Co-Founder & Principal of ThinkNow, a technology driven cultural insights agency.
Social media has proven time and again the need for brands to be inclusive. Last year, with less in-person shopping due to the pandemic, e-commerce soared. E-commerce sales made up 18% of all global retail sales in 2020, and they’re expected to reach 21.8% in 2024. Social media is playing an important role in the growth of e-commerce as retailers employ omnichannel strategies to reach consumers. As such, consumers have become acutely aware of the brands that consider their environmental and human impacts.
We’ve seen how the critical lens of public opinion plays out on social media, with consumers praising and patronizing brands that did well and criticizing those who missed the mark. According to a national survey we conducted, most U.S. consumers are “more likely” or “much more likely” to support a company that makes a public commitment to diversity and inclusion. And they often show that loyalty by filling up their carts.
A 2019 survey by Adobe led to similar findings: “Most Americans (61%) find diversity in advertising important. In fact, 38% of consumers said they are more likely to trust brands that show more diversity in their ads.”
Inclusive Market Research Drives Customer Engagement
Developing a beloved brand, product or service that’s user-friendly and desired by many consumers doesn’t just happen. It typically begins with inclusive research. Inclusive market research demystifies more customers’ motivations, preferences and behaviors. By amplifying the voices of customers who are often marginalized, brands can craft communications and product development strategies that engage more consumers in dialogue.
Inclusivity Is Different From Diversity
It’s important to understand the difference between inclusivity and diversity when it comes to market research. Diversity is the presence of a variety of perspectives or customers. Inclusivity goes one step further, engaging those perspectives to improve product satisfaction and use, workplace culture and productivity, new product launches and marketing campaigns. A brand’s key performance indicators and return on investments can benefit.
Inclusive product designs include everything from the voice control and low-light settings on our smartphones to meeting the needs of people with disabilities. Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri is said to have invented one of the first typewriters as a way for Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, his friend who had gone blind, to write letters.
Inclusive design is, most simply, an opportunity to integrate as many users as reasonably possible into a brand’s user experience, considering the varying perspectives that may affect the product’s usability, including ability, gender, age, language, religion, race and other common identifiers. For example, one in four U.S. adults has a disability, and inclusive research can amplify their needs, resulting in an optimized product for every user.
Exercising Intercultural Competence
For a product or service to be inclusive from the start and throughout iterations and upgrades, it’s critical to have an inclusive research methodology. Market researchers can yield innovative and forward-thinking reports to support inclusive product development with traditional primary market research tactics like surveys, interviews, focus groups and usability studies. The key is intercultural competence.
An inclusive approach to research relies on a diverse sample of respondents and employs cultural understanding to provide psychological safety for them. This enables you to gather open and honest responses. Make sure you ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions and behave in a manner that is not offensive or dismissive. The more honest the responses are, the easier it is to design with the end-user in mind. Ultimately, this can save your brand time and money.
For example, during an interview, the researcher may notice that the respondent has his hands folded across his chest. This posture is often interpreted as being defensive in response to the question. But it could simply be physical exhaustion or the respondent is so interested in participating that he is holding himself together, so to speak, to offer the researcher the best possible response. A keenly aware, culturally competent researcher knows the difference.
Employing Inclusion Best Practices
Consider every pain point a respondent may encounter. Ask yourself a series of questions like: Is the interview location physically accessible? Are we using language and reading level diversity, color contrast and font size best practices for online and written surveys? Are we asking questions in politically correct, non-stereotypical and inclusive ways?
You also may deploy such practices as ensuring privacy and anonymity for the more sensitive topics and using images, body language and pronouns that reflect the most recent evolutions of global culture.
Finally, be sure to offer a “thank you” or other culturally acceptable acknowledgment of participants’ willingness to share personal insights and sometimes the emotional parts of their user journeys. This can go a long way in making them feel included. By doing so, customers can become your brand’s best advocates, and the insights gleaned from their responses can help you develop customer-centric products and services.
Global markets are ever-fluid. Inclusive market research may be the only way brands can keep up.