During the Black Panther premiere weekend — with my pre-sale ticket in hand and “Wakandan” inspired outfit — I eagerly marched over to what seemed to be a formal event I'd been long preparing for. Leading up to the movie debut, a joyous anticipation had been bubbling around me, evident in the influx of culturally charged memes, shared traditional garb ideas for movie attendance, sparks of rich-empowering conversations across the African Diaspora, surprise school field trips to theaters and much more. The traces of black excellence, gender equality and Afropolitan undertones were cause for much celebration.

As an African woman, I personally have not seen a mainstream film that highlights such positive Afrocentric imagery, empowering matriarchal themes and a riveting storyline with beautifully complex characters I can wholly identify with. Such refreshing representation and storytelling made a monumental impact, and I walked out of the theater with an overwhelming sense of pride for being both an African and a woman at this particular time.

African woman or not, the unifying excitement speaks to a deeper phenomenon in our society. Audiences are seeking representation and want films (as well as products, services and brands) that mirror their diverse identities and stories. As customer and stakeholder bases have become increasingly diverse, authentic and culturally conscious, these connections will have a meaningful impact. Furthermore, consumers, in general, demand socially sound and transparent organizations that are in tune with demographic shifts and evolving cultural dialogues. It’s also worth noting that representation adds an emotional dimension to the audience’s experience, which strengthens brand loyalty and affinity.

Social media has given consumers a powerful platform to carry forth these conversations of inclusiveness (or lack thereof) and to voice their needs. With dialogues occurring in these public spaces, organizations must be mindful and responsive to these expectations. Simply put, the ability for organizations to attune their marketing strategies to reflect such needs will increasingly play a critical role in sustaining its customer relationships.

The Business Case for Culturally Conscious Marketing

While it’s sensibly right to consider the nuanced and complex nature of your audience, the profitability benefits are difficult to ignore and are evident in the market success. To explore the business case perspective, let's look at two of my favorite most-talked-about hits: Black Panther and Fenty Beauty. 

A culturally stirred fanfare ushered in Disney-Marvel’s long-awaited Black Panther theatrical debut, breaking box office records and challenging myths about the viability of films predominantly featuring black actors and actresses. Raking in $235 million over the holiday weekend (in North America), the film holds the fifth highest opening of all time and the second highest Marvel opening.

Apart from the quantifiable benefits, the film has garnered such critical acclaim and reputational capital (Michelle Obama, being among many), that it has been likened to a revolutionary movement. It signifies positive changes in many layers of social constructs. To many, it’s more than just a movie — it represents a deeper meaning that touches on intersectional elements of their identity. It’s honestly magical to have a film that empowers and resonates with people of varying racial, gender and national identities. Correspondingly, organizations that tap into this magic will heighten their brand awareness and perception.

On a similar note, we’re reminded that Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty cosmetic line similarly blazed a disruptive pattern, creating its own industry defying movement. Hailed as a game changer, the company shifted makeup culture with an introductory launch of 40 foundation shades that catered to underserved complexions in the deep and fair segments. These products, coupled with the beautifully diverse campaign imagery, deeply resonated with women of color and made a statement that they deserved complex options.

The company not only had a significant influence on popular culture — notably in beauty — but it also set a bold precedent for industry expectations. With women proclaiming on social media, “Take all my money,” its strategy earned the brand $72 million in media value in the first month, underscoring the profitability value of inclusion.

Pop Cultural Movements Highlight the Importance of Personalized Marketing 

The cultural buzz around Black Panther and Fenty Beauty prove that superficial and standardized marketing approaches will no longer work. In order for organizations to maintain relevance and tap into powerful minority consumer segments, they must consider ways to distinctively serve them. It begins with an introspective approach in which organizations are intentional and genuine in their pursuit of inclusive brand voices, imagery, tones and experiences.

Here are some quick ideas on how to get started:

  1. Build marketing teams that mirror groups you want to serve: Diverse teams provide ideas and perspectives that help drive genuine marketing while developing messaging and advertising that resonates. Additionally, organizations must cultivate cultures that encourage and integrate the ideas from diverse teams.
  2. Develop an approach focused on authentically serving minority communities: To avoid the tokenized and singular diversity narrative, organizations will need to be in tune with the distinct particulars of the communities they are trying to reach. A commitment to learning about the specific needs of each minority group will effectively develop authentic connections.
  3. Demonstrate value and provide solutions to address unique challenges: Black Panther and Fenty Beauty have been widely successful because of their intimate understanding of the customer’s needs and focus on providing value. As organizations become more culturally informed and assess consumer insights, they will be positioned to deliver products and experiences that uniquely provide solutions for customer problems.