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The big leap

Inclusivity can correct inequality and several other monstrous problems that won’t go away. It can also lead companies to brilliant outcomes.

For my generation, the 21st century was a promise of better, more harmonious times. Humankind would finally have the science and technology to produce miracles and find peace. Yet in the past two decades, we managed to contradict science, misuse technology, and get as far from harmony and social justice as one hoped.

It's now 2020, and we are amid a worldwide pandemic, a global economic downturn, and a retreat in democracy. We're also at a juncture, where dreadful events succeed each other so quickly that, it seems, none will be solved.

Yet economic injustice, governance, public health, and human rights are interrelated and chronic struggles. We can't have a diverse workforce without equal pay scales; we won't find social justice without equal access to decision-making; we can't have public health without equality in opportunity.

If there is one central learning from this moment, it must be that we can only build a better future by working together toward a mutualistic goal. As an approach in business, inclusivity is much more than workforce diversity and a focus on all brand constituents. Unbounded, inclusivity can make companies culturally relevant, respected, and resilient.

For the branding discipline, inclusivity challenges long-standing notions and methods. It means turning the page on brands built inside-out. I'll go even further: it's time we stop growing brands and start building cultures.

Confused? Skeptical? The prospect makes me swoon because culture-building stretches brand consulting and marketing into much more fertile territory.

Why stop at brand strategy when you can design a business model that extends beyond the company's confines? Why limit creative to brand identity when you can create an entire language, platform, and codes to be shared by people both inside and outside an organization? Why focus on creating a product or experience, when you can design the entire relationship between the company, partners, the customer, and adjacent communities?

It'll be great. But here's the catch: companies won't be able to turn their brand into a culture unless they commit to inclusivity throughout the business. How?

· Build the customer relationship on shared ground. Shared values, purpose, and passions are what bring people together. Consider your Vision/Mission and SWOTS, but look for the intersects that will offer you room to roam, from new product and service development to collaboration and activation.

· Engage all members along the creative chain (and reward them for it.) Is there a better way to build relevance with the customer than inviting them to co-create, develop, and propagate the product and service they want? Value participation more than loyalty.

· Offer your community visual and verbal codes, and signals, to form a universal language able to expand your impact.

· Build channels and start conversations around shared passions. Help the culture flourish, keep in touch, and participate rather than guide. Your 'leadership' will get on the way (instead, use it to promote change, see below.)

· Lead action on causes impacting the community (not just your business.) Transformation requires more than financial support. Your company has the resources and influence needed to affect results. Put them to work.

· Add a new set of metrics to the mix. Earlier in this article, I mentioned relevance, resilience, and respect. Look to stretch beyond traditional parameters, like reputation attributes, preference, loyalty, NPS, etc.

I'm frequently asked about companies that foster inclusive cultures. I teach graduate students and regularly explore these ideas with students and document our findings, including case studies and lists of the tactics they employ.

Adidas, Airbnb, Blue Apron, Ikea, Lego, and Patagonia all excel at partnering, participating, and connecting with their communities both internally and externally. While they apply inclusivity differently, according to their business, heritage, and position, all experienced measurable competitive benefits. I have no doubt they are all better ready to respond to the crisis because of the proximity to their team and customer.

The current crisis will lead to a reordering of value scales. With a focus on mutualism, inclusivity offers companies the ability to better understand, test, respond, and iterate with clarity and confidence. It'll be demanding, but are there any options?


By Diego Kolsky

Partner at The Velo Group. Design executive with deep experience transforming businesses, markets, and cultures around the world.

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