

There are LinkedIn, forums, B2B review sites, Gartner, and Forrester. I’d go to those places to do my research. There are other kinds of forums that are specific to the topic. I wouldn’t go to Twitter to do serious business myself.

It's going to be an incredibly wild political season here in the US. With Trump now being reapproved to be back on Twitter, it's just going to be a mudslinging mess for several months. And all of this will initially harm DEI as a concept because anybody who's for those ideals, these loudmouths, will be against them and they'll denigrate them. Then they'll bring in all their sheep behind them to put more wood on that fire.

I think long term, it's good because I’m an optimist. I believe that with all of this hate, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. I think in time, there’ll be a cry to put down these people. But I think that fire’s going to have to burn out first. I actually think it’ll advance the case for a more tolerant, diverse, inclusive world. It's just going to take a minute.

What's really frightening though is when you think about what’ll happen with the proliferation of AI.

You now have big machines that can smell the soft spots, can see where the demographics are, and can see in real-time or near real-time where an election is trending.

For example, "We're losing in the state of Louisiana, let's now gin up some message that we know will resonate with voters because we're damn near omniscient. And then let's just put it into everyone's feed down there unsolicited, and try to turn these outcomes."

It's literally Mary Shelley's monster come to life, but the monster is now running the experiment. And it's crazy and vaguely terrifying and horrible all at the same time.

Upholding DEI values beyond financial gain

At BlueConic, we have really, really tight alignment amongst the leadership team and amongst Vista around our values.

I think our values and values alignment was one of the big reasons that Vista was attracted to BlueConic and BlueConic to Vista.

We’ve celebrated Mental Health Month, Women's Month, and Native Indigenous Peoples Month. We’re really into that, not because it helps us sell any software (it doesn't do a single thing for software), but because it sends out a beacon to the world that these are our values. And if your values map to our values, if you want to talk, cool, and if you don't, that's cool, too.

Doing the right thing when there's no financial gain is something that’s really, really important to us.

It's not lost on me that BlueConic is interesting in many different ways, but we have a young female CEO, a female CRO, and a female Chief People Officer. We also have high-ranking women in product, in engineering, in everything.

First of all, I don't think it’s by design. But secondarily, it prevents us from going into some of these dark corners that maybe some of our competitors go into. We stick to the sunny side of the street at BlueConic.

Overcoming DEI obstacles: Strategic approaches for marketing teams

When looking to overcome some of the obstacles of implementing DEI, you just have to work backward from, "What do you want?"

Let’s say you’d like to have an inclusive team that’s representative of the audience that you’re marketing to. Okay, so how do you do that? Let's just say in this case, "I need to find more people of color than we have presently in the company". How do you do that?

The first thing is you’ll recruit in places where people of color actually go to school. And it might not just be Stanford and Harvard. It might be state schools or tech schools. It might be all kinds of different places that are non-traditionally recruited from.

How do we make sure that diverse candidates get into those schools? You have to have community outreach programs, you have to do days of charitable work, and you have to talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

When you're doing your community days, make sure that it's not just for the suburban kids, that it's also for the kids right smack-dab in the middle of the city. It's root and branch, all the links of the chain have to connect in order to get the outcome you want. So that's something that we're hard at work on, there's tonnes of work to be done.

The other thing is that you have to KPI it. It's an objective of mine. It's not like, "Hey, if you find somebody that's diverse, that'd be cool". It's, "You're being evaluated on your ability to cast a broad slate and bring in the kinds of people that we want to bolster up." Just like I am for pipeline creation, bookings, revenue, cash, all of those things. DEI is also part of that letter set.

The power of diversity in self-enlightenment

In my view, there’s a very small fringe component of the world that wantonly and knowingly does the wrong thing.

If you talk to 80% of the world and ask, "Should workplaces be diverse? Should they be inclusive? Should they be equitable?" They go, “Of course!" Most people aren’t actively unfair.

And most people think that they manifest DEI in their private life and their work life. It's only when you’re exposed to someone not like you, who gives you the eyeball when you say something or you overhear a conversation. You don't know what you don't know until you know. And you'll never know if you don't bring people into your circle who force expose you to it.

My children are an amazing foil for me. I think I’m a liberal, enlightened, progressive, wonderful human being. But not a day will go by that I won’t get called to account for something I’ve said. At the time, it hasn’t even occurred to me that what I’ve said might be offensive to anybody. It could be something around pronouns or expressions that I learned from TV as a kid that now makes my kids’ heads explode.

Until somebody is different than you and you hear how they do it, or they call you out on how you do it, you just don't know. And when you do know, you go, "That makes so much sense." And you actually do move closer to enlightenment. You’ve still got a long way to go, but you’ll move closer to it.

But you'll never ever read about that. You can't search websites or attend conferences about it. Your circle must be inclusive of people who are very different from you, or you're just never going to get it, in my view.

And that's why it's so important to hire people who are broadly representative of the world so that you go, "I’m learning so much every day, and I was supposed to be the teacher". I learn 10x what I teach because I'm surrounded by people that I’ve not been around before, and I'm so much better for it.

Written by:

Patrick Reynolds

Patrick Reynolds

CMO of BlueConic, I like challenges and challengers. No matter the org size, I've driven brands by proper positioning, superior Go-To-Market strategy, and obsessive focus on execution and impact.

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