Rihanna’s ‘Fenty Beauty’: A Leadership Case For Customer Inclusivity

Earlier this month, Fenty Beauty, the makeup brand founded by Rihanna, announced it was expanding into Asia, and would soon be available in Hong Kong, Macau,

and South Korea.

Fenty launched in 2017 with “foundation for all” — and though it was not the first company to offer makeup in an extensive array of skin tones, it quickly became the most buzzworthy. That is, perhaps, due to its inclusive messaging, with Rihanna telling TIME it was important “that every woman felt included in this brand.” That mission resonated with critics and customers alike. “The possibility of being represented within the same breadth normally reserved for paler skin tones isn’t just exciting,” wrote Chaédria LaBouvier in Allure, “it’s a statement that women of color deserve complex options.”

Not only can making efforts to serve diverse customers attract the communities in question; it can also increase a company’s appeal to a broader base of conscious consumers. “Advertising used to be more ‘aspirational,’ and people looked to brands to show what people hoped they could be,” Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at Wharton, told Vox. “But the younger generation is much more accepting of all kinds of diversity — and that brands are embracing all of these different ideas and allowing people to accept who they are is definitely a selling point.”

This has certainly been the case with Fenty. Soon after its launch, the company garnered $72 million in earned media value, and, in its first 40 days on the market, made $100 million in sales. TIME also named Fenty one of the 25 best inventions of the year. Since the benefits of diversity extend to every facet of business, Fenty’s inclusive approach is one that more companies should embrace. Here are three ways leaders can push their organizations toward more inclusive customer acquisition strategies.

1. Pay Attention 

According to a survey from Deloitte Australia, between one-third and one-half of diverse customers — defined in terms of race, ability, faith, or sexual orientation — felt “their customer needs were often unmet over the past 12 months.” Despite these challenges, the vast majority of respondents (80% or more) did not provide feedback to the businesses that failed them. This information gap, which is likely not unique to Australia, indicates that leaders should be proactive in exploring what diverse communities need.

“Serving groups of customers whose backgrounds are different from yours isn’t about swapping out photos or putting a few token people in key positions in your company,” wrote marketing strategist Sonia Thompson in Inc. “It will require deep commitment to learn about the unique and nuanced needs of each minority group… Your organization will need to develop skills in being empathetic and culturally intelligent, so you will be well positioned to deliver products and services that solve your customers’ problem [sic] like no one else.”

One such organization is Tufts Health Plan, a Massachusetts-based health insurance company. Determined to alleviate health disparities across its member populations, CEO Thomas Croswell launched a task force to proactively seek problem areas. At one member employer, it found “divergent rates of system utilization and disease prevalence” between administrative staff, who were majority white, and factory workers, who were majority Hispanic.

It was only after this disparity — and the accompanying health literacy gap — was discovered, wrote Croswell in HuffPost, that his team was able to address it through targeted programs. The organization made similar efforts to serve the transgender community by “mapping their journey” through the health system, collecting feedback, and then assigning a dedicated cadre of employees to making improvements wherever they could.

2. Employ Diverse Talent

While the superior performance of diverse teams is often cited, a diverse team’s ability to reach a wider array of customers is frequently overlooked. Research published in the Harvard Business Reviewshowed that employees at companies whose leaders were diverse — in both inherent qualities and acquired experiences — were “45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”Although inclusive hiring practices should apply to full-time positions at every level, from interns to executives, they should include external talent, as well. During the production of “Coco,” for instance, Pixar employed an all-Latinx cast and a team of “cultural consultants”; the resulting film broke box office records in Mexico, earning $43 million in its first 19 days.

Another example comes from Nike, a company that has become known for sponsoring diverse athletes, such as Amna Al Haddad, an Olympic weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates. While at first, Nike attempted to develop typical sportswear solutions for her (as she stated, “from the neck down, not from the neck up”), Al Haddad explained how a sports hijab could help “Muslim athletes around the world.” Soon after, Nike launched its Pro Hijab — a product created solely because it intentionally sought diverse talent. The hijab “definitely opened up a bigger conversation,” Megan Saalfeld, Nike’s senior director of communications, told Fast Company. “If there are needs and we can solve them, we absolutely will.”

3. Tailor Offerings

To reach new and underserved communities, leaders must first strive to understand the challenges those individuals face — and then use those findings to design accessible business offerings. This mindset is what has allowed Interact Quiz Builder to serve customers in 192 countries. We “started trying to see things from someone else’s perspective,” co-founder Josh Haynam told Inc. “And it’s totally changed everything. Everything we’ve built since then is much more simple, easy to use.”

Taking an outsider’s view — and tailoring products to match — has also had a major impact on the U.S. real estate industry. Since 2015, the homeownership rate for Hispanics has risen faster than any other race or ethnic group, according to the The Wall Street Journal. Although Hispanics compose only 18% of the U.S. population, they have comprised nearly two-thirds of new homeowners over the past decade.

Some of these gains, according to the Journal, can be attributed to specific efforts made by real estate professionals to serve the Hispanic community. Lenders, for example, have hired Spanish-speaking loan officers, created pathways for borrowers who are self-employed or co-purchasing with multiple generations, and allowed buyers to use tax identification numbers in lieu of Social Security numbers. This surge of homeowners, a decade after a housing crisis that disproportionately affected communities of color, vindicates the real estate industry’s endeavors to consciously reintegrate Hispanic customers into their business.

Whether it is through real estate, cosmetics, healthcare, or athletic wear, leaders should strive to make their businesses more inclusive of all customers and all experiences. As Thompson wrote in Inc.: “Business is about belonging. And when you make intentional efforts to lean into diversity so you can better serve your customers, you will also succeed in making your customers feel like they belong with you. As a result, your business will start to reap the tremendous benefits that come from solving these highly underserved customers like none other.”

[“source=forbes”]