Aarti Bharadwaj
May 16, 2023

Designing for DEI in media to drive sustainable growth for brands

To truly embrace diversity in media and marketing, we need to rethink the way we measure success, says EssenceMediacom’s Aarti Bharadwaj.

Aarti Bharadwaj, senior vice president, analytics and insight, APAC, EssenceMediacom
Aarti Bharadwaj, senior vice president, analytics and insight, APAC, EssenceMediacom

This article is part of a content series on diversity, equity and inclusion for Campaign Asia-Pacific and Greater China’s Women to Watch, created in partnership with EssenceMediacom.

Designing for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in every aspect is no longer a choice for businesses. The reason for this is not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the only way to sustain growth in the new economy, given the tectonic shifts in consumer behaviours and spending powers.
One such shift is the emergence of older populations as a significant market. Globally, declining birth rates combined with increased life expectancy will lead to the cohort of individuals aged 65 and above to go up from over 700 million today to 1.7 billion in the next three to four decades. This shift is most apparent in Japan, with 28% of its population aged 65 and over. This audience is important for marketers because of their unique needs, spending power, and the increasing adoption of digital platforms.
Another shift is the rise of women’s purchasing power in the region. There has, in recent years, been a significant increase in digital and financial inclusion of women. It is estimated that between 2017 and 2020, 78 million more women came online in Asia. This is estimated to lead to $2.2 trillion in additional consumption over the next decade across various categories. This emerging segment therefore has the potential to add an additional consumption growth of 20% in Asia.
Another emerging group of consumers in APAC is Gen Z, who will account for 25% of the population in the region by 2025, according to research from McKinsey. This generation of consumers looks to digital and social platforms for information and purchase. They are also more likely to say they want “brands that set them apart.” Beyond wanting to be seen as environmentally conscious, 60 to 80% of Gen Zers surveyed think that brands should be held to account for their actions as well.
While the above trends look at the consumer’s perspective on brands, it is also important to understand the business perspective on marketing. Marketing and brand building strive to build meaningful connections with their consumers to enable long-term sustainable growth for their businesses. Therefore, it is in their interest to consider the behaviours of a diverse set of current and future consumers. However, the measures of success for marketing — and specifically for media — remain to be brand lift and sales conversions in the short run. The recent rise in performance marketing has led to an even greater focus on efficiency in sales conversions for every dollar spent in media. 
However, underlying databases used are likely based on past trends and behaviours. Therefore, sales and conversions may be skewed towards male consumers or younger audiences. As a result, while campaigns may reach women and men in equal numbers, conversions may remain skewed towards men as the cost (such as cost per click and cost per action) of converting women tends to be higher than men. And thus, the pursuit of efficiency may lead to a widening gap in the inclusion of women in advertising rather than the intended inclusiveness.
Having recognised the challenge, how do we design for DEI in media? To truly embrace diversity in media and marketing, we need to develop a metric system that enables marketers to show progress in DEI and is related to business outcomes in the long run. This measurement system would enable marketers to task themselves with a goal that relates to their current measures of success — sales or brand lift. To this end, the key features of this metric for DEI would need to be:
  • Realisable: One of the features that is built into existing measurement systems is that they work on a basic and consistent set of units that enables comparison across markets and brands. An example of this is to think about the metric system of length — a metre is a consistent unit of length no matter what part of the world, what is being measured, and the instrument being used to measure it.
  • Generalisable: Diversity manifests itself in various aspects of human lives ranging from gender, ethnicity, language, religion, culture, capabilities, behaviours, to belief systems. The metric system we develop for DEI needs to be able to span across all these aspects, recognising progress in any of the dimensions and also that there will always be room for improvement. To this end, the measures we evolve would need to be generalisable across markets and industries.
  • Coherent: The unit of measurement would be such that it would allow for calculation and transformation. This would be necessary for practitioners to calculate benchmarks and standards and compare against them. This would also be critical to ensure that this metric can be input into existing strategic planning and implementation tools and frameworks to enable implementation in day-to-day media.
  • Rational: A key attribute of the metric system is that it needs to represent outcomes, not intent or methods. This is important to set a level playing field in the industry, keeping all players focused on the north star. To use football as an analogy, the metric of success for a team is the number of goals scored; not the number of assists or the experience of the players. This ensures that the entire system of training and development of the teams and infrastructure works toward that one north star — scoring goals. The metric to measure DEI needs to do the same for media practitioners. 
In summary, the DEI metric system would provide a system that enables marketers to compare DEI initiatives across brands, rather than rely on anecdotal estimates for diversity. It would also enable platforms and marketers to work on a roadmap to building a truly diverse media ecosystem.
The need of the hour is for the industry to invest in the development of measures that capture the diversity and pluralism that our audiences associate with. As the media system diversifies, it will only lead to a more inclusive and sustainable future.

Read Prajakta Paranjpe and Joyce Chua’s article about minding the gaps in inclusive media.

Campaign Asia

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