This year marks the 94th anniversary of Black History Month, first proposed by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week, and later expanded to a month by President Gerald R. Ford. The annual celebration recognizes the role of black Americans in U.S. history. Each February, brands observe Black History Month with everything from product sales and promotions to new community initiatives. While recognition comes in many forms, the ability to connect with an entire culture is one of importance and critical nuance that can often be lost on brands and corporations. Although the best way to cultivate and extend relationships built during Black History Month is to ensure diversity at every rank of your organization – including a seat at the decision-making table – we also offer some helpful tips for engaging black consumers post-February:
- DO show support of the community. Brands that participate in cultural aspects specific to African Americans for gain without positively engaging the community any other time are never received well. Gain the trust of African Americans by taking active interests in the things that matter most to their community. According to Nielsen, 38 percent of African Americans ages 18 – 34, and 41 percent of African Americans ages 35 and older, expect their favorite brands to support social causes. Show your support with community partnerships and service opportunities that target black experiences. [Bonus tip: if you don’t know what social causes are important, simply ask someone in the community instead of assuming or guessing.]
- DO NOT forget to acknowledge past societal failures related to respecting black lives and their contributions to your brand. Jack Daniel’s whiskey brand did this in 2016 when it recognized Nearis Green, a former slave, as the man behind teaching Jack Daniel the art of distilling. The brand told this story throughout tours of its facilities and via social media and marketing campaigns. The National Hockey League also did this in 2019 when it celebrated Black History Month for the first time and announced its “Hockey Is For Everyone” racial diversity initiative. The initiative began as an answer for the league’s lack of diversity among its player demographics.
- DO NOT simply hire black employees – listen to them. Diversity and inclusion are separate, albeit intricately tied, initiatives for critical reason. It’s a common misconception that having diversity is enough, but inclusion is what makes it work. Brands should make it a point to have diverse voices (including representation from varied voices within a specific community) in the room AND listen to them when they offer counsel. The cause of most racial crises from brands today stems from idea generation and execution being completed with disregard to inclusivity and feedback from communities that are being targeted.
- DO your research. Don’t assume to know where black consumers receive their news – ask them. Speak with journalists/influencers who prioritize those communities. Read the content that is tailored to the community and take note of what sources they value. Check out our recent tweet that highlights top news sites for black culture and communities.
- DO refer to your resources. There’s an abundance of resources available for targeting black audiences, so after you’ve done your research, bookmark them, print them out, share them. Start with this handy dandy graphic from Erin Logan (@ErinBLogan), “Should you use Black or African American? – A guide for journalists”.
As Lonnie Bunch founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American and Culture said, “The struggles of the past teach us all about the present. Ninety years after Black History Month launched, this remains true.” Supporting Black History Month – and really looking to understand what it means beyond February – is one small step in the right direction.
Ashleigh Artist is a senior account executive at Stratacomm and is a pop culture addict.