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A Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in Market Research

Image of the post author Jodie Shaw

Your business likely serves customers across various demographics, income levels, and ethnic groups, and therefore, your research should reflect that. So, how do you ensure your market research is diverse and inclusive enough? 

Many companies fail to achieve diversity in market research. They rely on an overly homogenous group of research participants, drawn from the same places, with roughly similar life experiences, preferences, and biases. The result is preliminary research, with relevant conclusions for only one part of your market. It fails to represent everyone as a whole. 

When companies successfully bring in a diverse range of research subjects, they often fail to make the most of it. They inadvertently create a research environment that benefits particular groups over others, leading to skewed results and frustrated participants.

Therefore, brands should do everything they can to avoid these costly mistakes. They need to ensure their market research targets a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and is modelled in a way that caters to everyone, not just a select few. This article will look closely at diversity and inclusion in market research, why it’s essential, and how to promote more of it in your organisation.

What is the difference between diversity and inclusion in market research?

Diversity focuses on demographics like age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation, to name a few, while inclusion allows diversity to thrive. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, organisations need to understand the difference. 

As diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers puts it, “Diversity is being invited to a party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Diversity brings people from diverse backgrounds and abilities together, and inclusion ensures you value and include everyone’s contributions in your market research. 

Why is it important to have diversity and inclusion in market research?

Brands conduct market research to determine the viability of their products and services, discover their target audience, and uncover what their customers want so they can make better decisions. When you have diversity and inclusion in your market research, everyone’s voice is heard. It allows brands to effectively communicate with their target audience —no matter who they are and where they live. 

It is essential to have diversity and inclusion in your market research efforts more than ever before. Consumers expect to see diversity and inclusion from brands in an authentic way. This is even more true of younger consumers. According to a Deloitte survey of 11,500 global consumers, “the youngest respondents (from 18 to 25 years old) took greater notice of inclusive advertising when making purchase decisions.”

As our world becomes flatter and more diverse, brands must reflect the diversity authentically in their messaging if they expect to connect with a broader audience.  

1. The best research brings diverse perspectives together.

Diversity allows you to notice things, glean insights you might have missed with a less inclusive approach, and access richer and more valuable data. It gives you a complete and accurate understanding of your target market, helping you see the whole picture instead of a narrow and restricted view. A more comprehensive range of diverse perspectives also leads to improved research outcomes.

2. Most research is too narrow.

Around the world, 80 percent of research participants fall into the same rough category. We can define this with the acronym ‘WEIRD’ — white, educated people from industrialised, affluent, democratic societies. You can probably predict the issue with this — despite making up four-fifths of all research subjects, these people are a minority in the world — less than 15 percent.

Focusing on expanding your research to include a broader range of people will improve your results while giving you an edge over competitors who focus primarily on the same groups.

3. Diversity makes your research more credible.

People can see the methodology you used during your research, and they’re likely to question the reliability of a study that focuses too heavily on certain groups. On the other hand, if you can show that your research included a diverse range of people, your conclusions will be more accurate and trustworthy.

4. Diverse research improves communication and avoids blind spots.

Inclusive research listens to everyone and allows you to tailor your products, marketing, and business strategies to improve things for everyone, not just a select few. If you fail to take all voices into account in your research, you risk creating friction and being perceived as ignoring specific segments of your market.

5. Your customers want to see more diversity.

If your research is inclusive, this will reflect positively on your brand — everything from your marketing messaging to the products you sell. In a UK survey, 51 percent of BAME people said brands do not represent their cultures well in their marketing, and 64 percent said they would feel more favourably about a brand that makes an effort to include ethnic cultures.

In other words, taking steps to include a diversity of demographics in your research will pave the way to building a brand that makes more diverse people feel included.

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How to be inclusive and promote diversity in your market research

Inclusion requires the organisation to understand, appreciate, and embrace diversity fully. It is not just about adopting diversity but also committing to it wholeheartedly and without bias. We live in a hyper-connected world with savvy consumers who will quickly call out a brand if its business values go against its brand messaging or promise. Therefore, when conducting market research, brands need to be mindful of how they will approach the issue of diversity and inclusion at every step of the process. 

Here are nine best practises to promote diversity and inclusion in your market search:

1. Build a diverse outreach network.

How do you currently get in touch with potential research participants? Many companies fall short because they rely on the same methods — the same social media pages, established networks of people, local universities, and other such channels.

The result is often a somewhat restrictive pool of people from relatively similar backgrounds and demographics. It would help if you had a more diverse strategy for finding participants for more diverse research.

It would be best to expand your network by recruiting participants from different neighbourhoods, schools, and online spaces. 

2. Make sure your pool of participants reflects your audience.

Even when businesses serve a diverse pool of individuals and are aware of this, they often still erroneously focus their research on just one or two groups. Brands need to know their audience and who is in it — and based on this information, build several buyer personas to cover all the demographics in their market.

When you have a good idea of whom you’re targeting, you’ll be able to construct a much more inclusive research strategy tailored to multiple groups and gather a much richer range of information and insights.

3. Make things as easy as possible for everyone.

It’s easy to inadvertently design a research process that prioritises certain groups over others. Maybe your focus groups take place in an area only reachable by car. Perhaps you conduct questionnaires over Zoom, excluding people with poor internet access. Or perhaps you host interviews in the evening, making it impossible for people who work late shifts.

All these things can hinder the effectiveness of your research by cutting out certain groups and leading to skewed demographics that don’t accurately represent your market. Here’s what you should do instead:

  • Take steps to accommodate different schedules by conducting research activities at different times and in other areas.
  • Help your research participants attend activities. Offer to provide transport, access to any necessary technology, and anything else (within reason) that can make things easier for them.
  • Ensure your research facilities are accessible for disabled people.
  • Compensate your participants. For some people, travelling to a research event can be expensive, and they may have competing obligations. Offer to compensate them for their time, and they will be much more likely to show up.

4. Establish trust when working with vulnerable populations.

Depending on the type of research you’re carrying out, you may need to spend time working with people from vulnerable groups. This could include those with severe mental health issues, victims of serious crimes or abuse, prisoners, or older people.

Getting feedback from these groups can be extremely valuable and provide insights into how the people within them view your brand. It can allow you to develop new products and services that cater to vulnerable groups and create a more accessible and more enjoyable experience for them.

However, this kind of research can present challenges for researchers. For example, people from vulnerable groups may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings in a research setting — especially when the questions touch on sensitive topics. Extra care should be taken to ensure your research methods do not cause any distress or discomfort to your participants. Here are some things to consider:

  • Ensure they give consent and be very clear about how you intend to use their data. Aim to obtain explicit, active permission, and give your participants as long as they need to understand this. Don’t rush your participants, and don’t proceed until you’re not sure they know.
  • Establish what to avoid ahead of time and create an environment that will be comfortable, safe, and welcoming for your participants.
  • Be careful not to steer your participants in one direction or another — try to make sure their responses are their own opinions.
  • Make an effort to predict and avoid any potential negative consequences of the research for your participants.

5. Make things as understandable as possible.

Your surveys, interviews, introductions, guidance, and any other communication should be easy to understand for people from every background. The most obvious example here is differences in language. If a large part of your market speaks a language other than English, you’ll need translators to ensure they (and you) understand everything. Here are some examples:

  • If you are interviewing people who speak English as a second language, make sure your materials are simple and easy to understand to minimise confusion and frustration for your subjects.
  • Make sure any examples and cultural references are relevant to the people you’re studying. Even when you share a common language with your participants, misunderstandings can still happen. For example, if your screener uses references specific to a certain demographic, people outside that group may struggle to relate and understand.
  • Make sure any visual materials are easy to see and understand for people who may be visually impaired. The same applies to audio materials.

6. Be aware of how cultural differences impact research.

Different cultural groups respond differently to research. For example, in Japan, focus group participants are typically less willing to go against the group’s consensus, making this research method tricky when weighing individual opinions.

Cultural differences can impact almost every element of your research process. For instance, a time one culture might consider ideal to attend a research event could be highly inconvenient for another.

Take some time to make yourself aware of these cultural differences and how they relate to your research. That way, you can design research methods that are more appealing and welcoming to different cultures, which yields more accurate and valuable results.

7. Work with a diverse range of moderators.

People from minority groups will often feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions with someone from similar backgrounds. On top of this, moderators from a diverse range of backgrounds may find it easier to connect with these participants and get more helpful responses.

Working with a more diverse team of researchers helps you draw on different experiences to build a more inclusive research process. When groups are too homogenous, it’s easy to fall into assumptions and miss out on certain blind spots, which results in a process that can exclude specific demographics and lead to incomplete results.

8. Don’t make assumptions.

It’s common for researchers to make unconscious assumptions when asking questions and creating hypothetical scenarios in research. For example, a survey question might assume that the participant is from a typical nuclear family, alienating people who don’t fall into that lifestyle category. Take some time to consider if your questions are relatable to a wide range of people and not just your location’s dominant culture or lifestyle.

9. Work with an experienced market research agency.

The best way to ensure diverse, inclusive research and avoid any mistakes is to work with a team of experts who have done it all before. An experienced research agency can help you take all the necessary steps to avoid excluding certain groups, ensure your research process is as diverse as possible, and help you notice any areas you may have overlooked.

At Kadence, we help companies worldwide carry out effective research that connects with a diverse range of participants. Get in touch with us to find out how we can help you do the same.

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