Brand Democracy: The Art of Designing DEI for Social Impact and Value Creation for the Belief-Driven Customer

Brand democracy and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are concepts that flow well together, especially when considering the belief-driven customer. As part of Crummer’s focus on Black History Month this February, we had a conversation with Dr. Tracy Kizer about these topics and also the theme of art and how it applies to marketing. Dr. Kizer is a Special Assistant to the President for DEIB Strategic Implementation, an Associate Professor of Marketing, and a Crummer alum from 2002. She has an informed perspective on DEIB and marketing and lent us some of her knowledge.

What’s important to you to discuss for Black History Month 2024?

This year’s Black History Month theme is centered on the arts, both visual and performing and the omission of the works of many Black artists in different contemporary spaces. Like any great marketer, I love a good theme, but I can’t speak directly to the arts, but I can speak to the art of marketing to an inclusive marketplace. Marketing requires the art of creativity to support the science of consumption, which is constantly being transformed by generative AI and other analytic approaches to understanding behavior.

How would you define art in marketing?

Art is an abstraction, as well as creativity. But the tenets of both are rooted in the idea that the individual is a creator or maker of outcomes that makes sense to him or her. That is what it is, in the simplest terms, the creation of outcomes. The process that guides the creation is varied, complex, and deeply meaningful, adding depth and color to what we do in our profession.

How do you use art in your research, teaching, or your role as the Special Assistant to the President for DEIB Strategic Implementation? Are you able to bring those two areas together in a meaningful way?

All research is an artistic endeavor, from generating research questions to studying marketplace phenomenon to deriving insights from my findings; it is the ongoing process of creation. I teach from this lens as well and use it extensively in my pedagogy.

As the Special Assistant to President Cornwell for DEIB Strategic Implementation, art and creation is used a bit differently. I believe the sole purpose of DEIB work in any organization is to remove barriers to individual thriving. Everyone deserves to be the best version of themselves as they contribute to the organization’s bottom line. Members of the Rollins community are the greatest strategic asset of the college and how we support and interact with each other creates a mosaic of varied perspectives that allows the institution to advance. Dean Menon understands this and values this as well. In this sense, there is a co-creation process between faculty, staff, students, and guests that form the art on the college’s canvas, generating personal, social, economic, and enduring cultural value.

You seem to have taken art and have used it meaningfully both in the space of marketing and DEIB. What allows the creative process to be meaningfully integrated in two disparate fields of interest?

Brand purpose. Human beings are both creators and consumers of art. Their rationality is supported by their beliefs, which generally translates into purpose. DEIB isn’t about race and gender, it is about purposeful thriving, so the two come together naturally. To illustrate, in the past year or so, we have seen brands increasingly enter the space of political activism, some consumers are joining them and others are boycotting the brands. According to a study on “Earned Brands” by Edelman, the marketplace is being transformed by the rise of the “Belief-Driven Buyer.” That is two-thirds of consumers now choose, switch, or engage in brand activism (e.g., boycotting) to virtue signal on social issues. They essentially are creating value through purpose-driven brand engagement, which centers both art and marketing. These individuals have led to what some scholars consider a brand democracy.

How can companies engage in brand democracy and center DEI in their brand purpose?

Companies have an opportunity to transform their organization by centering their messaging on the belief-driven buyer. According to Edelman, “a brand’s stance on issues prompts the same purchase intent as its promotion of product features, a new balancing of the rational and emotional elements of the marketing equation.” A brand’s stance becomes a part of its canvas, where the product, social issues, and consumers are the artists. The brand’s stance on a social issue, such as DEI, will likely draw out large volumes of chatter in social spaces, which may lead to voices of critique, dissension, and brand advocacy. Thus, some firms may be reluctant to weather the social media storm. In this vein, there is an opportunity for consumer advocacy and testimonials to drive the brand’s stance forward.

What are some examples of companies who have engaged in marketplace inclusion and demonstrated participation in brand democracy?

Brand democracy when coupled with DEIB as their purpose can have the potential to grow the business and advance the interest of its customers and society. Blue chip brands such as Vaseline, Tazo Tea, Unilever, and Coca-Cola have made purpose central to their core business. In fact, Unilever’s CEO confirmed that purposed-driven brands within the company’s portfolio outperformed those without one.

Individuals are accustomed to being anchored in purpose and legacy. Starbucks positions itself as a welcoming third place for any and every consumer, including those who do not purchase anything from the brand. A few years back, the company took a stand against a seemingly racially motivated incident against two young African American customers who were asked to leave the café as they waited for their other two guests without purchasing coffee. The company closed its stores for a half day to engage its employees in racial bias training, taking up the cause of racial justice and training to align with their company’s mission. When brands delve deeper into virtue signaling around their purpose, we tend to see more intentional branding efforts. Nike is a great example. The brand who is largely irreverent to consumer angst partnered with Colin Kapernick at the height of his social justice campaign by running an ad themed “Believe in Something.” While outcry and boycott was immediate, the company saw roughly a 30% percent increase in sales.

Brands who have failed in this space have done so by advancing social issues that were socially controversial and riddled with performative brand purpose (cue Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney). Brands, like institutions of higher learning, must embrace a purpose and embed it within their organizational culture. Doing so facilitates the innovation of ideas and the design of product portfolios that serve the belief-driven buyer, again the art of creation and consumption can’t be understated.

Any parting thoughts on the theme of art?

Brand democracy gives everyone a voice. I encourage all companies to consider their brand purpose and connect with the belief-driven buyer. Black history is not about me, or other African Americans, it is indeed about recognizing the excellence that exists within the historical and contemporary catalogue of achievements of said group. Inclusive practices by default advance the humanity and success of everyone in an organization. The color of my skin is not an episode of my existence, but rather it is the canvas by which continual excellence and ways of thinking emanate to produce academic and engaged scholarship that is rich, meaningful, and deeply artistic. When brands (or individuals) show their customers their authentic selves, the customers who matter most will continue to support the brand.

We’d like to thank Dr. Kizer for spending time answering our questions and shedding light on these topics. If you are interested in taking classes with Dr. Kizer, get your application process started by making an appointment with an admissions specialist.