How to market to Black Families: A session with Marvyn Harrison

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In December, we were joined by Founder and CEO of Dope Black CIC and Founder and Vice President of Business Strategy at Belovd Agency, Marvyn Harrison who spoke to our London team about ‘How to Market to Black Families?’

A DEI and representation partnership, Belovd provides education, training and strategy for the advancement of all intersections of humanity in the workplace.

Here, we share some of the key takeaways from the session.

One size does not fit all
To kick off the session, Marvyn spoke to our team about the context that surrounds the Black community in the UK. He describes how the Black community is one of the most impacted in the country, in terms of job inequality, mental health diagnosis, stop and search, household income and more, but is also at the cultural centre, with Black writers and creators driving conversation. “Be a sponge,” Marvyn advises, asking us as marketers to absorb information about these communities by listening to their experiences and partnering with those who can provide insight.

Talking through the different intersections of the Black community, Marvyn explained how “we are not a monolith…there is not one single view or one single way of being,” adding how this is something that marketers so often get wrong; lumping the Black community under one umbrella. He outlines how brands rarely take the time to understand these audiences and their varying intersectionalities and it shows through inauthentic and inaccurate messaging and representation.

Authenticity is an essential attribute for any brand to have if they want to successfully connect with this audience. Marketers need to understand that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ strategy, and should therefore allow for creative freedom to fit their audience.

Authentic voices matter
So how can brands use platforms to market to Black families? As Marvyn stated: “We’re looking for people who we know the voice of and who we know will give us an authentic version of the truth.” Therefore, this audience is more likely to seek out journalists and writers that they trust on platforms that champion their voices.

The Shade Room is an example Marvyn gives, a media outlet that is a place for Black culture to thrive and to be shared. For marketers “it is a good opportunity to not only use these platforms, but learn from them about how they communicate and format their content. Don’t make these platforms feel short-changed; build relationships that are valuable from both sides.”

Listen and learn
Described as a network of culturally connected communicators that use the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to Black communities, Black Twitter has been leading the conversation online. Marvyn discussed how “many brands have tried to engage in this ecosystem without really understanding or studying it for a period of time.”

His suggestions to marketers? Follow key commentators and listen before you engage or respond. Assumptions about this network are ways in which marketers are getting it wrong. Instead they should pay people from the community to create content and to amplify authentic messages, while also seeking support and validation from consultants.

Don’t make excuses
What about when a brand’s attempts to engage with this community goes wrong? Marvyn highlights Cancel Culture and how it was “created as a way to defund things that ultimately oppress groups.” He spoke of how “brands like to monitor to see how big their mistake is going to get before they say anything. I think that when you don’t mean to offend somebody, the best thing is to apologise before it becomes an event.”

Brands should avoid excuses: “No one cares about the reason why, instead take responsibility, apologise immediately, and explain how you will fix things.” In this situation, brands should update their consumers about how their remedy is playing out and what they have learned as a result.

A Quick Q&A with Marvyn Harrison

What’s your favourite account to follow on social media?
My favourite channel is @nadine_writes from the Huffington Post, as she tells Black stories as if they are the centre of the world view rather than some fringe fluff piece.

What’s the stand-out brand campaign for you over the last year when it comes to showing the most authenticity speaking to Black communities?
Google did a campaign for US Black History Month which talks about the records and search volume around Black icons and events which really moved me.

Which social platform has the potential to drive the most change in society?
I believe the daily agenda is still set on Twitter and better moderation of content and contributors will change the global discourse.

What’s the first thing you recommend workplaces do, or implement, to encourage more inclusive environments?
Hire talented Black staff, pay them fairly and give them equity and safety in our workplaces.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting BELOVD?
The size of the task is huge, the people trying are heroes, those yet to execute need our support and doing the right thing isn’t easy.

What’s one thing marketers can do to be more culturally aware in 2021?
Read, listen, follow, engage, partner with communities, pay, be inclusive, understand intersectionality, review the makeup of your board and leadership team.

To find out more about Belovd’s work, get in touch with Marvyn on LinkedIn or Twitter.