Is your marketing always free of bias?

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So you think that your marketing and communications are always free of bias?

You consider yourself to be aware, respectful, inclusive and welcoming towards people who are not just similar to you, but more so – those who are different from you?

You are confident that you embrace diversity – women, men, the LGBT community and those from different nationalities, ethnicities and religions, various age groups and even socio-economic levels?

Think again.

Chances are high that there’s a gap between where we are now and where we need to be if we want our communications to be sensitive to and inclusive of all communities.

We’re all aware of the recent controversial cases involving media houses, digital publishers and even retail brands that have come under fire for showcasing video content and traditional marketing efforts that have been considered as racist and culturally insensitive.

Now, more than ever, brands, agencies and media owners need to examine their processes when it comes to being culturally aware in their efforts surrounding content marketing and content creation.

So how can content marketing practitioners best prepare?

1. Be aware of your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses

We all have certain opinions. It is a fact of life that prejudice and bias exist and those who deny it are inadvertently, the most afflicted. It’s worth taking a good look in the mirror to examine and recognise the possible gaps in cultural awareness in your organisation.

Some companies overcome this by ensuring that their team comprises people from diverse backgrounds who can serve as credible consultants and references. Others who do not have that luxury rely on a team of trained corporate communications or public affairs professionals. Others simply encourage continuous discussion and knowledge sharing amongst their team members.

It is always ideal to include people in your content team who know the topics, know the culture and can speak the lingo in a credible, relatable, and authentic way. We need to talk to our audiences the way a friend would talk to them – don’t sound like a stranger!

2. Research, learn and encourage discussions

In reference to the ‘Cultural Competence and Spirituality in Community Building’ toolkit from The University of Kansas, the difference between Cultural Knowledge, Cultural Awareness, and Cultural Sensitivity, can be explained as follows:

  • “Cultural Knowledge” means that you know about some cultural characteristics, history, values, beliefs, and behaviours of another ethnic or cultural group.
  • “Cultural Awareness” is the next stage of understanding other groups, such as being open to the idea of changing cultural attitudes.
  • “Cultural Sensitivity” is knowing that differences exist between cultures, but not assigning values to the differences (better or worse, right or wrong).

Understanding the cultural differences of other ethnicities, religions and cultural beliefs goes beyond simply being politically correct in social situations. Take into consideration a broad scope of cultural differences, especially in a melting pot that is Singapore. While it may seem minor at the time, certain off-cue remarks can immediately alienate your audience, or at the very least, create an unintended perception of your brand.

Quoting the Content Marketing Institute’s piece on ‘How to Prepare Your Content Marketing for a Global Audience’, teams should have regular discussions and pay attention to details such as colours, holidays, religious references, sports, fiscal years, and even superstitions – missteps will signal that you or your brand are outsiders without any insight into local communities. It’s time to develop a healthy respect for the consumer living outside of what marketers are used to.

3. Apply these market insights to your marketing campaign and initiatives

Cultural sensitivity is important when creating content to avoid using words and images that might be offensive to various cultures locally as well as globally.

We should remember that the videos, words and images that we publish will be viewed by people from various backgrounds. Some information and graphics might cause minor offence, while others could have major consequences. Examples include the use of national flags, maps that may contain inaccurate border representations, local food, delicacies and customs, objects of national, religious or ethnic identities, foreign text or words that are not translated accurately and even simple cultural nuances that are portrayed callously.

Upon drafting your content, the next step involves circulating the list in various ethnic communities for comment and possible revisions. Most brands can ensure the local or global integrity of their content by engaging local subject matter experts to check for errors before they get published or go live. However, if professional consultants aren’t a viable option, the most obvious choices would be your colleagues or friends.

Fast Company’s article ‘How Unconscious Bias Affects Everything You Do’ had some relevant points: Bias may be as natural to human beings as breathing, and it may very well be impossible to drive it out of human behavior. But by shifting the mindset of an organisation and inviting constant inquiry into how we make decisions, we can create businesses, like orchestras, with a broader diversity of talent.

For the content hubs that we run at Brand New Media and in conjunction with Singapore Press Holdings, the content, publishing and marketing teams always ensure that these steps are taken to help ensure the trust we’ve built for our clients and their brands is not damaged by an awkward faux pas. Taking Food For Life TV that we run for FairPrice as an example, we do extensive research on the origins of a certain local dish to ensure that the ingredients, methods and presentations are authentic and resonates with the relevant communities before we amplify the said content. Your brand’s marketing and amplification efforts will reach and resonate better with consumers thanks to your deeper understanding of the differences in cultural and social norms.

About Dawn M. Jeremiah

Dawn is a hybrid marketer with experiences that cover content and social media marketing, data analytics, broadcast television, with traditional marketing, branding and PR. Among the pioneer team at BNM, Dawn leads the marketing and audience amplification team, managing digital content amplification and campaign optimisation. She relishes managing all aspects of campaign strategy and execution, utilizing data-driven insights to garner ROI, audience acquisition and retention for the world’s best brands.

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