Can A Brand Speak To Its Ideal Client And Stay Inclusive?
Every time I see a big fashion house come out with an article of clothing that is called out for being racist, I cock my head and wonder "what the actual f*** were they thinking?" Honestly, what is the thought process? This goes beyond not having the right people in the room. It is a general lack of thought to our current cultural climate and basic human decency. Last year, on this blog I wrote about clothing brand, Revolve, and their continued lack of diversity and how brands need to do better. It seems to be a work in progress still.
Last year, thought leader Danielle LaPorte came under fire because of imagery she had for a program called Lighter, in which the graphics for the program featured naked black bodies. When people called her out on the dehumanizing of black people, she came back hard and aggressive and deleted posts and comments, and flat out ignored everyone who came to her with valid arguments. Down the line, she decided to listen and make her public apology saying that she had a lot to learn. Honestly to me, her statement felt very generic, and as someone who was a long time follower, I decided to stop.
After the Charlottesville white supremacist march, I made a Facebook post about how people need to stop with the thoughts and prayers and love and light because it's not stopping racism from happening. I received a comment from KC Carter, an executive coach, telling me that I was wrong on my Facebook post. A lot of women came into my defense stating that as a white man, he does not know the lived experience of a black woman and to take this time to listen and learn something. A few hours later he deleted his comment, which then deleted everyone else's responses, and blocked me on Facebook. KC is friendly with a friend of mine, so he later called that friend and apologized to her and told her he acted that way because he felt attacked. Nowhere in this situation did I receive an apology. I didn't know much of him before, but his image and brand are wholly tainted for me.
Why do I bring these three stories up? We are all brands – from big fashion houses in Europe to the self-made entrepreneur who grew a following online. Every brand has their ideal client in mind when producing products and content. We at The Branding Edit tell our clients, your ideal client most likely reflects you in some way. So, if you are a middle-aged white woman, you probably are thinking that all of your clients are just like you. You think that everyone that's viewing your content that you put out in the world as reflections of you. They follow you because they resonate with your story, but where is the point when you start to remember that other people in this world aren't like you? Where do they fit in?
Just because you have an ideal client and it may match who you are as a person, does not mean that you have to stop being a decent human. It doesn't justify the fact that you can't be inclusive because hopefully, your ideal client is an inclusive person. I would hope that if your ideal client is a 42-year-old white woman that lives in Southern California, she cares about other people that do not look like her and that she stands up for them. She is knowledgeable about others and will fight for them. I hope that your ideal client invites other people in the room so they can learn about different cultures and ways of living.
When you as a brand put out content that is clearly not well thought out and non-inclusive, it tells your audience that you don't care about other people. Why? Because ignorance is a choice. In 2019 (and quite frankly any year before it) it is a choice not to be knowledgeable about other people. It is a choice not to have other people not like you in the room. Your ideal client is a whole person. When we ask our client to develop their ideal client, we have you develop where they live, what is their age, where did they go to school, where do they shop, what are their interests, but they are so much more than that. They are a fully developed person, like you, with values and beliefs.
The three examples I gave you are all brand experiences. Personally, Gucci or Prada are not currently on my shopping list, but it definitely left a lingering feeling about these brands. I do appreciate that they apologized and I felt like their apologies were sincere, but I do wonder who they are hiring and who's in the room. And, when it's time for me to drop some cash on a luxury purchase, I will be doing it with a brand who has shown consistent inclusivity. With Danielle LaPorte, I decided to completely stop following her because I did not feel like her apology was sincere and as a black woman I do not need to spend my time supporting someone that does not support me. Lastly, with KC Carter, since it was a personal experience that happened directly to me, nothing he could do can change the image I have of him and his brand. The opportunity was there to show up and make right, and that did not happen.
We want our current and prospective clients to have a fantastic brand experience. We want them coming back for more and telling all their friends about how great we are. So, why are some brands continually missing the mark? I don't have an easy answer for this one so I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.