As the Bard once said: “Know thy audience!”

First came Budweiser. Then Target. Then Kohl’s. Am I missing anybody? I very well could be, since it’s almost impossible to keep up with the news of companies running afoul of consumers with their stance on “inclusivity.”

Please don’t get me wrong. I support companies that believe in, as Webster’s defines it, “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or intellectual disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.”

Despite that fact, I guess that, just like millions of Americans at the moment, I’m still scratching my head a bit over this spate of what some are calling woke marketing, i.e., “wokeness” in corporate branding.

I’m sure that you, too, have been hearing and reading about it… and quite a lot lately. From alcoholic beverages and infant clothing lines to dating apps and detergents, brands galore are jumping (or at least making an attempt to jump) on the inclusivity bandwagon. The big news recently is that instead of getting ON the bandwagon, recent attempts seem to have landed brands UNDER the wagon. 

Why is inclusive marketing so important in 2023? Deloitte’s Authentically Inclusive Marketing tells us that “on a given day, up to 10,000 discrete advertisements bombard consumers during their waking hours. Consumers—especially the youngest generations—are expecting more from these messages than just details about the latest seasonal sale. Rather, they are questioning whether a brand supports diversity and inclusion both publicly and behind the camera—and this focus is becoming increasingly important to brands, as well.” 

How important? From Gallup’s US LGBT identification steady at 7.2%: “After showing perceptible increases in 2020 and 2021, U.S. adults’ identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual held steady in 2022, at 7.2%. The current percentage is double what it was when Gallup first measured LGBT identification a decade ago.

It’s pretty clear that here in the U.S., our consumer population is growing increasingly diverse, whether we’re talking race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or even physical differences in ability. With that growth is an ever-increasing expectation—on the part of these consumers—that brands respond accordingly.

KPMG’s article, The Power of Inclusive Marketing and Why It Works makes, what I see, as the essential point here: “Inclusive marketing isn’t a tick-box exercise. Images of white people can’t be just switched with those of ethnic minorities, coloring packaging to pink won’t attract more female buyers, and rainbow flags pinned to a glossy campaign message won’t make them inclusive. So, what actions should brands take?” I’ll answer that question with a question of my own: At what point do brands take this too far in the other direction?

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps – so simple, in fact, that I can’t understand how Bud, Target, and Kohl’s missed them  – that marketers can take to develop their inclusive marketing campaigns.  

One, know your audience. As Shakespeare once said, “know thy audience.” Well, not really, but he sure was an expert marketer. When you’re developing your marketing message, do the research. Know your audience. I remember very well the focus groups, the 50-page consumer research decks, the commercial concept testing… There are a lot of ways to create and maintain a brand that is inclusive, and understanding your audience is a foundational step. I do think that, in some ways, “inclusivity” has almost become an approach to branding that is more fashion than fact. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in marketing to your audience, and again, in not marginalizing individuals. But I do question sometimes—when viewing a commercial, for instance—the necessity of an inclusivity subtext. It all goes back to research and “the numbers.” If the LGBTQ population is less than the 8% of the American populus, how will the other 92% respond to an LGBTQ lifestyle-focused message, i.e., one that doesn’t speak to them? Some will ignore it. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen recently, others will be angered by it. Angered enough to get on social media and push for boycotts, doing irreparable damage to the brand and often, the stock price.

Two, staff accordingly. Sure, the women in the shop could have been assigned to the motor oil account and the men assigned to women’s apparel, but that was never the case. When you see tone deaf marketing, it can very likely be traced back to the folks who created it not “being in touch.” Could you effectively convince a stranger, or even a friend, to purchase a product that you yourself never used? Probably not. At least, I wouldn’t put money on it.

Three, be authentic. This is critical and, of course, the most challenging. And that’s because in the end, (and we would see this when concept testing a commercial before it aired) people know when you’re not being authentic. Consumers can sense the difference between something you truly believe in and something that is merely an attempt at lip service.

So, as more and more consumers are looking to align where they spend their money with the brands that fit their values, it's smart to put an inclusive lens on your marketing… but keep in mind the three steps above. And let's face it, these steps aren’t important only in the context of inclusive marketing; they’re important in any of the marketing messaging you create.

About Bank Marketing Center 

Here at, our goal is to help you with that topical, compelling communication with customers; the messaging — developed by banking industry marketing professionals, well trained in the thinking behind effective marketing communication — that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. 

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to social media and in branch signage – visit You can also contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or via email at As always, I welcome your thoughts on the subject.