Diversity Marketing: Why It’s Important and Tips on Mastering It

When used properly and authentically, diversity marketing can garner more business by appealing to all demographics, including those who might not otherwise find your business.

by Lavanya Sunkara

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before, with 60% representing White individuals, according to 2019 census data. The rest of the population comprises Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander individuals. This is the multicultural populace our veterinary practices serve.

So, how do we reach all these different people? “Diversity marketing” is a term used to describe a model that sees marketing and advertising communications as a tool to connect with all individuals within a market. This inclusive technique, when used properly and authentically, can garner more business by appealing to all demographics, including those who might not otherwise find your business.

While diversity marketing may seem like a new marketing trend, it’s imperative to understand its importance and how it can improve your practice. With tips and advice from marketing and veterinary professionals and pet owners from various backgrounds and cities, here are some best-practice tips and recommendations on how to augment your marketing reach to better serve your community’s pet welfare needs.

Acknowledge Different Demographics

The first step in improving your marketing is acknowledging that the market is diverse and catering to all demographics. “No matter where your practice is located, from the Northeast to the Deep South to the West Coast, it is not very likely that every client is a White Judeo-Christian, so make sure to acknowledge that in your marketing,” says Deanna Hendrick, director of digital marketing at BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group, Inc., based in California.

The market you serve may consist of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (including Latinx, Asian American, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander), as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and other (LGBTQIA+) individuals.

“If your hospital provides medical services for both cats and dogs, you wouldn’t just have dogs in your marketing collateral, right? You make sure that you include all types of animals you help,” states Hendrick. “Make sure all of the people and families you help are represented in your marketing. Whether in online content or in print materials, the people featured in your content should reflect your target audience.”

Reach All Populations

Finding a primary care veterinarian or a board-certified specialist can be a daunting task for a family. When you add in the lack of diversity in the profession, it becomes even harder for BIPOC pet parents to find veterinarians they can connect with. So, it is imperative that practices invest in diverse hiring and marketing. “Without diversity, there is the risk of people feeling their needs may not be understood, and as a result, pets may not get the care they deserve,” says George Melillo, DVM, cofounder and chief veterinary officer of Heart + Paw, which serves the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. “Inclusivity is critical in marketing efforts as it welcomes more people to explore a clinic’s services.”

Walter Clark, DVM, DABVP, of AAHA-accredited Grassmere Animal Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, says as a Japanese-American, he doesn’t look at ethnicity when selecting any professional service. “Having said that, I also like to feel comfortable with anyone who I work with, and I can understand that some people may feel more comfortable working with individuals who understand their culture and their background.”

While pet owners may not always consider diversity and equity in their decisionmaking when choosing a practice, marketing trends are now going in that direction. “Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other online directories and social media sites now have special categories for businesses to select such as accessible or women, minority, LGBTQIA+, or veteran owned,” says Hendrick. Users now also can search specifically for Black- or minority-owned businesses on Yelp and Google.

Clark noticed this trend in marketing by major corporations and thinks the veterinary profession should follow suit. “It is not unusual in today’s world to see ads that feature a much more diverse population. If the people who are paid millions of dollars to produce marketing for Amazon, GM, Apple, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s see a benefit in promoting inclusivity in their advertising, I would think there must be some merit in the idea.”

Be Authentic in Practice and Messaging

Diversity marketing involves including BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ individuals in advertising materials and on social media. However, simply featuring a Black veterinarian or an Asian client in your brochures and media outreach without practicing diversity is misleading if untrue and can be construed as optical allyship, a term coined in 2020 by author Latham Thomas. She defined it as “allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally.’ It makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.”

It is not enough to give the illusion of diversity and inclusion; practices need to build diverse teams and authentically reach clients from a variety of backgrounds.

“Practices really have to be deliberate and without apology in their efforts to build a diverse team,” says Will Draper, DVM, of The Village Vets, a Black-owned, AAHA-accredited practice in Decatur, Georgia. “If they aren’t doing that and they are using minorities in their marketing to attract minority clients, it’s a sham.”

Melillo agrees. “Increasing diversity allows those underserved, underprivileged communities to finally interact with a veterinarian who looks like them and understands some of their possible challenges, which allows them a more comfortable atmosphere for discussing their pets’ issues without feeling judged or looked down upon,” he said. “Veterinary medicine must honestly assess how we create opportunities for all people to enter the profession. Having a profession that represents the population allows us to provide optimal care for animals in all communities.”

Improving diversity also makes the profession stronger by bringing different ideals and backgrounds to veterinary teams. Hendrick says, “You can be open and diverse without being political. I am sure you are proud of your team and how their lives and cultural experiences add value and empathy to their work and care.”

Draper believes that when a practice is open to diversity, it’s “more likely to respect different aspects and modalities of medicine (i.e., Western versus Eastern, holistic, etc.) and welcome changes and improvements in medical protocols.”

Meghan Bingham, CVPM, of West Alabama Animal Clinic in Houston, Texas, takes pride in having a diverse staff and showcasing it on social media. “We’ve always just hired the best candidate for the position, regardless of gender, race, or sexual [orientation]. Black, White, Brown, Asian, gay, transgender, tattooed, pierced, blue-haired? If they’re qualified, we’ll consider them for the position,” she says. West Alabama Animal Clinic’s clientele is mostly middle class and is situated in the heart of the city’s LGBTQIA+ neighborhood.

From left: The Village Vets practice director Will Draper, DVM, Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine student Aijah Bradford, The Village Vets Emergency/Critical Care Services Director Olly Neal, DVM, and Kaya Bryant, DVM, associate veterinarian at The Village Vets.

“Practices really have to be deliberate and without apology in their efforts to build a diverse team.”
—Will Draper, DVM

Use Social Media to Reach Diverse Clients

Social media can play a significant role in connecting with LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and underserved communities. “Photos on your social media and website should not feature only White nuclear families. Think about it: is that an accurate representation of your clientele?” says Hendrick. To achieve diversity in marketing, Hendrick recommends against using typical stock photography of veterinarians, which usually feature White men. She suggests sharing personal videos and photos from your practice of your diverse staff and clients with their pets.

“If your clinic is in a heavily Spanish-speaking or Chinese-speaking population, it might be wise to post content in those languages and speak to those communities,” Hendrick recommends. Clark recommends a similar outreach. “If a hospital has Spanish-speaking staff members, highlighting that fact on social media would be beneficial.”

To go the extra mile, Hendrick suggests practices take advantage of awareness days and holidays to show solidarity and inclusivity. “Post respectively for Chinese New Year, Pride Month, Juneteenth, Ramadan, and Hanukkah.”

Cater to Non-English-Speaking Clients

Catering to non-English-speaking pet owners can benefit the practice by enticing them to come in and communicate in their primary language. Having bilingual staff members is the best way to assist non-English-speaking clients, but there are also other tools you can use.

“Google Translate is bookmarked on the computers in each exam room and I have found it to be quite helpful in communicating with ESL clients or clients who don’t speak English at all,” says Clark, whose practice in Nashville has seen an influx of Latinx people, among others. “In addition to Spanish, I have recently used that website to help me communicate with clients in Arabic, Korean, Kurdish, and Vietnamese.” Clark’s practice also provides brochures in Spanish.

Another way to engage with non-English-speaking clients is to volunteer directly in their communities. Heart + Paw staff recently volunteered their time to serving the needs of more than 770 low-income pet parents in a predominantly Spanish-speaking community. They made sure they had Spanish-speaking representation onsite to help answer any questions and address any concerns.

Engage with Underserved Communities

Underserved communities and people experiencing homelessness in cities and rural areas face significant challenges to access pet healthcare services. According to Draper, one of the best ways to reach these populations is by making your presence known. “School career days and neighborhood association meetings provide great opportunities to reach the right audience and, most importantly, provide education on proper animal care and husbandry. I find that while many assume the problems are financial, much of it lies in a lack of proper knowledge.”

Hendrick recommends having an open house or video meetings “to invite community leaders and members to discuss how your hospital or clinic can better serve the community. Through these conversations, you might find out that the hospital isn’t accessible enough for people with disabilities or that some community members don’t feel heard enough when speaking with their veterinarian. Listen, engage, and learn.”

For Bingham, the most successful method for reaching diverse communities is “working with rescue groups that serve specific groups in need that might not make it to our clinic otherwise. We’ve worked with groups that serve homeless pet owners as well as a group that helps LGBTQIA+ individuals suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses.”

Veterinarians can actively seek out these rescue groups. One such group is in Indianapolis. The Street Outreach Animal Response (S.O.A.R.) Initiative focuses on improving access to veterinary care for pet owners experiencing homelessness (specifically veterans, people with disabilities, and those with substance abuse issues). Since its inception, the initiative has helped 1,000 individuals.

For veterinarians who can afford to do so, Draper recommends that they “provide some discounted or lower-cost options that allow individuals unable to afford the fees typically required in upscale practices, while still allowing them to properly care for their furry family member.” Clark suggests working within the financial means of an individual client. “While it might be optimal to perform all needed labwork, radiographs, ultrasound, and other diagnostics procedures, it might be possible for the veterinarian to select procedures that provide the client with ‘the most bang for their buck’ and still be able provide care for the patient.” Advertising these discounted pet healthcare services can better serve the needs of the under-resourced families in the community.

Have Zero Tolerance for Racism

Veterinary practices can do their part in combating racism not only by hiring diverse professionals and using diverse marketing properly but also by actively denouncing racist rhetoric. “We had multiple clients recently take offense to some employees wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ face masks and ask that those employees ‘didn’t touch their pets.’ They were kindly asked to leave and were sent with their records. We tolerate a lot of things from our clients, but hate isn’t one of them,” says Bingham.

Clients, too, are paying more attention to a practice’s environment and taking their business elsewhere when encountering implicit or explicit bias. Carol Bryant, an LGBTQIA+ pet parent, says “As long as the vet is qualified, has the skills and services, I go there, but I will not tolerate hatred or racism of any form, no matter who it is.”

Recently, Bryant’s dog had a problem, but her regular veterinarian was on vacation. Her fill-in veterinarian was a Black woman with whom she was impressed. However, when the technician alerted her of the fill-in vet at the start of the visit, she stated, “Oh, and by the way, she’s Black.” Bryant reported this comment to her regular veterinarian afterward, but he didn’t take it seriously. “I was very upset and expressed that to the vet before transferring my dog’s care elsewhere.”

A diverse and inclusive practice and its efforts to showcase this via genuine diverse marketing can attract new clients and serve the needs of everyone in the community. Inclusivity means that clients feel more comfortable in sharing their concerns without being judged, which results in their pets getting the care they need. The clients who feel welcomed and understood are more likely to return.

Lavanya Sunkara
Lavanya Sunkara is a freelance writer living in New York.


Photo credits: monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images Plus, FG Trade/E+ via Getty Images, photo courtesy of Will Draper, kirin_photo/E+ via Getty Images



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