Three recent events highlight what can happen to even the best products when there isn’t enough diversity — whether it’s diversity in employees, diversity in messaging or diversity in opinions.

Example 1: This month’s biggest marketing disaster featured Kendall Jenner and Pepsi. The company faced a huge amount of backlash over Pepsi’s new ad, which had the reality TV star and model giving a can of the drink to a police officer during a protest. Many people found that using protest imagery in order to peddle soda was pretty tasteless. So what could have caused a marketing juggernaut like Pepsi to launch that ad? In a PRWeek poll asking readers what was to blame for the offensive ad, the number one reason cited was lack of diversity. Over 40% of respondents said, “This is what happens when there’s a lack of diversity — and diversity of thought.”

Example 2: Besides uniting the left and right in bashing the ad, the only other “positive” aspect was that it didn’t involve Uber. While over 40 million people use Uber each month, the company’s lack of diversity has been in the spotlight after Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, wrote about her repeated sexual harassment. She estimates that employee retention in her department had gone from about 25 percent female to 6 percent in a year. Weeks after the article, Uber released its first diversity report detailing the gender breakdown and racial makeup of its employees: only 15 percent of its engineers are women, and 6 percent are black, Latino or multiracial. That lack of diversity has been blamed for the company’s aggressive “bro-culture,” which contributed to a series of missteps in 2017 and hundreds of thousands of users deleting their Uber accounts.

Example 3: I recently had the privilege of sitting next to Meredith Finn, Director of Salesforce Ventures, at a recent networking dinner. While many marketing executives briefly described what their companies did, Meredith had some insightful comments… while there are many companies talking about AI and marketing, unfortunately they all sound exactly the same. So while everyone thinks they have the most special company and product in the world, their messaging and approach are completely homogeneous and undifferentiated. Question: Can you really tell the difference between these AI marketing taglines?

“Use artificial intelligence to accelerate pipeline growth and new customer acquisition”

“Enterprise-grade engagement marketing platform purpose-built to grow customer lifetime value through personalized customer engagement at scale”

“Organize and identify account-structured data and insights, calculate next best actions, and orchestrate high-value messages”

“Artificial intelligence to enable organizations to compete more efficiently and have more control than ever over driving growth and performance in their businesses”

In the end, an investor can’t invest in a company and product if they sound like everyone else (in case you’re wondering, taglines 1 and 4 come from the same company).

For Pepsi, lack of diversity in marketing is blamed for a PR disaster. For Uber, lack of diversity in culture is repsonsible for lost customers. And for many companies, lack of diversity in messaging is responsible for lack of funding.

So how can companies really harness diversity to create innovative products and great companies?

Diversify your team. Gender and race are important when it comes to diversity, but also consider diversity in education, work experience, former employers, etc. This can be tough, especially when informal networking can lead to a company hiring like-minded people. I’ve seen this happen in small companies as well as big companies, where a new head of sales, for example, would naturally want to bring in all their former Oracle VPs for example. Also, don’t forget about outsiders and consultants. An outside voice who hasn’t been affected by your company Kool-Aid can be vital for avoiding groupthink.

Diversify product development. Many companies get “stuck” developing the same type of products. According to Ryan Caldbeck of CircleUp, big companies can get stuck in a death spiral of derivative products and repackaging, versus creating brand new innovations. It’s just easier to spin a derivative than come up with something truly revolutionary. “Pepsi soda, KitKat bars, and Clorox cleaner are decades, near-centuries old, and still have largely unchanged formulas.” Derivative products are important for revenue, but companies should always look at diversifying their development and product portfolio, and finding new areas of growth.

Diversify your technology. Just like being comfortable with WHO they know, people get very comfortable with WHAT they already know. This same type of mentality gets applied to how people do work and the technologies they use. “It’s been working for 20 years — why should I do anything different” makes it hard for people to consider newer and often better alternatives. Often times, people fail to recognize that their environment or business has changed, yet they still cling to what’s worked before. We see this with people who continue to think that PLM is only about mechanical CAD designs, despite so many of today’s products embracing software, IoT feedback, add-on services and more. At Propel, we feel we have a great new way to help companies thrive in the Participation Economy by focusing on all the things related to products that customers care about — not just hardware designs.

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Miguel Tam

Miguel Tam

Apr 07, 2017