How Your Company Can Grow With the Right Words

Summary: Words Matter is a research initiative launched by the Multicultural Insights Collective to help companies talk about racial justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation in their internal and external communications to support business growth and sustainability.

6 minutes to read. By author Michaela Mora on April 19, 2021
Topics: Multicultural Insights Collective, Multicultural Research, Market Research

Words Matter Research by the Multicultural Insights Collective
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Words Matter. What your company says in its advertising, press releases, marketing materials, and communications with customers and employees will have a long- and short-term impact on the sustainability of your business.

However, your words are not interpreted in a vacuum. Quite often your customers, prospective customers, and employees will hear something different from what you intended to say.

The disconnect between what your company says and what your target audience hears is often seen when:

  • The company has a bias towards action in times of crisis, without a well-thought-out plan.
  • The company’s actions don’t match its words.
  • The company doesn’t consider the cultural diversity of different groups and how the context influences the interpretation of words.

Behind the inconsistent behavior and the failure to account for cultural diversity, there is commonly a lack of representation of different audiences in the workforce, and especially among those crafting the external messages.

Lack of internal diversity seeps through everything a company does including products, customer experience, hiring practices, talent retention, etc. However, it is particularly evident in its marketing and advertising campaigns.

Most internal and external brand communication reflects biases of individuals in charge of creating that communication. Unless there is a concerted effort to use evidence-based research to guide decisions related to content and tone of voice, the words, imagery, and stories told are more likely to reflect the creators’ points of view rather than that of the intended audience.

The Lost Opportunity of 2020

In 2020, when social unrest dominated the news after George Floyd’s murder in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and a presidential election year, we were able to witness too many examples of tone-deaf campaigns and inconsistent company behaviors.

Many brands sent messages that were:

  • Generic (e.g., “we support racial justice”)
  • Non-committal (e.g., indicating support for a cause without providing concrete actions taken)
  • Lacking inclusion and balance (e.g., selective responses to certain events while ignoring others equally relevant)
  • Impetuous and opportunistic (e.g., sudden launches of multimillion-dollar investment in diversity).
  • Lacking due diligence or understanding of the historical context of current events (e.g., changing brand names and logos without first researching their target audiences).

The Birth of The Multicultural Insights Collective

To address this disappointing state of affairs and do something to change it, Relevant Insights joined forces with eight other small research agencies and research centers to create the Multicultural Insights Collective (MIC), a coalition of predominantly women- and- minority-owned business founders with extensive experience in research, diversity, multiculturalism, and management.

We started asking ourselves the following:

  • How can we use disciplined research and consumer insights to create unifying language and principles when it comes to diversity, equity, and representation?
  • How would a roadmap for organizations to address urgency more effectively in the future without relying on mythological narratives or guesswork look like?
  • Is there a way to facilitate meaningful research-based initiatives that foster productive dialogue, integrate professional development, and lead to improved organizational outcomes related to DEI?

Multicultural Insights Collective

MIC founding members: Kerry Edelstein (Research Narrative), Dephyne Lomax Taylor (V & L Research and Consulting, Inc.), Michaela Mora (Relevant Insights), Vashte Steinbiss (Slidedesignr), Damion Taylor (Prometheus Digital Studio), Jay Tucker (UCLA MEMES), Lisa Wilding Brown (Innovate MR), Jimmy Zollo (Collaborata), Candace Hokett (CHH Consulting Services LLC).

Voices of Equity

Once we started weekly discussions to answer these questions, we heard that many brands were waking up to the reality of social and racial injustice and asking themselves, “How do we even talk about this?”

In search of a starting point and being aware of our own biases and the need to practice what we preach, we all volunteered time and resources to launch a national study to validate some of our hypotheses.

The study, based on a national sample of 1,080 Americans with minority racial groups oversampled to ensure representation and weighted to national representation, was launched in September 2020. The insights were eye-opening. 

The data told the story of a divided country using words with different meanings mediated by racial and generational differences. For example, the term “defund” in the context of “defund the police” quickly adopted various meanings depending on how it would affect different groups and institutions. The interpretation oscillated between its original meaning of “to prevent from continuing to receive funds” and the later interpretation of “to redirect funds to training and qualified staff that can assist the police in cases they shouldn’t be handling.”

The most interesting finding in this particular case is that “defund the police,” which emerged as a reaction to police brutality against African Americans, was supported only by 34% of African Americans. An equal proportion didn’t support it and the rest had mixed feelings about it.

Multicultural Insights Collective - Voices of Equity Research - Attitudes towards DefundthePolice hashtag among African Americans

To know more about the results from this study, check the webinar presentation by the MIC team here.

The insights from the study indicated that to start talking about the social issues that may emerge at any time, companies need to:

  • Prepare for immediacy.
  • Communicate with different age groups (not just the younger ones).
  • Aim for inclusivity.
  • Know their audiences.
  • Invest in understanding.

This initial study generated many ideas for additional research areas. However, we agreed that research related to the use of language by diverse groups should be the first step in creating a foundation for additional research. This led us to design a research initiative called Voices of Equity with different projects incorporated. 

The Launch of Words Matter

The first project within the Voices of Equity program is Words Matter.

The main research goal is to identify best practices for speaking both internally and externally on topics related to racial justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation.

These best practices can be used to support revenue growth and operational savings through inclusivity in different areas:

  • Marketing and advertising campaigns.
  • New product development.
  • Customer experience improvement initiatives.
  • Employee experience, including hiring and retention.

This is a multiphase research project in which we will explore:

  • What are the current conversations around diversity, inclusion, equity, and representation? What narratives are emerging, and in what context?
  • Where did these narratives begin and what is their source? What can experts tell us about the genesis of advocacy and DEI language, to place it in proper context?
  • What do words mean to people? Do we have a common vocabulary?
  • How can we invoke a more trusted, unifying, and productive vocabulary that facilitates progress toward racial equity?

This project is launching on April 29, 2021, with the support of corporations in industries such as sporting goods and apparel, beauty and skincare, personal care packaged goods, insurance, and telecommunications. All of the participating companies will have access to multiple deliverables and online events to socialize and implement the insights.

We still have a couple of spots for research sponsors, so if you want to know more about this project and how your company can participate, please contact us at info@voiceofequity.com and visit voicesofequity.com.