Protests stemming from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black Americans have allowed a space for us all to review how we serve Black communities. As consumers are looking for brands to be accountable for their practices, it is the responsibility of communications and marketing professionals to implement strategies that eliminate racial bias and understand nuances that prevent effective communication to Black audiences.
According to a survey conducted by Edelman, 60 percent of consumers currently expect brands to take a stand to publicly speak out against racial injustice. Out of the same group of survey participants, 60 percent also say that brands need to use their marketing dollars to advocate for racial equality and to educate the public on the issue. This percentage is higher for consumers of color at 70 percent. Consumers are looking for brands to align with their morality. As communicators and marketers, there is a unique opportunity to merge effective communications with socially responsible interests of consumers.
During a time where your company or brand may be evaluating how to adjust best practices on communicating with the Black community, you may be overwhelmed or uncertain as to where to begin. Here are immediate actions to jumpstart your journey toward eliminating racial bias and strengthening your brand’s communications practices for Black audiences.
- Capitalize the ‘B’ in Black – For years, Black-led publications such as Essence and theGrio have practiced capitalizing the ‘B’ in Black when referring to Black people, culture, and ethnicities, despite guidance from the Associated Press. The National Association of Black Journalists has formally adopted the policy alongside a growing list of publications such as USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times, TIME, NBC News and MSNBC, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, and Chicago Sun-Times, according to The Brookings Institution. An official statement from the diversity committee of USA TODAY states, “Black is an ethnoracial identifier that is inclusive of the collective experiences of the Black U.S. population, including recent immigrants. Capitalizing Black reflects an understanding and respect that is consistent with how many Black people and Black publications describe the people and descendants of the African diaspora and reflects a rich range of shared cultures.”
- Add Black/People of Color (POC)-led Outlets to General Media Lists – Outreach to Black/POC-led publications can extend beyond multicultural events and topics specifically targeting Black audiences. Black/POC-led publications cover general events, in addition to topics that speak uniquely to their audience. Do not forget to include these publications when conducting outreach. Some of the top Black/POC-led outlets include: Essence, BLAVITY, NBCBLK, theGrio, and The Root. Locally, many metropolitan areas have Black-owned independent newspapers. In the D.C., Maryland, Virginia area, these publications include the longest running African American, family-owned newspaper in the U.S., Afro American Newpaper, along with the Washington Informer and Virgina’s oldest Black-owned weekly newspaper, New Journal and Guide.
- Choose Diverse Stock Images – Representation matters across all communication materials to showcase inclusivity. When choosing stock images, do not default to showcasing only white consumers. Many stock houses allow you to specifically search for gender, race, and other specific categories relevant to your audience and creative goal. However, if these selections are limited, utilize Black-owned stock houses specifically created for images of Black people such as EyeForEbony, CreateHer Stock, or Black Illustrations (a free resource.)
- Be Prepared to Answer Tough Questions – Cream of Wheat, Aunt Jemima, and Uncle Ben’s recently made statements acknowledging the racial epithets and imagery within their brand mascots, and each respective brand have made commitments to either dissolve or revolve from how their products are currently marketed. These decisions directly correlate with the current demands of consumers. Before you make a public statement showcasing support of the Black community, evaluate your current practices in preparation of showcasing accountability and directly addressing a plan of action to move forward.