Interviews

When eCommerce Lacks Diverse Representation – How One Agency Filled the Gap

Danielle Alfaro
September 18, 2020  •   4 min read


How marketing agency Major Tom recognized the need and used digital innovation to provide inclusive representations of their audience.

More than ever, businesses need to consider and amplify the diverse voices of their customer base as an essential part of their inclusive marketing strategy. It’s not enough to simply know who your customers are in terms of demographics — you need to dive deep to understand the nuances of diverse cultural backgrounds and make sure those who are underrepresented are not only elevated, but showcased, too. It can make a huge impact on the customer’s experience with your business and also help create positive social change.

Major Tom, a full-service digital marketing agency — with offices in New York, Toronto, and Vancouver — recognized a need for increased audience representation and created diverse digital avatars to help address the issue. REACH spoke with Tina Star, Group Director of Media, to learn more about the project and the motivations behind its launch.

“Representing personas or target audiences can be a tricky challenge and it was a big discussion topic within the User Experience (UX) design community,” Star explains. “We wanted to be visually representative of real people as much as possible.” The solution was to create flat illustrations with a more abstract look – persona avatars that are relatable.

Identifying the problem

Digital marketing and communications agencies are experts in identifying and understanding a business client’s target market or audience. But simply identifying the audience is not enough to truly connect and gain trust with its stakeholders— it’s how the business represents its diverse audience that can make the difference in building brand loyalty.

Identifying and then developing a persona of the target audience is common practice. Stats pertaining to age, income, gender, race, geography and more are collected to help the business understand their customer and create targeted marketing to best reach them. Of course, the audiences that these personas represent have historically been extremely limited. From gender identity and race to age and body type, so many communities have been not only underrepresented, but completely absent from the space.

Developing innovative solutions

By first recognizing the lack of diverse representation of personas, the team at Major Tom got to work on creating a better way for businesses to represent their audiences online. Star explains that diversity encompasses a variety of perspectives that come from people with varying gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, status and education. So how could these concepts be made into something tangible? The idea of creating diverse digital avatars for businesses to use when showcasing their target audience was a team effort.

“The avatars were made to be used when presenting personas on website projects or represent target audiences for marketing engagements to ensure both our internal team and our clients feel represented when we provide deliverables. A lot of promotion was done to showcase the new diverse avatars as we knew how important it was to get them in the hands of businesses to help represent their diverse audiences accurately,” says Star.

Beyond business use, anyone can use the diverse avatar template for their own projects – students, marketers, and website designers and developers can download them from Major Tom’s website.

All hands-on-deck approach

When it comes to representation in the workplace, it’s all about innovating corporate culture. Major Tom has always believed in having a diverse workforce – varying gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, education. Star explains, “The term inclusion means fostering an environment where people feel empowered, knowing their opinions matter, encouraging them to have a voice and provide the tools to reach their full potential.”

Furthermore, the company launched a diversity committee to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Objectives of the committee include, sustained organizational change, community-wide knowledge sharing and providing continuous resources and education. “We wanted to start making the uncomfortable comfortable by acknowledging we are all at different stages in our awareness and understanding of social justice issues, “says Star. “Recognizing and embracing the differences within our team strengthened internal relationships and made us stronger.”

Digital Marketing trends and what’s next

The diverse avatar project has received a positive response since its launch. “It’s refreshing to see our clients keeping up with current social justice issues and the topic of diversity,” says Star. “Some are even adding discussion points into their website or social media efforts and the diverse avatar tool provides another way to incorporate diversity and inclusion in their everyday business practices.”

To ensure businesses are thinking about diversity and inclusion in their marketing strategy, Star says that it’s helpful to look at the bigger picture. “In addition to using diverse digital avatars, it’s imperative digital marketing ads are promoting diversity in terms of content and creative targeting.”

Digital apps like Facebook making policy changes to avoid discrimination and promote inclusion (for example, one can no longer promote housing, credit or employment based on gender, age or postal code on the platform) is an example of other steps forward to ensure long-term, positive change. It starts from the inner workings of an organization. Taking small steps such as giving employees an opportunity to get involved – like committees dedicated to diversity — is a little initiative that can yield big results.

For Major Tom, the development of diverse digital avatars is one example among many that are currently starting to surface in the eCommerce sector. It is through compassion and a willingness to learn that will continue to help bring us together in order to elevate marginalized voices and drive positive social change.

(Photo courtesy of Major Tom, 2020)


Danielle Alfaro
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Danielle is a communications professional specializing in media relations in the arts film and entertainment industry across western Canada. She has experience in a variety of industries including boutique agency, corporate and non-profit. Skill sets include writing, strategic social media planning, and publicity management. Danielle earned her Bachelor of Communications, Public Relations degree from Mount Royal University and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society. She is currently an account manager at Coldwater Communications and independent PR consultant based out of Calgary, AB.