In what seems like a lifetime ago, we began the year full of ambition and resolve because 2020 represented more than a flip of the calendar. In pun worthy comparison, 2020 or “20/20” was supposed to be the year of great vision and clarity. We energized our sales teams with it and redirected our strategic plans. But now, just a month away from year-end, we realize that the clarity we sought didn’t elude us. We clashed with it violently in the streets and on the front lines.
The past few months have been some of the most polarizing in recent history. A global pandemic decimated the economy, and the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked a worldwide outcry for social justice. America began coming to terms with its history of racism, prompting a surge in diversity and inclusion initiatives in the public and private sectors. Leaders sought out experts to navigate these challenging conversations within their organizations. Terms like “allyship” went mainstream, and workplaces became focus groups on equality.
In September, however, the current Administration passed an executive order preventing government agencies and federal contractors from providing diversity and inclusion training to their employees. When this executive order passed, I thought this was a setback in our quest for unity and evoking a sense of pride among Americans. But I didn’t have the data to back it up until now.
We have been tracking the Bidimensional Identity Measure (BIM) for the past several years among a nationally representative sample of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and non-Hispanic Whites. The BIM, developed in partnership with Dr. Jake Beniflah and the Journal of Cultural Marketing Strategy, proposes that multigroup identity must be measured bi-dimensionally to account for the multi-racial collective identity, multi-ethnic, and multicultural U.S consumer. The BIM model is comprised of two subscales: the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM-R) and American Identity Measure (AIM), which simultaneously measure one’s ethnic and American identity to help corporations understand the multi-dimensionality of the U.S. population.
We hypothesized that social unrest, the global pandemic, and the push to stifle diversity and inclusion efforts have led to a decrease in the likelihood that multicultural audiences will identify with being American. The hypothesis was confirmed in the below data, highlighting a decline in American Identity Measure (AIM) key metrics among Hispanic, Black, and Asian respondents from August 2019 to October 2020, while AIM measures remained relatively stable among non-Hispanic White respondents. We asked respondents to rate a series of statements regarding their American identity in August of 2019 and again in October 2020, and here’s what we found:
When looking at the statement; I have a strong sense of belonging to the United States:
Black respondents experienced the sharpest drop in feeling like they have a strong sense of belonging to the U.S., from 67% in August of 2019 to 53% in October of this year. This is a statistically significant drop. Asians experienced a 5% drop in affinity, from 66% to 61%, while Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites stayed relatively consistent in their sentiment.
With the increased visibility of police-related shootings of unarmed citizens, this sentiment is not surprising as Black Lives Matter movements have increased polarization among U.S. citizens.
Collectively, U.S. consumers are less enthused about being American. Asians experienced the most statistically significant drop, from 71% in August of last year to 59% this year (12 points). As the COVID-19 virus spreads, Asian Americans have become targets for verbal and physical assaults. This could be a contributing factor to the significant decline in Asians being happy to be American.
The aspect of feeling good about being American has dropped across the board, as well. Asians, again, display the most significant shift, from 68% to 59%. Black respondents experienced a 6% drop, and Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, a 2% drop.
We see this sentiment play out in consumers' engagement with brands because they bring their whole selves to the purchase process, including their values. Black, African American consumers who consider racial discrimination to be the most important social issue report “an honest brand” as the most popular characteristic that makes a brand authentic. The second most popular is a “brand that cares about its consumers.”
Understanding what consumers expect from the brands they support is critical for companies to develop the right long-term engagement strategy. So it is critical that as America limps towards recovery, we repair not only the health and economic fallout from the pandemic but the racial fissures that scar our nation as well.
As marketers, brand managers, and creative directors, we cannot solve the problem, but we can make significant inroads from where we sit. Marketing touches every aspect of the consumer experience. Working to improve diversity and inclusion within our workplaces allows us to bring the voices of marginalized communities to the forefront through localized, regional, and nationwide marketing campaigns that wield the power of influence. How we use that influence is up to us. Check your vision.