Khalilah Elliott recognizes the world is changing.
But the Gafford Communications founder and chief disruptor also says, “That’s not new, the human race has forever and will continue to forever evolve.”
A changing, evolving world requires adaptable organizations and communicators. The ones who will be successful going forward are those who are authentically inclusive and reflective of the diverse audiences they seek to engage, according to Elliott.
“Once you start opening yourself up to understanding other people’s experiences and spending time with them, it expands your world view and your ability to communicate with different audiences,” says Elliott, who spoke Thursday at the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference in Los Angeles.
“This work is so important and the reason the world is changing right now is because people are tired, they’re stressed, and they don’t want to keep repeating the things that they need," she says. "It can feel very daunting, but trying to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles into marketing is not something that has to be overwhelming.”
Elliott is working to demystify DEI efforts as credit unions seek to actively engage historically underrepresented audiences. She stresses that mistakes are going to be made on the path toward equity and inclusion, and that people must give themselves and others grace to be human and make those mistakes as they strive for inclusivity.
“The resistance that we hear is a fear of, ‘I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to offend somebody,'" says Elliot, a former marketing executive with the Disney Theatrical Group who has worked on multicultural initiatives with companies such as Coca-Cola, BET, and ABC. “The work that has to be done to create an inclusive campaign is going to require you to lay down those parts of yourself that make you feel foolish. You’re going to have to be vulnerable.”
She says there are no dumb questions in the DEI space. People learn and grow when they are curious, ask questions, and admit they don’t know everything.
“The efforts you make in DEI are the same principles you use to market to everybody else,” Elliott says. “You’ve got to know who your audience is. How do you know that the people who aren’t your typical customers might not be your typical customer if you don’t talk to them?”
Therefore, the journey toward marketing inclusivity requires credit unions to examine who their members are, what vendors they use, what stock photos they use, and how often they have focus groups. Elliott asks credit union employees to envision their default member, then deliberately spend some time thinking about the total opposite of that persona and how to engage them.
“Widen the picture, so people see themselves, literally and figuratively, in your work,” Elliott says. “There’s a difference between being invited and being made to feel you belong there. If you’re not showing interest in them, if you’re not investing in them, and if you’re not spending time with them, you might be missing out on an invaluable opportunity to grow your business. If you break out of your box, you may discover some amazing things, like 24,000,000 customers you didn’t know you had.”