Learning from the most inclusive brands

Brands have a social and commercial responsibility to be more inclusive but it takes more than just good intentions to get this critical area right.
27 July 2023
Brand Inclusion Index
Valeria Piaggio

Global Head DEI, Kantar Sustainable Transformation Practice

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We’re at a difficult moment for diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are loud voices trying to silence brands’ inclusivity efforts armed with the threat of a commercial backlash. But the level of noise can be misleading, the data tells us that the sensible majority want brands to continue down the path of greater inclusion. Results from Kantar’s Global MONITOR 2023 show three-quarters of the global population agree brands should be socially responsible.  

And the rewards are both social and commercial for the brands that get it right, allowing them to access new markets and new opportunities for growth. These positive outcomes are evident in the results of the first-ever Brand Inclusion Index in the UK & the United States.

But if brands are to convince traditionally under-represented groups that they are serious about this challenge they need to show commitment. For most high-growth yet under-represented populations, the need for fairness, diversity, and inclusion is much more than a nice to have, it is a need fuelled by their own existence and identity. 

Through the Brand Inclusion Index study we uncovered discrimination is still widespread and affects people at commercial locations or when in contact with brands and such experiences influence their buying decisions, as well as those of their allies. Such experiences are costly for brands. We can estimate the cost of closing consumer inclusion gaps by calculating the proportion of the population that is discriminated at a commercial location (when they are intending to spend their money) by the buying power of that population.  

In the U.S., as an example, the total buying power of the population is roughly $19.5 trillion, and 28% of people experienced discrimination at a commercial location in the last 12 months, which could cost businesses a potential $5.4 trillion.  

Among the three US population groups that experience discrimination at a much higher level (10 percentage points higher than the total population) the loss can be particularly significant: Black Americans (potential loss of $681 billion), LGBTQ+ (potential loss of $499 billion), and People with Disabilities (potential loss of $491 billion). 

How can brands be inclusive in an environment of extremes? 

In today’s divided and polarized socio-political context, showing DEI commitment and including everyone is a tall challenge. To avoid backlash, brands today need to be extra careful.  

Full inclusion needs to work at both ends of the spectrum: reaching out to under-represented populations and making them count, while avoiding negative reactions from people who are used to seeing themselves well-represented by brands and don’t want to be left behind.  

Dealing with this challenge means know how you are perceived. Right now, not everyone can clearly identify brands that are doing a good job in DEI. In fact, just 60% of US respondents (and only 50% of UK respondents) were able to spontaneously nominate one or more brand to be recognized for its DEI efforts.  

Three areas for action 

Kantar’s new Brand Inclusion Index identified three key asks from key groups of consumers: authenticity, diversity and bravery.  

Being more natural and authentic is the most mentioned piece of advice to brands. There are a few nuances to what that means to different people but for many it is about not letting DEI be a tick box exercise, or an obligation because it is obvious when done this way. Only do this when it’s a genuine issue your brand cares about. 

Even though brands are increasing their DEI efforts just showing everyone without obvious relevance doesn’t resonate with most people. For many, there is a perception that there is over-representation of minority groups, which can come across as inauthentic or, to people from more represented groups, can trigger a sense of exclusion.  

Nevertheless, consumers do expect brands to show people across the spectrum of humanity. They want to see a range of appearances in brand marketing, particularly when it comes to challenging accepted beauty standards.  

What matters is that attempts to meet people’s needs on representation and beyond are rooted in cultural understanding, acceptance and empathy. Respondents mentioned wanting brands to avoid judging, and to accept everyone, even those who are in the minority.  

The final ask from our under-represented groups was that brands should proactively “speak up” and support the marginalized people they say they care about. This will mean being bold, standing up against some people and, yes, being brave. Without this, many attempts to be inclusive and show diversity will not be seen as genuine and authentic.  

Metrics will guide you on your inclusion journey 

Making progress and meeting these demands means knowing where you are and how you compare to your peers. The Brand Inclusion Index provides the metrics required for a clear path to improvement. It will help you understand how people perceive your brand’s DEI efforts based on what they see, feel and think.  

It lets you know what under-represented or mis-represented populations, people whose views are all too frequently missed by traditional market research really think. 

We know that that the most inclusive brands share common ingredients: a well-thought-out DEI strategy that stems from company actions, a long-term commitment, impeccable creative execution and bravery. 

By understanding what people believe and how it impacts their buying decisions, you will be in a better position to prioritise and manage progress on DEI, improving impact with groups that have been under-represented while not upsetting those who feel threatened by DEI. 

The Brand Inclusion Index gives you the data you need to see how your efforts are paying off and which groups are convinced that you truly mean it. Because only when that happens will they freely switch their spend to your brand.  

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