Digital Living

The Worst Diversity Mistakes to Avoid in Digital Marketing Surveys

diversity in digital marketingdiversity in digital marketing

Tackling diversity and inclusion in digital marketing is a challenge.

Every great marketing strategy is based on a deep understanding of your customers. This understanding helps you create marketing campaigns that resonate with your audience. And when it comes to really figuring out how your customers tick, digital surveys are one of the most effective tools to gather actionable, nuanced data

In 2023, many brands are still struggling to understand diversity in their audience. Underestimating both the extent of diversity and its importance to customers is a serious obstacle to marketing and business success.

Well-designed digital surveys provide essential data for a successful diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy. 

Finding the right platforms and plugins to launch your survey is a breeze these days. Going out and actually asking about diversity, however, is a more tricky business. Before you blast out a survey campaign, read this guide to avoid the worst pitfalls.

1. Skirting Diversity Altogether

There’s no point in avoiding diversity questions entirely if you can make use of the information. 

Granted, some digital marketing surveys can do without knowing more about the respondent’s sexuality or race. But elsewhere, your analysis will come up shallow without this sort of information.

For example, you could ask your audience whether they feel well-represented in your brand. This is a valuable question, but without data on their personal background, you’ll just end up with a vanity metric. Your brand could celebrate 80% “yes” answers – and never even see that 95% of these came from white cisgender men.

Asking about gender, sexual orientation, or race for the first time can feel invasive, it’s true. The good news is that respondents are rarely affronted by such questions. 

The US Census Bureau found that respondents are no more likely to skip this kind of question than any other. Similarly, the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers found that 90% of people were “comfortable” about being asked questions on their sexuality in surveys. Another 8% were “neither comfortable nor uncomfortable” with these questions. 

As long as you phrase your questions properly – more on that below – you won’t alienate respondents, and you’ll gain invaluable intel. 

2. Your Diversity Statements Don’t Match Your Brand Message 

The copy in your survey needs to align with the overall message of your brand. Especially when it comes to D&I issues. 

So you want to start including diversity questions in your marketing surveys? Or maybe launch a survey specifically to gauge the diversity of your audience? 

Make sure well ahead of time that your brand as a whole is on board with opening up to a broader audience and being conscious of issues like race, sexuality, and gender. Without this broader approach, respondents might balk at being asked questions about these aspects of their lives. 

“We want to ask you about X to support our mission to make our products more diverse and inclusive.” 

If there’s a statement like this in your survey copy, but no evidence of any similar effort on your website or social media profiles, your audience will suspect a PR stunt that may do more harm than good

3. Keeping Your Motivations Vague 

Be upfront with your respondents. 

You are asking them to take valuable time out of their days to help you. And hand over personal information, no less.

The least you can do is to be transparent about why you’re asking these questions – and what you’re going to do with the information. 

Especially if you’re launching a survey aiming to explore the diversity of your target market, you need to make clear what prompted you to ask these questions. What’s your brand’s rationale for asking about gender, race or sexuality? How does what you’re asking for relate to your brand’s D&I strategy? 

And how are you going to handle responses? Even for anonymous surveys, a data protection notice is a must. This is particularly important if you’re launching your survey on a global level – data protection laws, like the EU’s GDPR or California’s CPRA, can be very prickly. 

On the upside, letting your target audience know that their answers are part of an organization-wide D&I initiative may actually boost your response rates

4. Using Non-Inclusive Language 

Race and gender bias is inherent in countless aspects of digital marketing – from AI and CRM systems to the language used in copy. That last issue at least, you can tackle with thorough awareness-building and changing your writing habits. 

By definition, inclusive language aims to reflect a broad range of identities. It avoids implicit bias and stereotypes based on people’s characteristics or background. 

In digital marketing surveys, using inclusive language signals to underrepresented groups that you are making an effort. Using the right, up-to-date terms, preferred pronouns, and inclusive acronyms establishes rapport right off the bat

Studies have already shown that using inclusive language results in increased retention rates and higher satisfaction – both in members of your own company, and your customers. 

That’s why it’s worth the time and effort to learn how to use inclusive language – not just for your survey, but for all marketing copy. 

5. Making Questions Mandatory 

If a respondent doesn’t feel comfortable answering a question, let them skip it. 

It’s tempting to tick the “required” box on most questions when creating your survey. It means more data for you, after all!

Consider the point of view of someone sharing that information, though. Mandatory questions can feel demanding. Someone might be comfortable disclosing their gender identity, but may be unsure about their sexuality still.

If they attempt to move on and find they can’t, chances are they’ll just click out entirely. Having “missing” questions highlighted in accusing red is not exactly pleasant. 

By leaving questions optional, you signal respect for your respondent’s personal boundaries. Alternatively, you can tack a ‘prefer not to say’ option onto all sensitive questions. 

6. Offering Limited Diversity Choices

Chances are that you’ll mostly use single- or multiple-choice questions. Data gathered this way is easier to handle, and they’re quick to answer, so respondents are more likely to complete your survey. 

While simple on the surface, these kinds of questions hide diversity and inclusion pitfalls. First and foremost: offering limited options when it comes to categorizing ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. 

Consider a gender identity question with the following options:

  • Male 
  • Female 
  • Other (please specify) 

A non-binary person would be right to feel irritated. There’s nothing here to properly identify with.

Yes, ‘other’ is always great to include as an option. But a menu of choices covering as much of the identity spectrum as possible is better.

The order of options is also important. Take a question on sexual orientation. More likely than not, ‘heterosexual’ will be listed in first place – reflecting its perception as the norm.

In surveys aiming at diversity, it shouldn’t be. 

The simplest solution is to just go ahead and list possible answers in alphabetical order. It’s neutral and makes options easy to find. Sweet! 

7. Not Localizing Surveys

Your brand has international reach for launching your survey? Nice!

This is great for D&I strategies, though it means there are some additional aspects to consider.

For one thing, survey design itself varies by culture. For instance, respondents from Eastern cultures tend to avoid answering in extremes, such as 1 or 5 on a 5-point scale. This can lead to some major mistakes in cross-cultural marketing research.

Not adapting race and ethnicity response options is probably the worst pitfall. A Cambodian responding to your questions probably won’t be thrilled when asked if they’re African-American or Asian-American. 

The same thing’s true for translations. Making the effort to translate your survey questions is wasted if you don’t pick the right target language. Launching a survey in Madrid-Spanish to a Mexican audience won’t go over well. 

Finally, especially with a view to D&I questions, it’s hugely important to understand that some topics are more sensitive in other countries. Asking a Russian or Turkish audience about sexuality or gender identity could be critical. 

8. Failing to Follow Up (or Through) 

Finally, one of the worst mistakes to make with this kind of survey is to ask questions and never be heard from again. 

Respondents take the time to share information. Then hit send. And poof – that was it? 

At the very least, set up an automated email with a thank-you message. Offer a discount to show your gratitude. Include information on what your next steps will be now that you have their information. How will it be used in your brand’s D&I strategy? When can your audience expect to see results? 

Posting on social media or sending out a newsletter update on how your diversity initiative is coming along – and thanking survey respondents – is also an excellent way to show that you value their participation. 

Actually seeing the D&I changes implemented on the basis of their information is what forges real connections to your audience as a whole. This boosts both brand trust and loyalty. 

Exploring the current and potential diversity of your brand’s audience, gauging new target audiences, and becoming more inclusive all take time, money, and data. Digital marketing surveys are an invaluable aid in achieving these goals. 

With a carefully planned survey that avoids the pitfalls above, you’ll gather actionable insights, and resonate with your target market. In the long run, these efforts will help your brand prosper.

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