Data and consultant company Kantar released its Brand Inclusion Index for 2023, a study of the U.S. population’s perception of brands’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts.
The results prove that the majority of consumers want brands to make a social impact and pay attention to their efforts to promote DE&I.
A considerable number of the population also shared that they had faced discrimination in a commercial location, further underlining the need for brands to voice their support of marginalized groups.
Consumer DE&I wants and the cost of ignoring them
The Brand Inclusion Index, which surveyed 2,500 people across many demographics and was fielded in April 2023, found that 65% of people believe that business “have a responsibility to make society fairer.”
Almost half (49%) of the U.S. agreed with the statement, “It is important to me that the companies I buy from actively promote diversity and inclusion in their own business or society as a whole.”
Marginalized demographics were more likely to agree than the national average: 63% of LGBTQIA+ people, 58% of Black Americans and 57% of Asian Americans agreed with the statement.
“We have always been asked, ‘What is the return on inclusion? How do I know that my investment in DE&I will derive results?’” Valeria Piaggio, Kantar’s head of DE&I, told Campaign US. “No one is thinking the other way around — [what’s] the risk of not being inclusive?”
The Brand Inclusion Index puts a number on the potential business losses brands could face by not engaging in the conversation around DE&I. Kantar’s calculation of the potential loss in revenue is huge, totalling $5.4 trillion.
It’s not too late for brands to make an effort
The study’s results show that people are paying attention but are not overlooking the positive impacts that brands are making. Seven in 10 people feel brands are making an effort to be more inclusive and diverse.
Not all brands perceived by the respondents as the leaders in inclusion are free of controversy — particularly Amazon, which respondents ranked as the No. 1. best brand in DE&I when prompted. The prompt list was comprised of brands and direct competitors active in inclusion marketing, nominated for industry rewards or recognized for DE&I activities in the public domain.
Unprompted, Nike came in first place, followed by Amazon and Walmart.
Since 2022, Amazon has donated $488,000 to anti-LGBTQIA+ legislators, according to data from Popular Information. The company has also been subject to various reports of racism, biased hiring and promotion practices and unsafe working conditions.
In fact, many of the brands ranked in the top 15 have been the subject of controversy or discrimination of some sort.
Piaggio argues that what’s most important to consumers in this situation is “the brand’s reaction and the steps they take” in the aftermath, since that is when they will be giving the brand the most attention.
“People appreciate when brands take a stand, especially when it is to protect vulnerable populations. Not backing down, not changing direction and striving to be better are all things that get recognized.”
Although these results should not be read as an invitation to virtue-signal, they do paint a picture of a forgiving consumer base.
“There’s a positive story to tell brands and marketers, that consumers recognize brands’ efforts and that inclusion is a journey,” said Piaggio. “You can make a mistake but you can change, improve and close your inclusion gaps — and be recognized for it.”
For many consumers, inclusion is personal
Further, Piaggio noted that a person’s “direct experience with brands might shape their perception.”
“Inclusion is personal, so a lot of the consumer perceptions have to do with what they experience when they come in touch with the brand overall or what they see — the team members at Amazon or any other big brand and those comments and experiences seem to have a very big impact.”
Amazon’s C-suite is all white men. Of its 11 directors, six are white men, five are women and just two of those women are people of color.
But what consumers see and recall are the platforms the brand has created for minority-owned businesses and their personal interactions with delivery people or customer service representatives.
“A lot of the comments were from people who admire the company for how they hire everyone, how they give opportunities to drivers in all communities and how they provide training for their employees,” said Piaggio.
Commercial locations must prioritize customer inclusion
The Brand Inclusion Index shows that consumers expect inclusion action from brands because they are being impacted by discrimination — in many cases, in commercial locations.
Of those surveyed, 63% had faced discrimination in a company store or location the past 12 months, and for many marginalized groups, these numbers were even higher. A startling 80% of LGBTQIA+ people, 76% Black Americans, 75% of Asian Americans, 74% of people with disabilities and 68% of Hispanic people said that they had personally experienced discrimination or bias based on their identity or appearance.
Forty-four percent of those who noted they had been discriminated against and 28% of overall respondents said they experienced discrimination in a commercial location.
“Commercial responsibility is not a social issue — this is a commercial problem,” said Piaggio.
These numbers include those who indicated any discrimination, from rarely to always. Though Piaggio noted that the group that answered that they experience discrimination “often” or “all the time” is 13%, that is still more than one in 10 marginalized respondents facing constant discrimination.
“The fact that so many people feel unwelcome is worrying,” said Piaggio. “It calls to the social and commercial responsibility of brands.”
This article originally appeared on KFF Health News.