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Ep. 7: What Happens to People Most Brands Exclude?

Back in 2012, I quit my corporate job to start my own business. In the U.S. most people get their health insurance through their employer. So since I was now self-employed, I needed to go find health insurance.

I’d had the exact same health insurance for nine years, the same amount of time I’d worked for the company. So I thought I’d try to get the same insurance so I could keep my same doctors.

I went and applied, and was immediately denied.

Quick background for you – in 2008, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disorder. I was in remission, and super healthy – to the point that I’d complete a triathlon in 2011.

But at this point, it was pre-Obamacare, and it was still legal for insurance companies to deny people based on pre-existing health conditions.

This started a chain reaction of events that ended up not so good. Because of my challenges securing health insurance, I couldn’t afford my medication. It costs $900 a month without insurance, and although I’d saved a good amount of money as a cushion to give me some runway before quitting my job – an additional $900/month wasn’t something I’d budgeted for.


I did ok for a while, without medication – that is until I had a sewage backup in my little condo in South Philly. I ended up living in a hotel for two months – but the whole thing was very stressful.

And that was when I discovered that stress is my trigger.

This event caused an extreme amount of stress – and coupled with the fact that I wasn’t on medication, I had a flare up.

I couldn’t get in to see my gastroenterologist for something like six weeks or two months – so I tried to power through it and try different things to get out of the flare on my own.

None of it worked. 

The flare up grew worse, until the point I could no longer hold food down. I was so weak, I had no choice but to go to the hospital.

I stayed in the hospital for 10 days. My hospital bill came to $80,000 – because remember, I was uninsured.

I’m going to pause here because I know everything I just told you was pretty heavy. I want to let you know that I am ok. My health is good. I no longer have this ginormous medical debt. And I’ve since learned to do a much better job of managing my triggers – which are stress and sugar.

I’m good.

The reason I’m telling you all this, is because from an inclusive marketing standpoint, I want you to consider what happens to the people most brands exclude.

Yes, this is an extreme example. Health insurance companies chose to exclude me – so I ended up in a health crisis because I couldn’t afford medication. 

Excluding customers can impact their lives in ways beyond the problem your business solves

I knew other people in my corporate days that would never ever consider becoming an entrepreneur – because they needed to keep their health insurance because of chronic health conditions, like Type 1 diabetes.

The decisions to exclude certain types of customers – because of the “additional care” they needed, impacted some people in terms of their life choices, in choosing whether or not to follow their dreams.

But lets talk about the impact other forms of exclusion marketing has on consumers.

Last year, I did a research study on representation in marketing. When I asked people what they wished brands knew about representation, here are two comments in particular that stood out:

“How much it can effect someone and their feelings about themselves when they don’t see themselves represented. Like they are not important.”

Another respondent noted that she wanted brands to know “the damage they do by underrepresentation.”

Brands have power

You have the power to influence and impact people actions, in addition to how people feel about themselves.

When Cosmopolitan UK put plus-sized model Tess Holiday on the cover, people rejoiced. One woman said – “If I had seen images like this growing up, it wouldn’t have taken me 25 years to love my body.”

When the movie Crazy Rich Asians came out there were a number of people who took to social media to share how seeing themselves represented in such an authentic way help them rekindle a sense of pride in their Asian heritage that had been battered and bruised by society for years.

Unilever is a company that has started to take to heart the power they have as a brand in how they make people feel, particularly when they feel excluded.

That’s why they took the bold step to remove the word “normal” from the packaging and promotions of all their beauty and personal care products.

People who needed products that weren’t labeled “normal” felt some type of way about it. In fact, Unilever conducted a global survey of 10,000 people, and 63% of people said not having the word “normal” on packaging and advertising would inspire people to feel more positive about how they look.

Excluding people also sometimes means denying them access to things.

For instance, a while ago, I came across a course I wanted to buy for my husband Jonathan. Jonathan is still in the process of learning English – so I reached out to the course creators – and this is a pretty big size company that’s always talking about how much they make, and I asked them if they had the course available in Spanish.

They quickly responded that they did not.

Here we were – customers ready to buy, but access was denied because people who didn’t speak or learn in English were excluded.

Ok yeah – no big deal, we didn’t buy the course. We are fine.

But that isn’t always the case for everyone.

Exclusion meant access to knowledge was denied.

What is the impact on the people who have the problem that your business solves, who can’t achieve the promise of the transformation you deliver, because they can’t access it?

Not having equal access to opportunities has detrimental effects to a number of communities – especially those that are most often underrepresented and underserved.

The U.S. government has recognized the role of access and the impact it has on others, especially those that are part of what can be considered a vulnerable community.

That’s why in 1990, they enacted the Americans With Disabilities Act,, known as the ADA was passed into law.

ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in various areas – such as employment, transportaion, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. 

Now – we shouldn’t have to wait for government mandates and laws to be put in place to force us to consider people who are different from what is considered to be “mainstream” – and to include them in the products, services, and experiences you deliver.

Inclusive marketing isn’t about serving everyone

It is all about acknowledging the many ways in which the people we serve are different, and then being intentional about who you will serve, and who you won’t.

As you go about better defining who the people you serve are – take the time to consider specifically, what will happen to the people you choose to exclude.

The goal of this exercise isn’t to give you a guilt trip.

It’s to help you see the bigger picture. It’s to help you practice empathy for others. And its to help you identify how your business might start to think about how you can better serve a broader group of people in the future – even if you don’t have the resources to do it today.

Inclusive marketing has no end point. We are never done.

Thus setting an intention now about who we can and will serve today, and who we will plan to serve and include in the future will help you set your business up in a way to be inclusive over the long term.

Consider the people most brands can’t be bothered to serve.

The impact you have on them is often priceless.

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