What Happens to Customers Most Brands Exclude?

In 2012, I quit my corporate career to start my own business. Leaving that job to work on my dream also meant leaving my health insurance. I liked all my doctors and wanted to continue seeing them, so I applied for the same insurance with the same company I’d had for the previous nine years.

My application was denied almost instantly. During the course of my nine years of employment, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Even though I was in remission and healthy–I’d completed a triathlon the prior year–my pre-existing condition was grounds for the company to tell me “you don’t belong here.”

That insurance company wasn’t the only one to deny me. To them, my differences were something they didn’t want to be bothered with. So they turned me away. Unable to pay the high cost of my medications without insurance, I eventually was no longer in remission and ended up in the hospital.

While this is an extreme example, there are plenty of businesses today who send the same “you don’t belong here” signal to customers who have differences. Brands send these signals all the time to people of color, those of certain religions, those who wear larger sizes, those who have dietary restrictions, those with certain sexual orientations, those of a certain age, and a long list of others.

And while the consequences of sending those “you don’t belong here” signals may not be as extreme as they were in my case with the insurance companies, do know that pushing groups of consumers away can have a negative impact on their ability to achieve success with the problem your business could have helped them solve.

“I’ve been to the mountaintop,” Martin Luther King Jr. said in the final speech he gave before he was killed. In it, he offered an alternate way of viewing the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. The story goes that a priest and a Levite were walking down a road when they saw a man who’d been badly beaten lying there. They crossed to the other side and left him there. Then a Good Samaritan came by, picked the man up, and saw to it that he was cared for until he was well again.

And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked, was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Business is about belonging. When your customers feel like they belong with you, they give you their loyalty. When they don’t, they go off in search of another brand that does make them feel like they belong. 

But consider what will happen to them if they can’t find a solution that meets their needs. Or if they get so tired of looking and being rejected that they just give up.

Sure, there are times when it may cost more, take additional resources, or intentional effort to serve customers who have differences. But as you think about the decision of whether or not to build an inclusive brand, make sure you take into account the impact not serving diverse and niche consumers will have on them. Then stand that impact up against your values and company mission to ensure the choices you make on this front align with them.

Of course, you don’t have to serve everyone. For many brands, that is a difficult task. But increasingly, more brands are making the effort to intentionally include more people. And they are reaching more customers and growing their businesses as a result.

Rihanna offered 40 different shades of foundation to accommodate women of different complexions when she launched her make-up line, Fenty Beauty. Her lingerie line, Savage X Fenty, includes sizes and styles for all body types. Gary Vaynerchuk now has Instagram accounts in Spanish, Chinese, French, Portuguese, and Polish, in addition to his English language one. Think about how your brand might follow suit.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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