Woke Marketing: Why Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Issues Affecting Black Consumers

October 15, 2019

By Claudine Waite


Pepper Miller, president at The Hunter-Miller Group, and Reginald Osborne, principal and multicultural marketing executive at the Van Osborne Group, will be featured presenters at the 2019 Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference, presented by Pandora, happening November 6–8 in San Diego, California. Miller and Osborne will explore how brands can play a role in addressing social justice issues in the Black American community while driving brand engagement, loyalty and sales.

I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Miller and Osborne to discuss their session.


Q. How would you define “woke” marketing?

The expressions “Woke and Stay Woke” originated from Black culture as a call to action to the Black community to be aware and stay abreast of issues around inequalities. Woke marketing is a call to action to business leaders to create and use purpose driven marketing to do good by creating messages that communicate authenticity and demonstrate empathy and cut through the clutter of messages for underserved communities. As a result, brands can do well by achieving financial success via brand engagement, and social acceptance.

The practice of woke marketing is a particularly important approach for brands to engage the Black community as African-Americans continue to be the most influential, largest and longest standing U.S. segment to be discriminated against.


Q. For brands afraid to address social justice issues, for fear of backlash or not being considered authentic, what is one bit of advice you would offer?

When a brand takes a stand, backlash will undoubtedly happen. We live in a world of “I’m offended” and viral social media messages. However, taking a stand based on the company’s mission and brand values, and aligning them with the values of the consumer presents opportunities to:

  • Present the brand as authentic
  • Help support and celebrate the importance of identity, diversity, real inclusion and equality
  • Be an integral part of the conversation that can lead to change

Not taking action — head in the sand — is taking action. Your brand can risk losing relevancy and customers’ trust. The brand can also become vulnerable to any social issues that may affect your company.


Q. Many brands say they can reach the Black American consumer through “general market” advertising because they speak English, what is your response?

Given the diversity of different ethnic communities today, language has become the cultural identifier. Yes, most Black Americans speak English, but are you talking to them?

Brands must understand that the Black American experience is different from mainstream in that their perspective, beliefs and behavior stem from centuries of different treatment. Different treatment has created a different lens that determine how Black America sees themselves, and how they perceive how others see them. Understanding the numerous characteristics and differences associated with this lens is fundamental for creating messages and brands that are relevant to Black culture. If brands are consistently speaking to Black America through (positive) relevance and realism, they are likely to engage this audience and have loyal customers which can positively impact their bottom line. Engaging and creating loyal customers should be the goal and is far more profitable than just “reaching”.


Q. Without giving away your presentation, is there a key message you would like attendees to take away?

  • Understand how Black America is different, opportunistic and not deficient
  • Awaken the opportunity to connect with Black Americans on deeply rooted issues and concerns
  • Woke Marketing is not about solving race relations, but rather it can help position your brand as a relevant ambassador and influencer

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