Can a brand be truly diverse if religion is excluded?
Diversity is popular topic these days – whether in business, education, employment, the arts or the recent 2012 election. The bottom line is that demographics in America are changing rapidly and are impacting every arena of the culture.
When it comes to diversity, the old saying “As goes Corporate America, so goes the nation” is particularly true. Top-level retailers have forged the pathway to diversity by seeking to capitalize on different market segments and increase profits and market share over their competitors. In turn, other sectors in society have followed suit and embraced inclusiveness and diversity as ideals worthy of pursuit.
Though widely embraced, diversity is often ill-defined and inconsistently applied. Certainly the rich tapestry of diversity in America extends throughout every measurable variable including race, age, gender, income, language, national origin, creed, sexual orientation, ability, education, geography and religion. However, can true diversity really be claimed when some groups are not proactively welcomed and included in every arena of society – including Corporate America?
Specifically, this question focuses on religion – a category that Americans increasingly struggle with in the public arena. On the one hand, our nation was founded upon the bedrock principle of religious liberty and pains were taken by our Founding Fathers to ensure that no particular religious viewpoint would dominate over others. Nevertheless, Protestant Christianity held cultural sway in America until very recently and most historic norms and mores were based upon a Protestant ethic and worldview.
However, a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that the relative historic religious homogeneity of Protestantism in our culture has shifted dramatically in a few short years. What does this mean for retailers and their inclusion of religious affiliation in the rainbow of diversity?
Specifically, the Pew study shows that for the first time less than half of Americans associate themselves with a Protestant faith when asked about their religious affiliation. And in a monumental cultural shift, 20% of Americans today claim no religion at all – up from seven percent in the 1970s. This trend toward ever-increasing religious diversity should continue into the future given that more than one-third of people aged 18-22 are religiously unaffiliated.
With increasing diversity in religious affiliation, differentiated religious groups will increasingly stand out as viable market segments for retailers to engage and integrate with. We see this already with targeted outreach by brands to Muslims and other groups.
But what about Christian consumers in America’s increasingly secularized culture? If brands see the economic viability of pursuing Muslims and other religiously affiliated groups as part of their diversity efforts, why not similarly welcome and target for inclusion the rapidly emerging and largely untapped subset of Christian consumers known as Faith Driven Consumers who are actively seeking retailers who will welcome them?
As a highly differentiated subset of the more broadly defined Christian consumer segment, Faith Driven Consumers represent 41 million Americans – 17 percent of the U.S. adult population – and spend $2 trillion annually. In numbers, Faith Driven Consumers are exponentially larger than the Muslim market and on par with the Hispanic community – yet spend 75 percent more. How can your brand afford to not include them in the rainbow of diversity as a loyal segment seeking inclusion?
While brands have not directly targeted Christians in the past, the increasing diversity and religious plurality of 21st-century America calls for retailers to once again lead the way and welcome Faith Driven Consumers and other distinct faith segments into the marketing mix as economically viable and desirable niches.
Given the expanding cultural understanding of diversity and tolerance, how can brands be truly diverse if some groups are excluded?