The Importance of Intersectionality in Brand Strategy
As Pride month—one of the most renowned celebrations of visibility and equality—met the Black Lives Matter movement—one of the biggest social justice movements against racial inequality—this past June, the marketing and social media industry saw just how crucial it is that brands make a conscious effort to promote authentic diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the content they produce.
“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us” — Marsha P. Johnson
It goes without saying that D&I is essential in cultivating consumer trust and establishing an ethical brand identity. Recent shifts in the standard of representation have exposed the value of brand strategies that place an emphasis on effective D&I practices in the marketing and social media industry—and the consequences that follow for brands that don’t.
Truth be told, many brands see diversity and inclusion as a mandatory practice—as a compliance that they should adhere to in order to seem diverse enough to satisfy the public and alleviate any possibility of being denounced, or “cancelled,” for producing content that is to some degree homogenous, whether it’s white-washed, ableist, or heteronormative content. This particular incentive behind diversity and inclusion—simply including marginalized groups because it is expected—lacks intentionality, and instead sits comfortably meeting the minimal standard of representation that’s been submissively accepted by the majority of consumers until recently.
With the way that brands are able to interact with consumers today, they have the ability to influence both consumer response and societal change by utilizing their platform to strategically promote diversity and inclusion in marginalized groups. So, what’s the best practice for strategically—rather than passively—promoting diversity and inclusion within these marginalized groups?
Approaching D&I through an intersectional IMC framework. By integrating the distinct elements of diversity and inclusion the same way we integrate the elements of brand strategy that we are already familiar with, we can combine several different areas of representation and unify them into one holistic group. Through this, we are able to create content that represents all marginalized groups—rather than one or a few—to ensure that D&I in IMC is intersectional. By taking an intersectional approach to representation, we can promote D&I in an accurate and meaningful way, which in turn has the potential to increase both consumer engagement and the acceptance of marginalized groups in society.
So, what exactly is intersectionality, and what constitutes intersectionality in brand strategy? For starters, intersectionality is the concept of unifying—or integrating—individuals who experience discrimination as a result of belonging to various marginalized groups. These are people who have historically been discriminated against with respect to race, class, gender, ability, age, religion, sexual orientation, education, culture, or legal status. In essence, intersectionality is the combination of multiple marginalized identities that can increase the bias and discrimination a person receives because of their identity. So, the more marginalized communities a person belongs to, the more this person will experience bias and discrimination as a result.
For example, as a white, queer woman, I experience bias and discrimination due to my sexual orientation and gender. Both of these identities intersect through two different marginalized groups, which increases the level of bias and discrimination that I experience as a result. However, I cannot experience the same level of discrimination that a black, queer woman will experience. The combination of her gender, sexual orientation and race adds another layer of intersectionality to her identity, which increases the level of discrimination that she experiences as a result. The important takeaway is the cumulative effect of intersectionality: each individual identification within a marginalized group will intersect, which increases the level of bias or discrimination a person is subject to because of their identity.
The term “intersectionality” was first coined thirty-one years ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw to address the oppression of African-American women (Columbia Law School, 2017). Today, however, intersectionality has been redefined to embrace all margins of social justice and has resurfaced as one of the most talked about initiatives in equality, particularly in regards to feminism and racial inequality. While racial representation is at the forefront of most conversations around D&I today (and rightfully deserves to occupy this space), intersectionality nurtures the representation of all marginalized groups, including those that have more covert implications of diversity, such as education or legal status.
Densifying the representation of a particular group is powerful, but the list is comprehensive when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Therefore, the representation that is seen in branded content should reflect the comprehensive nature of true diversity and inclusion. This approach makes plenty of room for intersectionality.
Indya Moore, one of the most vocal and influential LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter activists, addressed the bias and discrimination that they encounter within their own family dynamic in a recent interview with them. this past June (them, 2020). In Moore’s words, their family would “pick and choose” parts of their identity that they wanted to advocate for and accept—their race—while neglecting others—their queer identity (Moore, 2020). The same way that familial ties do not require solidarity and acceptance, many consumers feel comfortable “picking and choosing” which marginalized groups they engage with and advocate for, while neglecting to see the implications of their bias in regard to all marginalized communities.
“Listen and move with us, not for us” — Indya Moore, them.
In essence, true diversity and inclusion is only profoundly effective when it is intersectional. The practice of integrated marketing communication requires being integrative in all aspects of branding—in this case, integrating multiple different marginalized communities into the content we produce to help bridge the gap between individual marginalized groups and between marginalized groups and the rest of society. By extending the definition of ‘integrated’ in IMC to embrace intersectional brand strategies, we are able to use this holistic definition of integration as a guide to strengthen traditional brand strategy and leverage social change.
As we polish off our undergraduate careers and prepare to settle into positions of influence in the IMC field, we must take the initiative to recognize our responsibility as the next generation of IMC professionals by promoting diversity and inclusion in the content we produce and being an ally to all marginalized communities through our work. By acknowledging the weight that our decisions carry, we have the power to cultivate a more intentional approach to D&I by making a conscious effort to utilize intersectionality. Acting on these ethical incentives as agents of change, we can actively engage with our consumers to advocate for marginalized groups and cultivate positive consumer response. It is our responsibility to shift into a standard of producing content that continuously sets the standard for respect and representation through intersectionality in D&I; it is a win-win for both the success of brands and the progress of society.
Ruggs, Enrica N., et al. “The Effect of Traditionally Marginalized Groups in Advertising on
Consumer Response.” Marketing Letters, vol. 29, no. 3, 2018, pp. 319–335., doi:10.1007/s11002-018-9468-3.
“Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later.” Columbia Law School, http://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more -two-decades-later.
Nast, Condé. “We Went Live With Indya Moore to Talk About Black Trans Liberation.” them., 2020, http://www.them.us/sponsored/story/we-went-live-with-indya-moore-to-talk-about-blac k-trans-liberation.
“Intersectionality Photo.” Autisme Centre Quebec, http://www.autisme-cq.com/lacces-a-linformation -chez-autisme-centre-quebec/diversite/.
Written by E. Norris. You can learn more about our blogwriters by clicking the “Our Team” banner at the top!
Excellent post. You’ve hit on key challenges and key reasons to face them and navigate them. A long term challenge will involve avoiding the commodification of intersectionality and “wokeness” whatever that might mean. Neal Postman argued that TV simplifies everything it touches. I think one of the tests will be “are you willing to lose customers over this too?” Nike, for all the criticism one can put on them for some labor practices, has been willing to lose customers and stick with Kapernick. Thanks for sharign this post.