Black-owned businesses lead the movement to meet customers where they are
February is Black History Month, so it's only appropriate to devote this month's blog to issues of diversity and inclusion.
There’s been a lot of attention paid recently to something called “inclusive marketing.” What is it? It’s an effort by brands and retailers to behave as if they do business in the same world the rest of us live in, a world populated by real people of diverse races, genders, sexual identities, physical abilities, and lifestyles.
Why does it matter? Because marketers who make assumptions about who their “best” customers are can end up misrepresenting or under-representing others who also like what they sell. When that happens, they’re potentially missing out on sales to individuals who just can’t relate to their ads, or worse, think the brand is not interested in getting their business.
What happens when they try to be more inclusive? They expand their audience and bring in new customers.
Take Barbie, for example. Long the iconic shapely blonde living the California lifestyle with uber-handsome boyfriend Ken, this once-beloved doll from Mattel was losing her cool in the 21st century. In 2020, encouraged by parents who want to buy dolls that look like their own children, Mattel launched a new line of Barbies more connected to today’s culture.
The new dolls have an array of skin tones, hair textures, body sizes, and facial structures, and take fashion inspiration from both street style and designer runways. Even before the “fashionistas” hit the shelves, shoppers welcomed more inclusive Barbies. Mattel’s top seller in 2019 was a curvy black Barbie with an Afro. Today they offer a wide range of diversity “so every child can find a doll that resonates with them,” according to company executives.
Another way to be inclusive is to make products and services more accessible. Microsoft spent $100 million designing its Xbox One video game controller, only to find that avid gamers with certain physical handicaps couldn’t use it. Wisely, the company didn’t turn its back on an enthusiastic and loyal market segment — they designed an adaptive controller with oversized buttons instead.
Originally built with one veteran amputee in mind, the adaptive controller has since been modified in dozens of ways for gamers with muscular dystrophy, poor vision, and even full-body paralysis. Instead of a “one and done” solution, Microsoft is meeting disabled gamers where they are and winning new customers who become their biggest fans.
Black-owned businesses in the spotlight
According to the latest census data, there are more than 124,000 Black-owned businesses in the U.S. The majority of them operate in or near the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the country. In fact, 73% of Black Americans and 80% of Black-owned businesses are in urban areas.
In the aggregate, Black-owned businesses are less successful than others in the best of times, for a variety of reasons that are often beyond their control. Securing capital, for example, can be a huge hurdle. Black entrepreneurs are less likely to get funding to start a business and also less likely to get funding to grow a business.
COVID-19 devastated the Black-owned community as the pandemic emptied normally crowded cities. Suddenly, local shop owners lost their customers and their employees. The fallout was real - a recent study by Stanford University found that 41% of Black business owners closed their doors in the first month of the pandemic.
To stem the tide, a coalition of local journalists, industry associations, and large companies launched a movement to increase awareness of what happened to Black businesses last year and encourage people to shop their stores to help keep them alive. GOOGLE is offering digital coaching to help Black-owned businesses get proficient at online advertising and is urging Black creators to add "black-owned" identifiers to search results. Digital publication Black-owned Brooklyn is documenting Black life in the borough to preserve its merchant community and make it easier for people to discover and patronize minority-owned businesses.
Even without COVID, it takes a unique type of person to own and operate a successful business in a big city. Black enterprises face all the same challenges most urban businesses do, including how to move goods through city streets, find safe spaces to warehouse and deliver inventory, and meet the diverse needs of multicultural neighborhoods — and they are rising to the occasion. For many Black business owners, being an urban entrepreneur and practicing inclusive marketing isn’t a job, it’s a calling.
Tips to succeeding in diverse urban neighborhoods
There are concrete things any business can do to thrive in even the most diverse urban neighborhoods.
- Create an environment where people can gather and learn. Be a place where customers or clients can meet face-to-face (wearing masks!) to share experiences. Offer classes or events that give them a reason to drop in without having a specific purchase in mind. Or be the place they go to find something special or new — bring useful or interesting products closer to home so they don’t always have to shop Amazon.
- Depending on what part of the country you’re in, consider investing in bilingual or multilingual customer service to include non-English speakers in your customer base. The Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia estimates the combined buying power of Hispanics will grow to almost $2 trillion by 2023. When you answer questions, take orders, and educate people about your products in their preferred language, you make them feel welcome and increase customer satisfaction.
- Make it safe and convenient to purchase and pick up customer orders. Buy-online-pickup-at-curbside (BOPAC) was already popular before Covid and now it’s the norm, not the exception. It’s especially helpful in neighborhoods where it’s not safe to deliver packages to a home address. If you can, build a website that supports e-commerce. You can sell by phone and have items ready for pick-up, but it’s a lot more efficient to let your website do it for you.
About Cura Group
Cura Resource Group is in the business of helping merchants fulfill customer orders, even if they don’t have a physical store. Our high-volume Sales Centers serve as local distribution centers for customers in underserved urban delivery areas. We also offer proprietary, custom software for buy online, pick-up in store or pick-up at curbside solutions.
Contact us today to discuss a local strategy that will get you closer to your customers and make product access a positive experience.
- The Hidden Benefits of Bilingual Customer Service Reps
- BOPIS, Curbside Pickup, and Customer Service during Covid-19: What you Need to Know Now
- Caring for Customers is Hard Work: Meeting Customer Demands in an Omnichannel World