2020 was a year of reckoning.
Conversations about bias, cultural appropriation and inequities in the marketing world rarely made their way to the decision makers at brand marketers before last year. That changed as micro communities have become recognized for their value and force in creating and setting trends.
Just as mainstream fashion bubbles up from the streets, cultural movements and viral sensations emerge from underrepresented communities. These are some of the most talented, bold and entrepreneurial creators and change makers — and they often don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Look no further than Jalaiah Harmon. In January 2020, the suburban Atlanta teenager’s dance, the Renegade, blew up on TikTok. Except it wasn’t Harmon dancing that went viral, but TikTok’s biggest star Charli D’Amelio.
Both Black TikTok and Twitter took up her cause, leading to coverage by The New York Times and other publications. Harmon not only got the credit she deserved, but secured partnerships with Warner Animation Group for the launch of “Scoob!” and “Prada.”
Similarly, Diet Prada broke the news that Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat copied designs for an embellished mask from Karin Perez, a Latina small business owner and designer. Side-by-side screenshots of the message exchange about the design between Bernstein and Perez went viral on social media, and the controversy was picked up by major media outlets. Bernstein eventually donated her masks to frontline healthcare workers.
Marketers need to question their efforts to work with the diverse creators who start these trends, rather than those who co-opt them.
The intentions may be there, but with pressure to execute, marketers and agencies often don’t put in enough effort to find these communities. Instead, they rely on proven bags of tricks and end up booking creators with representation, dozens of endorsements, millions of followers — and diversity becomes a nice-to-have.
Here are four things marketers can do to engage diverse micro communities:
1. Look beyond vanity metrics
Don’t choose the influencer with one million-plus followers. Seek out the people these influencers are inspired by in the places they live. Star creators often are influenced by someone more authentic and creative. Those are the people worthy of brand attention.
2. Build a steady pipeline
Brands need to consistently identify new micro communities. Sephora, for example, built the #SephoraSquad program, a community pipeline that surfaced Black, Latinx, Arab and LGBTQIAA+ creators to develop products and connect to consumers.
Agencies can play a part too. Day One Agency started The Ones To Know, an initiative that helps underrepresented get noticed by brands. Since 2019, we have featured more than 200 niche creators like @GraceBukunmi, @DanielleCooper and @Jingnotjane.
3. Invest in the relationship
Forge partnerships. Bring creators behind the scenes. Give them a chance to grow and evolve with your brand.
Create a process that allows them to inform creative direction. Let them speak through their filter. Be open to their feedback and trust that they know their audiences best — because they do.
4. Be intentional about equity
Many creators in these micro communities aren’t compensated fairly. If you want their creativity or perspective, pay them accordingly.
Even if a creator doesn’t know how much to ask for, pay them their worth. Finance may not appreciate this, but it’s a crucial piece of standing for equity.
Zeny Shifferaw is VP of culture, community and casting at Day One Agency