DEI is more than a buzzword — it’s a mindset.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the forefront of business conversations just about everywhere. We as marketers, regardless of industry, have an interesting role: We must acknowledge these conversations from not only a brand perspective but also the audience’s.
In fact, since an overwhelming majority (70%) of audiences respond positively to DEI in marketing, rising to the occasion only helps your brand in the long run (more on that later).
A tall order, to be sure — and one that I, Siege’s resident Sensitivity Editor, am afraid to say is impossible to be executed perfectly.
That’s not to say you will always fall short — rather, there’s no such thing as “perfect” at all. Awareness, empathy, and compassion aren’t exactly quantifiable metrics or one-and-done to-dos on a checklist.
DEI in marketing boils down to one simple but immeasurable idea: All we can do is try our best.
The good news is that trying your best starts with simply learning more. Leveling up your own understanding in turn levels up your content, which can translate to more authentic connections with your audience, more links with high-quality prospects, and better E-A-T.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re open to learning with us. Join us as we explore why DEI in marketing is important, along with 11 ways we can try our best in both our content marketing and our daily lives.
What Is DEI?
At its core, diversity, equity, and inclusion in marketing is all about representing, elevating, and welcoming different identities through content.
Diversity refers to the variety of identities and backgrounds represented in a given space (or piece of content).
Identities and backgrounds can refer to race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, national and regional origin, religion, disability, neurodivergence, sexuality and relationship status, socioeconomic position, education, marital status, language, veteran status, physical appearance, political ideology, life experiences….
You get the idea: Everyone is different, and diversity aims to represent as many of these differences as possible.
A bit more of an intentional process than diversity, equity means providing everyone with equal opportunities AND equal access to them.
This means we must acknowledge and help eliminate barriers that may block some of us from those opportunities.
To be equitable in marketing often means considering different accessibility needs (which we’ll get to later).
Meanwhile, inclusion extends beyond representation to foster a fair, welcoming, respectful, and collaborative environment.
It’s not enough to simply include visibly different people in your content — you must also consider, embrace, and respect where those different people come from and what they seek from your content.
And no, you don’t have to craft your content for every internet user on the planet; you just want to be sensitive to and inclusive of your target audience — but more on that later.
What Does This Mean for Marketing?
Marketing exists at the unique intersection of reflecting real life and shaping it.
DEI in marketing accomplishes both: It shows that you’re aware of the different backgrounds that comprise our world while actively celebrating and solidifying that fact.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree that DEI is the future of marketing.
I’d argue it’s already our present, as well — after all, our audience already expects us to meet them there.
Why Does It Matter?
DEI in marketing is important because it tells your audience you see them, you hear them, and you’re responding to them. But that’s not the only reason it should be important to you.
It Matters to Your Audience
Obviously, we have to market TO someone. In doing so, we often ask ourselves, “What does our audience want from our content?”
Spoiler alert: Your audience wants to see themselves represented in your content and walk away feeling that it was made with them in mind.
For example, 71% of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to interact with online content that represents their sexuality in an authentic way.
We can pretty much guarantee that your audience is composed of a myriad of different backgrounds and experiences.
It’s important not to alienate them with content that ignores their differences.
More than that, audiences value diverse and inclusive content in general: 65% of consumers across the globe consider diversity in marketing to be important.
Being sensitive in your content demonstrates to your audience that you respect their values.
It Matters to Your Bottom Line
In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, catering to these audience expectations helps your rankings and your brand.
Remember that while we may write for Google, we also write for real people. Those real people, including 78% of women and people of color, trust brands that they perceive as authentic in their marketing efforts.
The more you keep DEI in mind with your content, the more natural and authentic it will be.
Readers can tell if a given piece of content is ignorant of the industry, keyword topic, or audience (and is thus not diverse or inclusive enough). And the fewer readers you’re capturing, the fewer clicks you’re going to receive — not to mention the fewer links you’ll build.
Diversity and inclusion can bolster innovation revenue by almost 13%. By demonstrating compassion and authenticity, you bring more value to your content and, in turn, your site.
It Matters, Period
Allow us to get on a soapbox here: In 2022, prioritizing DEI in marketing is just the right thing to do.
Recognizing and embracing our differences can only help make the world a better place.
11 Ways to Make Your Content More Inclusive
I mentioned earlier that, like many aspects of what we do, DEI in marketing is asymptotic — that is, no matter how good you are at it, there’s no such thing as reaching perfection.
But there are countless ways to strive to be better. Here are just a few fundamentals.
1. Understand the DEI(&B) Landscape
It can be helpful to do a little bit of homework on DEI in marketing or in general to get a feel for the current discourse. You’re off to a good start with this post!
Also consider that while generally the default acronym, “DEI” is far from all-encompassing.
As conversations continue to evolve, so too does this umbrella term — in recent years, “belonging” has entered the DEI(&B) equation.
Belonging is what your audience (hopefully) feels when engaging with your content. It’s arguably the hardest idea in the acronym to achieve because your output as a marketer has no control over it.
Of course, if your audience feels that your content is authentically inclusive, hopefully belonging falls right into place.
2. Be Intentional and Willing
Frankly, a majority of the legwork required to be “good” at DEI in marketing starts with your own awareness and commitment to trying your best.
Be willing to:
- Purposefully shift your mindset. Be intentional about being a good ally.
- Be uncomfortable. Be open to new information that challenges existing beliefs.
- Learn and grow. Read, listen, and absorb on a continuous basis, then apply and practice what you learn.
- Accept feedback. Part of the learning and growing process means being receptive to how your content affects others.
- Fail. We can’t and won’t get it right the first time every time. Being a good DEI advocate doesn’t mean knowing how to be perfect, but rather knowing how to do better.
3. Recognize Biases and Knowledge Gaps
A little self-reflection never hurt anyone.
In line with the first two tips, understand where you fall into the DEI conversation. Recognize any implicit biases or perspectives you’re carrying that may create knowledge gaps and prevent your content from being authentic or inclusive.
This works not only on a macro level (contextualizing your DEI efforts), but also on a micro level (for each piece of content you create).
Let’s say you’re writing a post about budgeting as a working college student, whereas you were fortunate enough as a student to have your expenses covered without needing a job.
Well, your perspective likely doesn’t reflect that of the broke college student the post is made for, and you won’t want to write your post with assumptions that ignore their reality.
You’ll have to research wages, education expenses, and housing costs to better understand the audience’s perspective.
Again, you may not know the right answer every time, but you can try to ask yourself (or your search bar) the right questions.
4. Always Know Your Audience
Other than keyword research, audience research is content marketing’s bread and butter.
To be inclusive of your audience, ask yourself:
- Who are they?
- What are their backgrounds and experiences?
- Where are they coming from with this search intent?
- What are they hoping to learn?
- What existing knowledge do you expect them to come with?
- Is this keyword or subject matter relevant to them?
Check SERP data for further insights, too — what angles, content types, or information converts? Where could you bring more value to the specific audience?
Inclusive content in action:
The Zebra’s “Homebuying Guide for Veterans” gives valuable information to a specific audience for whom it’s relevant.
5. Never Stop Listening
DEI discourse is everywhere — everywhere! — and you can expand your knowledge even passively by simply making mental notes whenever you can.
As you peruse research on Google, maybe you encounter a statistic that sheds new light on a topic for you.
Here’s a recent example from my life: While writing this very post, I learned that only 3% of the Hispanic population in the U.S. embraces the term “Latinx.”
I assumed “Latinx” had noble intentions in its quest for gender neutrality, but in reality, it’s baseless in (if not wholly ignorant of) the Spanish language. Now that I know how the very audience it describes receives this assumption, I’ve made a mental note to use the more commonly preferred “Hispanic.”
And this isn’t exclusive to info you glean on the clock. As you’re scrolling the depths of your For You feed on a TikTok binge, watching TED talks, or even engaging in discussions with friends, listen to, stay curious about, and apply new insights.
6. Apply Evolving Language or Knowledge
OK, so what do we actually do with those mental notes?
The answer is simple (in theory, anyway): Do your best to incorporate them, both within and outside of content.
For example, it may have taken a few years, but we’ve all largely removed “gay” or the R-word from our lexicon of slang by now, which shows that we’re capable of evolving with the DEI landscape!
Inclusive content in action:
StyleSeat’s “How Much Do Dreadlocks Cost?” guide shies away from the oft-offensive “dreads,” favoring the full “dreadlocks” or even “locs.”
7. Make Inclusive and Accessible Designs
Every great example of content marketing involves great UX and great design.
Make sure your content ticks those boxes in its inclusivity and accessibility, as well.
There’s no shortage of resources online detailing best practices for creating accessible (i.e., equitable and inclusive) design in your content. We’ve included a list at the end of this post, but for now, here are a few considerations:
- Include people of color, people with disabilities, and people of different ages in your images.
- Provide captions or transcripts for audio or video.
- Use contrasting colors and clear labels for on-screen data visualization.
- Give detailed descriptions for images through alt text.
- Avoid animation or video with excessive movement or flashing visuals.
- Ensure your site is compatible with screen readers, mobile devices, and keyboard navigation.
- Ensure all content is ADA compliant.
We recently discovered some research about how font can play a role in your site’s UX accessibility as well — something to keep in mind as you’re creating content.
Speaking of, here’s a fun fact: We’re not necessarily saying you should switch your blogs to Comic Sans, but it does serve a worthy purpose in being accessible for readers with dyslexia.
Inclusive content in action:
The images in Tommy John’s “What Is Gymtimidation and 7 Ways to Overcome It” highlight statistics using both bold copy and visualization and feature people of different ages, genders, and racial backgrounds.
8. Write With Intention and Compassion
One of the benefits of content marketing is how much stuff we learn through researching and creating.
It’s not exactly uncommon for our content to touch on sensitive subjects, such as mental health, disabilities, or even personal finances.
Imagine you’re looking for ways to improve your credit score, and you read a post that uses critical, condescending language and even suggests that you’re not a trustworthy job candidate if you have a lower score.
I can already guess how that would make you feel.
Your content isn’t here to judge its readers — it’s here to help them. The little things in your copy can go a long way in creating a welcoming, respectful, and trustworthy environment for your readers.
Here are a few best practices for every post:
- Ensure your writing is free of biases or stereotypes.
- Avoid language that insinuates that being white, straight, college-educated, or wealthy is the default.
- Favor ungendered language (e.g., “parents” over “mom and dad,” or “server” over “waitress”).
- Avoid language that perpetuates ableism (the idea that not having a disability is superior or “normal”).
- Diversify names of hypothetical people.
When it comes to people-first language (“person with disabilities”) vs. identity-first language (“disabled person”), the jury’s out on what’s preferable.
The idea is that people-first language doesn’t let the disability (in this example) define or qualify the person — they are simply a person who has a disability.
On the other hand, some audiences do prefer to embrace this part of their identity and not make it an afterthought.
Since it’s unlikely in content marketing that you’ll be able to ask your audience how they’d describe themselves, use your best judgment. (If your content follows AP style, they recommend people-first.)
Something cool to note is that Google won’t penalize you either way — RetireGuide’s “14 Accessible Vacations for Senior Citizens With Limited Mobility,” which uses people-first language, currently ranks fifth for the identity-first keyword “vacations for disabled seniors”!
Inclusive content in action:
Zola’s list of “Best Love Quotes for Him” highlights that while the post is “meant for people with he/him pronouns, most can apply to any type of romantic relationship!” Not only does the copy make a point to be inclusive to everyone, but it also uses inclusive language to get that point across.
9. Rely on Resources and Continue to Learn
As I’ve mentioned, learning and trying your best is a continuous effort. The sites below are excellent resources to help you prioritize DEI in content marketing.
For design considerations:
For copy considerations:
- AllyBot.io’s Inclusive Language Cheat Sheet (As an editor from Texas, however, I have to make one small correction: The correct spelling is “y’all.”)
- Wikipedia’s List of Disability-Related Terms With Negative Connotations
- The Conscious Style Guide (Also has a newsletter!)
If your spi-DEI sense starts to tingle, be curious and make it a learning opportunity. If I need a gut check, I often reference AP Stylebook and Merriam-Webster Dictionary for quick, generally-agreed-upon answers.
10. Walk the Walk
In this post we’ve talked a lot about authenticity. There’s no better way for your content to be authentic than to ensure your internal efforts reflect your commitment to DEI as well.
In other words, don’t forget to be inclusive of your marketers as well, not just your audience.
Even if you already have a diverse team of content creators, how much are you encouraging their ideas and perspectives? How much do you support and celebrate their differences through your company culture?
With a diverse team that feels like they belong, your content is sure to reflect that inclusivity.
And not only will your content be better for it, but also your returns — diverse teams are up to 35% more likely to perform better financially than non-diverse teams.
Finally — and I’m a little biased here — it can help to identify someone on your team who’s relatively attuned to inclusivity and can help answer questions.
11. Power Through Discomfort
Listen. I get it. This stuff is hard.
How can you bullseye a constantly moving target?
The truth is, you can do all the research you want on the front end and still say the wrong thing or face criticism — the important thing is to grow because of it.
Keep Growing Up and to the Right With Your Efforts
DEI falls under the Environmental, Social, and Governance umbrella, which is a huge focus for us here at Siege. If you’re looking for compassionate and forward-thinking content, you’ve come to the right place.
Because when everyone is included, everyone wins.