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Inclusive Language in Marketing: Why It Matters and How To Do It

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The language used in marketing plays a crucial role in shaping perceptions, fostering connections, and driving success. As businesses strive to engage with increasingly diverse audiences, the need for inclusivity in marketing has never been more pressing.

From representing diverse identities to avoiding stereotypes and biases, inclusive language can make marketing campaigns more relatable, respectful, and impactful. By recognizing and embracing the rich tapestry of human experience, businesses can build stronger customer relationships, foster trust and loyalty, and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

Here, we’ll explore the importance of embracing inclusivity in marketing efforts and provide actionable tips for using more inclusive language to reach and resonate with diverse communities.

Table of Contents
What is inclusive language?
Why is inclusive language important in marketing?
How to use inclusive language in marketing
Common inclusive language mistakes
Next steps

What is inclusive language?

Inclusive language refers to the use of words and phrases that promote respect, equality, and diversity by avoiding stereotypes, biases, and discriminatory language. It aims to ensure that communication is inclusive and welcoming to all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.

Inclusive language encompasses several key principles:

  • Respect: Inclusive language respects the dignity and worth of all individuals, recognizing their inherent value regardless of differences. It avoids language that belittles or marginalizes certain groups and treats everyone with courtesy and consideration.
  • Accuracy: Inclusive language accurately reflects the diversity of human experience and identity. It acknowledges and affirms the existence of various identities and perspectives, avoiding assumptions or generalizations based on stereotypes.
  • Sensitivity: Inclusive language is sensitive to the cultural, social, and historical contexts in which communication occurs. It recognizes the impact that language can have on different groups and strives to avoid language that may be offensive, hurtful, or exclusionary.
  • Accessibility: Inclusive language is accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities or different communication needs. It considers factors such as readability, clarity, and the use of alternative formats to ensure that communication is understandable and inclusive for everyone.

Why is inclusive language important in marketing?

Inclusive language in marketing is crucial for many reasons, all of which revolve around respecting and reaching out to diverse audiences. In today’s socially conscious world, brands must recognize the significance of inclusivity in their marketing efforts.

Here are several vital reasons why inclusive language matters in marketing:

1. Representation matters

One of the most significant reasons inclusivity is crucial is the undeniable importance of representation in the media, including marketing messaging. For those who are part of marginalized groups, if they do not see themselves represented in the images and language of your business’s marketing, they may not know if they are welcomed or accepted by your brand.

Further, if people see messages that are not inclusive, whether intentional or not, they may consider boycotting your brand. According to McKinsey & Co., approximately 75% of Gen Z customers said they would boycott a company that discriminates against race and sexuality in marketing campaigns.

2. Reaching diverse audiences

The world is increasingly diverse, and Gen Z consumers have made it clear that they want to see brands step up their game regarding representation in their marketing efforts. However, a brand’s marketing campaigns must authentically represent the company, not simply tokenism for publicity. Interestingly, more than 50% of Gen Z consumers voiced wanting to see more diversity in senior leadership, which aligns with the idea that authenticity is critical.

According to a study by Google, approximately 64% of consumers engaged with an ad they considered inclusive. For example, Airbnb’s “We Accept” campaign, which promoted acceptance and inclusivity, resonated strongly with audiences and helped drive positive brand perception.

3. Building trust and loyalty

Consumers are more likely to support brands that demonstrate inclusivity. A survey by Accenture found that 41% of consumers switched companies due to a lack of trust and confidence in the company’s values. Inclusive marketing fosters trust and loyalty among customers.

For instance, Procter & Gamble’s “My Black is Beautiful” campaign, which celebrated Black beauty and identity, garnered widespread praise and strengthened the company’s relationship with Black consumers.

4. Increasing market share and revenue

Inclusive marketing has the potential to drive business growth and increase market share. According to a report by McKinsey, companies with diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform their peers in terms of profitability. Inclusive language can attract a diverse customer base and contribute to revenue growth.

While profitability is undoubtedly important for businesses, focusing solely on profit in the context of inclusive language in marketing can undermine the genuine intent behind inclusivity and lead to insincerity.

Inclusive language should stem from a genuine commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion rather than solely from a desire to increase profits. When brands prioritize profit over authenticity, their efforts may come across as opportunistic or tokenistic, undermining the trust of consumers.

Company values with sticky notes below representing values

Consumers are increasingly savvy and can discern when brands are disingenuous or exploitative in their marketing efforts. Maintaining integrity requires a genuine commitment to inclusivity that goes beyond profit motives.

5. Promoting social responsibility

As mentioned, inclusive marketing goes beyond driving sales; it reflects a brand’s commitment to social responsibility and positive societal change. Brands have the power to influence perceptions and attitudes through their marketing efforts.

How to use inclusive language in marketing

Diverse group of people working together

Using inclusive language is important in brands’ marketing efforts, but knowing how to be inclusive can seem incredibly daunting. So, here are some things your business can do to help ensure inclusivity is at the forefront of your marketing campaigns.

  1. Diversify marketing teams: Ensure that marketing teams reflect the diversity of the target audience. By having a diverse team with varied perspectives and experiences, businesses can better identify potential biases in marketing language and develop more inclusive campaigns.
  2. Conduct audience research: Invest in thorough audience research to understand the demographics, preferences, and cultural nuances of target audiences. Use this insight to tailor marketing messages and language to resonate effectively with diverse groups.
  3. Consult with diversity experts: Seek input and guidance from diversity and inclusion experts within your organization or through external consultants, like The Inclusive Copywriter. These experts can provide valuable insights and recommendations for creating inclusive marketing strategies and messaging.
  4. Develop inclusive brand guidelines: Create comprehensive brand guidelines that outline the principles and best practices for using inclusive language in marketing materials. Include specific guidelines on avoiding stereotypes, using respectful terminology, and accurately representing diverse communities.
  5. Test marketing campaigns: Before launching a marketing campaign, conduct thorough testing to gauge how different audience segments respond to the messaging and language used. Solicit feedback from diverse focus groups or conduct A/B testing to identify unintended biases or misunderstandings.
  6. Be open to feedback and adaptation: Create channels for receiving feedback from customers, employees, and other stakeholders regarding the inclusivity of marketing efforts. Be open to constructive criticism and willing to make adjustments to ensure that marketing materials are respectful and inclusive.
  7. Regularly review and update practices: Continuously review and evaluate marketing practices to ensure they remain inclusive and aligned with evolving societal norms and expectations. Stay informed about changes in language usage, cultural trends, and social issues that may impact marketing strategies.

Common inclusive language mistakes

While many businesses strive to be inclusive in their marketing and communication efforts, there are common mistakes that can inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes, biases, or exclusion.

Here are some of the most prevalent inclusive language mistakes businesses make:

  • Assuming gender: One of the most common mistakes is assuming gender when addressing or referring to individuals. Using gendered language such as “guys,” “ladies,” or “manpower” excludes non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals. Businesses should opt for gender-neutral terms like “everyone,” “folks,” or “team” to be more inclusive.
  • Relying on stereotypes: Using stereotypes or generalizations based on race, ethnicity, gender, or other characteristics can be harmful and alienating. For example, portraying women as caregivers or men as breadwinners reinforces outdated gender norms. Businesses should avoid relying on stereotypes and instead represent diverse experiences and identities authentically.
  • Using ableist language: Using language that implies a certain level of ability or reinforces ableist attitudes can exclude individuals with disabilities. Terms like “able-bodied,” “wheelchair-bound,” or “suffering from” can perpetuate stigma and discrimination.
  • Ageism: Neglecting to consider age diversity in language can contribute to ageism. Terms like “young and dynamic” or “senior citizen discount” can perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize older or younger individuals.
  • Exclusionary language: Using language that excludes certain groups or communities can alienate potential customers and employees. For example, using terms like “normal,” “mainstream,” or “traditional” implies that other identities are abnormal or non-traditional.
  • Cultural insensitivity: Failing to consider cultural differences and nuances in language can lead to cultural insensitivity. Using culturally appropriative language or stereotypes can offend or misrepresent certain communities.

By being mindful of these common inclusive language mistakes, businesses can work towards creating more inclusive and respectful communication that resonates with diverse audiences and fosters a sense of belonging for all.

Next steps

Different colored silhouettes with speech bubbles

So, now that you’re thinking about inclusive language, it’s time to take steps toward improving your marketing efforts. Here are some ideas on how to get started:

Start by auditing current marketing materials, advertisements, and communication channels to identify areas for improvement in inclusive language and representation. Look for opportunities to update language, imagery, and messaging to better reflect the diversity of your audience.

Take the time to look at who represents your brand. Do you have a diverse staff? If you do, do marginalized staff members have the opportunity to contribute or give feedback on marketing efforts? Are you listening to their feedback? If you don’t see diversity among your staff members, consider why that is. Take the time to review your hiring practices and make changes.

Invest in training and education for marketing teams and employees on the importance of inclusivity. Provide resources, workshops, and seminars to help staff understand the impact of language and representation on diverse audiences and how to incorporate inclusive practices into their work.

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