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Donald Thompson: Cut through AI noise with authentic, inclusive marketing

Artificial intelligence is a game-changing tool to boost efficiency and productivity. However, consumers are seeing the unintended consequences when marketers rely too heavily on AI technology to cut costs and expand capacity. Audiences are being bombarded with hundreds of generic marketing messages every day. Their email inboxes and social media feeds fill with meaningless content that fails to drive action – other than swiping left.

Marketers are sending out more messages than ever, but they aren’t landing because they are missing one key ingredient: authenticity. It’s time for marketers to recalibrate. Pivoting toward inclusive, human-centered marketing enables communications professionals to break through the noise and forge genuine connections with their audience.

AI tools like ChatGPT can do mountains of research in minutes, something that would take humans hours or weeks. Quickly collecting basic information and insights on a topic is a huge productivity advantage, allowing marketing professionals to navigate changing priorities, make decisions quicker and pivot sooner. What AI doesn’t do is to interpret the raw data and create stories that have a human impact.

While I’m a big proponent of using AI to set the table, ChatGPT can’t create the secret sauce that makes a pitch unique or makes a story emotionally compelling. The inclusive marketing leader is the missing ingredient, establishing people-first approaches that elevate authentic storytelling while embracing technology that saves time and money.

Fostering engagement within collaborative teams

Creating powerful marketing campaigns requires an innovation culture that balances marketing insights with teamwork. Culture is the biggest driver of employee engagement and worker productivity, and by definition, inclusive leaders create healthy, trust-based workplace cultures. Guided by inclusive leaders, high-performing teams elevate diverse perspectives, which then drives innovation, efficiency and quicker, better decision-making.

“Being an inclusive leader isn’t just about your personal journey; it’s about fostering an environment where everyone’s experiences are valued,” says Edessa Polzin, the manager of learning partnerships at the American Marketing Association (AMA).

Inclusive leaders assemble and sustain high-performing teams that can create powerful messages that connect with target audiences to generate demand. Effective leaders value the presence and participation of a diverse creative team to understand multiple customer segments. For example, a creative team with a member who shares a customer’s ethnicity is 152% more likely than another team to understand that customer’s needs.

Inclusive leaders hire for culture add, rather than culture fit, and they are savvy enough to recognize when they need additional guidance. When inclusive marketers lack information about specific target audiences, they work with partners outside their organization to craft messages that are appropriate and authentic.

Gathering multiple perspectives and viewpoints

The creative process that leads to great marketing campaigns hinges on synthesizing information and enabling a free-flowing exchange of ideas. From agencies partnering with clients to in-house professionals building an internal brand, marketers must collaborate to generate persuasive messages that resonate with audiences.

“Inclusive leadership means being open to many different perspectives and knowing that it’s not just about how I believe something should be thought of or done, even with the best of intentions,” says Abha Bowers, CEO of Walk West, a Raleigh marketing and branding agency.

By amplifying the viewpoints of underrepresented groups and listening to customers who aren’t being served by existing products and services, companies can tap into new business opportunities. Last year, Walmart partnered with its employees with disabilities to design inclusive shopping experiences. A pilot program testing sensory-friendly shopping hours last fall proved so popular with customers and staff that it was adopted throughout the company in early November.

Understanding your audience and bridging cultural gaps

Intertwined with collaboration is the cultural intelligence to bridge cultural gaps and expand demand by authentically targeting new audiences. Savvy marketers are keenly aware of changing demographics and the reverberations of an increasingly diverse society. By understanding everyone’s individual worldview, marketing leaders can effectively navigate the complexities of a global business landscape.

Authentic storytelling happens when a brand has deep understanding of its audience and the cultural characteristics that bridge demographic differences. For International Women’s Day in March, Ford Motor Company celebrated women who love cars in its “Dear Car Girl” campaign. The marketing effort elevated real stories of women with diverse identities, from a variety of auto backgrounds, in a film narrated by professional stunt driver Dee Bryant and Ford engineer Fernanda Medina, among others. The inspirational campaign tapped into the pride and freedom that car ownership brings. The powerful message gained traction because it aligned with Ford’s ongoing support of women in the car industry.

Merging AI and human creativity

Creativity and an openness to new ideas feed the growth mindset that inclusive leaders need to flourish and achieve long-term success. Their thirst for knowledge and willingness to adopt new technology makes inclusive marketing executives particularly aware of AI’s potential to help increase individual and team productivity. However, the upside of AI can distract inattentive leaders with its ability to process nearly incomprehensible volumes of data and extract meaningful insights, leading them to integrate the technology without proper preparation and guardrails.

Thanks to the new technology, you can send out millions of marketing emails, but without authenticity, your pitches won’t connect. Consider how you would feel if you opened an email advertisement with your name misspelled and your industry wrong. That email could have been sent to 10 million other people.

Contrast that generic email with one that contains a personalized approach. Consider a second email from Donald Thompson, CEO of The Diversity Movement, saying: “I’ve researched your business in technology, and I feel that our ability to help recruit, reward and retain diverse talent could be helpful to your business.” This authentic outreach says I’ve done my homework, I know who you are and you’re worth investing my time in.

Making customers and clients feel special leads to greater loyalty and higher profits, because no one buys from a company that treats them like a number.

When incorporated into an inclusive marketing process, there’s no question that machine learning tools can help communications professionals create authentic content at scale. AI supercharges the creative process by getting something 60-70% complete; the key is involving a high-performing team to finish the task with authenticity and flair. Inclusive leaders know that  the human touch is essential in creating marketing magic.

Join me on Wednesday, May 22, for “Strategic Storytelling: The Power of Inclusive Marketing in the Age of AI,” where I’ll share how understanding customer needs and sharing stories that create empathy can break through the noise and foster genuine connections with your audience. The free lunch-and-learn event, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Workplace Options, 2912 Highwoods Blvd., Raleigh, is presented by The Diversity Movement and the North Carolina Chapter, Public Relations Society of America. Registration is required.

About Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 SE Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement (TDM) to fundamentally transform the modern workplace through diversity-led culture change. TDM was recently acquired by Workplace Options, which brings holistic wellbeing services to more than 80 million people in more than 200 countries and territories across the globe. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. His next book is The Inclusive Leadership Handbook: Balancing People and Performance for Sustainable Growth.

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. TDM has created LeaderView, a leadership assessment tool that uses cultural competency as a driver for improving whole team performance. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.

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