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Ep. 4: How I Became an Inclusive Marketing Strategist

Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.

While this is the song for the Fresh Prince of Belair – I’m giving you those vocals, because what that song really is – is an origin story. Sure, this is the theme song for the tv show – but it also serves as the background details of how Fresh Prince became The Fresh Prince. 

I love a good origin story  – because it often gives me insight into who a person or character is – and why they do what they do.

I recently got a request for my origin story – so for today’s episode, that’s what we’re chatting about. I’m gonna walk you though how I came to be here with you – as an inclusive marketing strategist and consultant – and evangelist.

The journey to inclusive marketing strategist had nothing to do with business

In 2013, 6 months after I quit my corporate job to start my own business, I went on a month long trip – first to China, then to teach at a girls school in Kenya, and then off to India with some girlfriends.

On the first part of the trip in China – after exploring Shanghai – I visited a friend who lived in a small town, called Dagang. While my friend was working – I’d roam around the small town – and that’s when I noticed what was happening.

People everywhere were staring at me. I’d be walking around, and I’d see a couple. One person would notice me, and then they’d tap the other person they were with and then they would look at me.

They would stare, and then I’d smile at them, and then they would give a smile and look away.

This exchange happened over and over again. On the street, in the mall, at the grocery store.

One afternoon, I was having lunch, a three people came up to me and started to chat. I invited them to sit down and we talked as best we could for a bit. They took pictures with me. 

It was like I was a rockstar.

Journey to inclusive marketing strategist
journey to inclusive marketing strategist
journey to inclusive marketing strategist

Of course I knew people were responding this way to me because I was a Black woman, and it was not at all common for them to see someone who looked like me – real life and in the flesh.

But on the long trip to Kenya, after I left that little town, I realized what had happened.

Up until that point, for much of my life, I felt invisible. And in that town – with those people, I felt seen.

While I didn’t necessarily want rock star status on a regular basis – I knew that there was a big difference between feeling invisible – emphasis on the word “feeling” – and being seen.

The seeds of inclusive marketing start to take root in my work

In April 2017, my editor at Inc. messaged me and asked if I’d write an article on a trending hashtag on Twitter, #Blackwomenatwork. There were so.many.Black.women talking about tough, challenging, bad experiences they had in the workplace – because they were Black.

It was shedding light on the fact that still today, we still have a long way to go toward equality and dismantling racism.

Unfortunately, I had much to add to the conversation – from my own personal experiences working in corporate. My article was published a few hours later, and it was a hit.

A few months later, my Inc. editor asked me to write about Black Women’s Equal Pay Day – which is the day into the following year that a Black woman has to work to earn the same amount as men do. All women’s equal pay day happens in April, for Black women, its in August. For Latina women, it’s in October.

I covered this topic, and then started writing on other diversity related news items on my own. I realized not only that there was a need in this area – because I kept getting asked to write about diversity and inclusion topics – but that I enjoyed it.

So in 2018 when I heard Forbes was looking for a writer to cover diversity, I jumped at the opportunity to pitch myself, and since I’d already had published articles in the space, they gave me a column. Seeing an opening to position myself – because after all, I’m a marketer by training and trade – I pitched diversity with an marketing angle. They loved it, and now my Forbes columns live in both the Diversity and CMO sections on the site.

Also in 2018, I participated in SHINE Bootcamp, a weekend long speaker accelerator for women. I knew I was ready to make speaking a part of my career – and I saw this was the perfect opportunity to get me ready. 

As part of SHINE, we have to give a 10-minute talk as part of a speaker showcase. Throughout the weekend, we also worked with a speaker coach who helped get us ready for the big stage.

My talk was about Inclusive Marketing – and I covered 3 ways brands push potentially loyal customers away without even realizing it.

The talk was a hit. Here it is if you’d like to check it out.

Because of that talk, I was then invited to speak at CTA Conference, the WPromote conference, and to write an article on inclusive marketing for CopyHackers.

At the same time, as I was doing customer experience consulting work – I also started doing projects that combined customer experience and inclusive marketing – such as building an African-American engagement strategy for one client.

Throughout 2019 – I did more consulting, I started delivering talks – and was realizing that inclusive marketing was something that was sorely needed and lacking in the industry. This is both from my observations, and from the responses I’d get from people after delivering keynotes.

Going all I on as an inclusive marketing strategist

Fast forward to summer 2020. I was on maternity leave, and it felt like the world was on fire after the murder of George Floyd.

I was watching everything unfold. I wanted to say something – but I was focused on my 6-week old Luna – thankful that I had a big enough distraction to not fully have to engage.

Then I got an email from the managing editor at Inc. – asking if I’d be willing to write an article advising business leaders on what their response should be to the murder of George Floyd.

I was floored. And honored. I wrote the article while Luna was sleeping. They published it the next day.

Sensing that more business leaders could use some guidance on what to do – and recognizing the gravity of the moment, I pitched Amy Porterfield to be a guest on her podcast, talking about how to build an inclusive brand.

She accepted, and within a matter of a few weeks, the episode went live.

We had a great convo – and in preparation for that episode, I created my initial framework for how to build an inclusive brand.

Because tons of people listen to Amy’s podcast Online Marketing Made Easy, I got more speaking invites because of it, including at LaterCon.

When I came back from maternity leave fully later that summer – I decided it was time to go all in on inclusive marketing.

Later that year, I refined my framework for building an inclusive brand, did some validation calls, and created the first iteration of Belonging University – and sold my first spots in my programs by the end of the year.

Since then, I’ve 100% been focused on inclusive marketing.

The journey to here has been happening all my life

So quick recap – that big moment reflecting on my China trip and really grasping the difference between what it feels like to be feel invisible, and what it feels like to be seen.

Then 2017 – is when I started the process of connect that feeling, and ideas of belonging to my work.

But in reality – experiences long before that paved the way to me getting here.

When I finished business school – as I mentioned, I started working at Johnson & Johnson. I worked there in various marketing roles in pharma, biotech, and medical devices – in domestic and global roles.

I had challenging experiences with microaggressions, getting passed over for promotions to guys who were married with kids because as I heard one manager say “he’s got a family to support,” and getting pay – because someone in HR didn’t think my HBCU education was equal to others’ – even though I performed better. That’s a story for another day – but if you want the cliff’s notes version, I’ll link to an article I wrote about it in my show notes.

While at J&J, I was also active in their Employee Resource Groups, and even led one of them for 5 years. In one of my positions, I managed our international distributors and led launches with our global markets – and saw first hand the nuances of what worked and what didn’t when trying to launch products outside of your primary market – and perhaps importantly, how that made partners feel (side note: they didn’t feel like they belonged).

Throughout my corporate career –  I learned a lot of corporate culture, values, walking the walk, and what it feels and looks like when a company doesn’t – and the impact it has on teams.

But even before my corporate career – my life gave me lessons in what it meant to be different, and perhaps that – more than anything has prepared me for this point. 

  • I’m a Black woman
  • I’m left-handed
  • Up until my early 30’s I had a big gap in my teeth
  • Early in my career, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder – and then later a 2nd one

And as I got older, the differences continued.

  • I went gluten-free to tackle my ulcerative colitis
  • I became an entrepreneur
  • I was a digital nomad – in South America
  • My time living in Argentina
  • Learning Spanish
  • Working with a cross-cultural team in Argentina
  • Getting married to an Argentine – who didn’t speak English
  • Being pregnant and having a baby in a foreign country
  • Learning cultural traditions
  • Adapting to an interacial marriage and relationship
  • Getting Luna US citizenship
  • Getting Jonathan a green card
  • Having a Spanish-speaking immigrant husband in the U.S. 

Every one of those experiences, plus a million more that I’ve forgotten about have gotten me ready, pushed me, and equipped me to be here with you today.

My senior year in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Reynolds had this banner up outside her window that said “Its all one note…to get more jokes.”

I didn’t get it then. It wasn’t until years later when I finally recognized what that phrase meant.

Everything – both in our lives, our experiences, and then just what is happening in the world around us  is related and connected.

And everything, especially those within the realm of our circle of influence influence the way we see, view, and impact the world. The more we learn and expand our thinking and experiences, the more we’ll see how connected things are. And the more jokes we’ll get. And let’s face it, in this day and age, we could all use a bit more laughter and joy in our lives.

That’s it. That’s the origin story. And I’m thankful that’s just the beginning, because so much of the story is yet to be written. And I am so excited to see how you’ll play a role in that story moving forward.

That’s it for this episode. 

How an inclusive marketing strategist can help you.

If you’d like more information on how to get started building your inclusive brand that wins the attention, adoration, and loyalty of more consumers — grab my Inclusive Marketing Starter Kit. Head on over to inclusivemarketing.co/starterkit to get it.