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A Practical Guide to Inclusive Market Research

Image of the post author Jodie Shaw

Back in the day, market research consisted mainly of tapping into as big a consumer pool as possible, with little thought given to culturally diverse demographics. In the past few years, as the struggle to achieve social justice and equality has gained prominence, market research experts have begun changing research methodology to more accurately reflect the vast array of consumers, some of who may have been excluded in the past.

This strategy is crucial for companies seeking to expand into international markets. As we have noted before, brands sometimes “fail to appreciate the diversity within a region or indeed a country.” Only by determining the nuances of different geographical areas, cultures, and consumers “can you get an accurate picture of what people value and whether your products and services might succeed.” 

The goal of this form of research is to achieve genuinely inclusive results. It involves reaching out to typically underrepresented minorities, irrespective of gender, age, race, sexual preference, religion, or disability status. 

By casting an increasingly wide net, market research methods can potentially lead to new demand for products or services and the opportunity to break into new markets. At the very least, the process can result in a deeper understanding of customers’ diverse perspectives and needs, which most experts deem crucial for business growth.

What happens if a brand chooses not to adopt an inclusive approach to surveying customers? This will: 

  • Engender resentment among potential survey participants who don’t see their interests represented in the questions.
  • Result in desired participants choosing to opt-out of the survey.
  • Engender a negative association with the brand sponsoring the survey

There is a huge untapped market for a brand’s products and services among under-served communities. It’s up to businesses to shift their focus and take a more inclusive approach to market research.

Engaging with Underrepresented Audiences

Is there any significant difference between “diversity” and “inclusivity” concepts? 

Yes, says Forbes, noting that diversity reflects “a variety of perspectives or customers.” At the same time, an inclusive focus “goes one step further, engaging those perspectives to improve product satisfaction and use, workplace culture and productivity, new product launches and marketing campaigns.”

To benefit from inclusive market research, brands must first acknowledge that all consumers do not view and use their products in the same fashion. It’s a big first step since marketing strategies often focus on tapping into as large a target audience as possible rather than complicate the process by focusing on one or another historically excluded population.

Inclusive research and design “invite more perspectives and uncovers previously unseen consequences of exclusion,” notes Medium. This approach “provides the opportunity to equalize, protect, uplift, connect, foster equity, promote truth, mitigate bias, instil dignity, empower and democratize.”

That may seem like a tall order, but inclusive research with people outside the mainstream can open the floodgates to new growth opportunities—a strategy no brand can afford to ignore.

Benefits of an Inclusive Approach

The more an organization learns about various target audiences, the more it can tailor its products or services to meet those differing needs. Benefits of inclusive research include:

  • Boosting profits. As Medium notes, “Inclusive product development will help to build products that more people can use,” which paves the way towards new sales and revenue.
  • Avoiding legal entanglements. In our litigious era, it’s not unusual for under-represented communities to seek legal redress when they feel their needs are not considered or met. Also, a brand that neglects specific built-in components of inclusive research (such as providing accessibility for disabled customers) runs the risk of being drawn into legal battles that are both costly and time-consuming.
  • Matching a brand’s mission with its actions. Most international brands hold themselves to high standards for “walking the walk” of their mission and value statements. Committing to an inclusive approach to marketing and design can help support those values by broadening the scope and impact of serving previously under-served communities.

Adopting an inclusive approach to market research will likely mean higher costs and use of resources, at least initially. But the potential for breaking into new markets (and reaping the financial rewards of that break-through) is more than justifying the expenses involved.

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Guiding the Way to Genuine Inclusivity

Adopting certain fundamental principles can help make inclusive market research efforts more informative and successful. Here are guides to foster research with a more significant pay-off:

  • Make a personal commitment to inclusivity. Business leaders who publicly advocate an inclusive approach to market research should make sure they reflect that commitment on a personal level. Educating yourself about the benefits of inclusive marketing research makes it easier to understand what these differing demographics hold essential. 
  • Watch your language. When was the last time you and your team looked hard at your marketing materials to determine if non-offensive language is employed? One option: Assign an internal “inclusivity czar” (with at least some rudimentary knowledge of under-represented communities) to closely review all the content on your website and in your marketing materials. If language exists that some communities find offensive or demeaning, chances are they will go elsewhere for their business needs.
  • Be on the lookout for “survey bias.” Be scrupulous in making sure that those individuals charged with creating a market research survey are as “bias-free” as humanly possible. A diverse team of researchers is probably the best way to avoid unintentional biases.
  • Get expert guidance. While there may be a handful of executives who “get” inclusivity right away, it’s likely true that the majority have a lot to learn on the subject. At the outset of an inclusive market research project, consider enlisting the services of experts in the field. This includes experts with knowledge of specific underrepresented communities, experts on the language and terminology popular within those communities, and others who are prominent within these groups of potential consumers who can speak with authority on their needs and challenges. 

RSA recommends that brands “include a diverse perspective at all stages of the research process and product/software/talent life cycle evaluation by incorporating inclusive testing parameters to ensure results are reflective of all users.”

Getting things right at the outset can help when it comes to reaping the rewards of comprehensive, inclusive market research. 

Build a More Inclusive Team

It stands to reason that if a brand seeks to broaden its appeal through inclusive market research, at least some of the people involved represent a diverse range of perspectives. This principle further justifies efforts to take a more inclusive approach to recruiting for the organization. 

As Inc. notes, “If representation only matters in your marketing, and not in your team building, then consumers get the signal that diversity, inclusion, and belonging aren’t as important to you as you would have them believe.” People can sense that brands “are only being representative in their marketing just to get diverse and niche consumers to spend money with them.”

A diverse team is more likely to understand differences in demographics and approach research with respect and sensitivity the process requires.

What Customers Want

Within the past few years, diverse communities have seen themselves reflected in brand marketing strategies. Their response to this change has been overwhelmingly positive, yet another compelling reason to commit time and resources to inclusive market research. 

According to Savy, a digital marketing agency, “a recent study conducted by Accenture found that 42% of ethnically diverse shoppers are more likely to switch to a brand committed to inclusion and diversity.” What’s more, “41% of LGBTQ shoppers would switch to a business dedicated to inclusivity and diversity.”

In other words, committing to inclusive market research paves the way to identifying—and then reaching out to—communities that have waited for generations to see themselves reflected in advertising and marketing. The likelihood of those communities flocking to a brand that emphasizes inclusive marketing is strong and can foster accelerated growth as a result. 

Every customer group is different. In many cases, a third-party research firm can partner with a brand to develop the best approach to inclusive marketing research. At Kadence, we draw upon our extensive toolkit of qualitative and quantitative methodologies to understand the needs of these under-served communities. The result is:

  • More productive research
  • Valuable insights into different demographics
  • Gaining a step on the competition 

By bringing companies closer to their customers, a third-party research firm can embed rich understanding across your organization and promote more effective, customer-centric decision-making. 

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