With the launch of a new brand identity earlier this year, Citizen Relations renewed its commitment to the values of setting the standard, championing equity, and doing what’s right. In keeping with this, when the Citizen team discovered a lack of North American data on how ethnically diverse consumers use and engage with a brand’s marketing, the only response was to dig in and explore.
The result? After surveying nearly 2,500 ethnically diverse consumers and focus groups led by ethnically diverse influencers across North America, the agency released its ‘Inclusive Influencer Index' report. Highlighting the fact that influencer marketing is clearly valuable, but also that many companies still struggle with building authentic relations with diverse consumers, the study revealed four cornerstones of creating trust-centred, authentic, inclusive influencer marketing (‘connections’, ‘channels’, ‘content’ and ‘commitment’), which when followed, can lead to greater resilience, relevance and brand loyalty.
To learn more, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Citizen’s executive vice president of social impact and sustainability, Dr Shilpa Tiwari, who led the research on this report.
LBB> Championing equity and doing what’s right has been a big point of focus since Citizen launched its new brand identity. Tell us about how this led to the report! Where did the idea come from, and what made it the right course of action?
Shilpa> The idea of the report came while my team and I were looking for data on ethnicity in Canada. The client had specifically asked about particular ethnicities, however, we felt it was important to have a full picture of who the customer was and their values. With Canada being a country that is becoming increasingly diverse, it is important to acknowledge that customers look very different than they did 10 years ago, have different values, and may also use products and services differently because of their values.
While pursuing this, we found that other than the census, there was little data on multicultural or ethnically diverse customers and communities. So, we extended our search to the US and found that while there was more data, it was still not as nuanced or as current as we would have hoped.
Lack of data aside, however, this was the right course of action because the world is increasingly complex and noisy, and to create relevance, it is important to understand who we are trying to speak to, and how we can speak to them in a way that is meaningful and resonates deeply.
LBB> In conducting this research, Citizen surveyed over 2500 ethnically diverse customers. Who was involved in this process, and what was this process like?
Shilpa> To connect the dots on ‘how to’ for inclusive influencer marketing, we needed to go beyond surveying individuals - seeking to understand how they use social media, but also how ethnically diverse influencers feel about their work and what allows them to speak authentically to their audience. In short, we needed a better understanding of how the system works, and not just a piece of the system. To do this, we layered in focus groups with ethnically diverse influencers in Canada and the US, and conducted secondary research on top of survey findings to ensure we were examining this one topic from a systems perspective.
Also, it’s important to note that a majority of the people that worked on or supported this research are from ethnically diverse communities. It was important to ensure that the lens we used to pull this work together was one that was ethnically diverse.
LBB> A big takeaway is that there are four cornerstones of authentic inclusive influencer marketing. What makes these the four most important aspects?
Shilpa> The four cornerstones of inclusive influencer marketing are the following: ‘connection’, ‘channels’, ‘content’, and ‘commitment’.
- ‘Connection’ is the ability to move beyond the generic and impersonal to a relevant and nuanced understanding of what is important to individuals and the community in which the exist.
- ‘Channels’ is an understanding that culture, resources and experience can determine how different ethnic communities choose to obtain information on products, services and what is happening around them. Once you understand the need to connect with individuals on how they see themselves, and not how you see them, then you need to know what channels to use to speak to them specifically.
- ‘Content’, in today’s environment, must be relevant and resonate at a deeper level - more so than ever before. That means tone, words, and imagery matters. Consumers are more likely to be persuaded by a brand whose communication strategy authentically reflects their ethnicity.
- ‘Commitment’ consists of brand partnerships that are nurtured over a long period of time, with intent and desire from both parties to work together continuously. Repeated content collaborations further brand loyalty and are more likely to deliver lasting results. However, commitment needs to be internal too - your company needs to have diverse teams of creators, marketers, communicators, sales people, and so forth. Your brand’s external expression is not separate from what you do inside your company.
Building your campaigns and communications on these four cornerstones creates brand relevance, loyalty, and ultimately, creates a resilient company.
LBB> What were the most surprising takeaways? Was there anything that caught you off guard?
Shilpa> Nothing really caught me off guard, although I did find certain data points that stood out for me. For example, Indigenous and Native American communities use TikTok more so than other channels, which left me wondering if this had to do with access, and also culture. Given my understanding that Indigenous and Native culture is documented orally (through storytelling), and also that white individuals use social media less than ethnically diverse individuals (which may be because for generations, ethnically diverse communities have been absent from mainstream media), a reasonable conclusion would be that social media like TikTok has created space and provided access in a way that mainstream channels have not.
LBB> According to the research, ethnically diverse individuals do not generally relate to acronyms like BIPOC, and who they trust and follow are highly influenced by creators that they directly identify with. Why is this the case, and how can agencies and brands do better in this regard?
Shilpa> Regarding trust, simply, we as humans have a tendency to trust what we know or what is familiar to us.
In terms of why ethnically diverse individuals generally don’t relate to BIPOC, this is because it puts all non-whites into one big pot alphabet soup, without taking into account how different our histories, cultures and experiences are. Lumping ethnicities into one acronym is a form of erasure and allows people - like those making decisions on what we see and hear - to get away with not knowing us or what is important to us.
LBB> The general lack of research before the study meant that little was known about the ethnicity-based differences between platforms - an area of study that ought to be useful for many brands. Why do you think this is?
Shilpa> I believe the lack of research on ethnicity has to do with the fact that there is minimal ethnic diversity in decision-making positions. People often determine what’s important based on their experiences or view of the world, and when there are only a few types of experiences or points of view, it can result in a narrow understanding of what the world really looks like and what is important.
LBB> What do Canadian brands and agencies need to be taking away from this study?
Shilpa> Almost one in four Canadians is a child of a foreign-born parent. Additionally, immigration is our biggest source for population growth, and thus economic growth. This research will hopefully make it crystal clear to Canadian brands (and hopefully American brands too) that inclusive marketing is the only type of marketing if these brands are aiming for longevity.
LBB> How has the information gained from the study affected the way Citizen Relations will be working in the future?
Shilpa> We’ve been incorporating new thinking, particularly around inclusion, into how we function as an agency and support our clients for some time now. With this study and our EDI report
, we intend to start formally tracking our progress and disclosing how we are doing on our commitments. As such, we want our work to encourage other brands and agencies to take an intentional approach to inclusion.