Inclusive Digital Marketing: Insights From Our CMO

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Companies invest countless hours and millions of dollars creating impactful, conversion-driving digital marketing campaigns. But are those campaigns inadvertently excluding a diverse, and growing, segment of the customer market from the moment they’re live? They may very well be if they’re not accessible for people with disabilities.

A team huddles around a desk strewn with papers covered in colorful sticky notes. One man leans forward jotting on a note. A laptop sits open nearby.

We spent time with our Chief Marketing Officer, Ian Lowe, to better understand the value of accessible digital marketing, why he’s passionate about making accessibility mainstream, and his advice for other marketers.

Q: Why should every modern marketer be thinking about accessibility?

A: When it comes to marketing, we create our campaigns with two high-level objectives: 1) reach the maximum possible audience and 2) convert the highest percentage of that audience into customers. Most of us do that digitally. In fact, digital-first or digital-only marketing campaigns have become the new normal in our post-pandemic world.

So let’s think about our audience. There are more than 1 billion people worldwide with a disability, including about 26 percent of the U.S. adult population . While we know that not every disability impacts the way in which we interact online, many do, including hearing or vision loss, motor disabilities, and cognitive disabilities. If we’re designing, developing, and executing a digital marketing campaign, and we haven’t thought about the needs of every consumer, including those with disabilities, we’re already excluding potentially tens of millions of customers. And when customers can’t engage with our campaign, there’s no way they can convert.

Q: How is accessibility related to a brand’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

A: Digital accessibility is a foundational pillar of DEI. Everyone has the right to an inclusive, equitable online experience. So much of our lives are now mediated through digital experiences, whether it’s booking trips online, connecting with friends and family through social media, or shopping online. Organizations that value DEI but haven’t made their websites, landing pages, social posts, videos, or emails accessible have not met their brand commitments.

Of course, small steps are important steps. Keeping accessibility in the forefront of the digital experience design and creation process will help make sure that you reach more people and deliver against your DEI commitments.

Q: What are the risks if a campaign does not have accessible elements?

A: The risks extend well beyond the success of any individual campaign. Yes, as marketers we’re measured on ROI, but I would ask the question differently: can your brand afford not to prioritize digital accessibility?

Today’s consumer’s expectations have evolved. More than ever, buyers are aligning with brands that share their values of equality and inclusion. Consumers are more likely to spend their money with brands they trust—brands who demonstrate their commitments to those values through tangible action.

Then, we need to consider that the global market of people with disabilities controls $2 trillion in disposable income . When you consider their sphere of influence—their friends and family—that disposable income number skyrockets to almost $11 trillion. But more than dollars and cents, being publicly known as an organization that truly values the needs of every user is the reputation we’re all striving to achieve.

Q: Is legal compliance also a motivator when it comes to digital accessibility and inclusive marketing?

A: Digital accessibility is a regulatory requirement in many countries, most notably for companies based in, or doing business in, the United States. A number of prominent U.S. court rulings have made it clear that digital accessibility is a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In fact, thousands of companies are sued every year because they have an inaccessible mobile app or website.

Because the ADA was written before the internet went mainstream, and doesn’t explicitly mention digital properties, many organizations are only realizing their legal obligations as they receive demand letters or litigation. That has caused the risk associated with non-compliance to rise over the last several years.

So why take the risk? An ADA-related lawsuit tarnish your brand’s reputation, but shouldn’t we all be motivated by equal, inclusive access for all, rather than avoiding a lawsuit or checking a compliance box?

Want a more comprehensive guide? Request our new eBook: Inclusive Digital Marketing: How to create accessible campaigns .

Q: If a marketer is new to digital accessibility, where do they begin?

A: Again, small steps can make a big difference. If you’re designing a multimedia campaign, think about the needs of every user. Here are a few helpful best practices:

  • Make sure your design and developer teams understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) —the global standards detailing how to make web content accessible for people with disabilities. Our Must-Have WCAG Checklist offers an introduction to the guidelines and an interactive resource to help you review the accessibility of your organization’s digital experiences.
  • As a marketer, it’s important to familiarize yourself with how to check for basic accessibility features in the content feeding your campaigns. For example:
    • Does the content on your website or in your emails follow a logical heading structure, and are the headings tagged appropriately? This ensures it is understandable and skimmable for the widest possible audience, and that it’s presented correctly for a person who is using a screen reader, which reads the content of a page out loud.
    • Are the images you’re embedding accompanied by accurate alternative text to provide necessary context for a person who is blind or has low vision?
    • Does the video content you’re including have captions for a user who is deaf or hard of hearing? This is also useful for those who process better by reading, or need to watch with their volume turned down or off.
    • With graphics, imagery, and text, are you following proper color contrast ratios? Higher contrast between an element in the foreground and its background color makes it easier for everyone to perceive, but is also crucial for a person who is colorblind and many people with low vision.
    • Are your forms accessible? Do they have proper labels and can a person using only a keyboard tab through them? This is especially important in the world of e-commerce. If a user is unable to populate a form to purchase your product, you’ve lost the conversion.

    These considerations apply not only to your website, but to all customer touchpoints, including emails, ads, and posts on social media.

  • Remember that representation matters. Is there an opportunity to include people with disabilities in your campaign? Authentic, inclusive representation in advertising positions diverse groups of people in a positive light, undermining the stigma that has often been associated with having a disability. As an added benefit, when customers can naturally recognize themselves in your campaign, they’re more connected to it, which is likely to make your message “stick.”This diversity in representation is the reason we’ve created the “People with Disabilities” category of the annual Multicultural Excellence Awards , hosted by the Association of National Advertisers. This year’s grand prize winner, for example, was the ” Dear Fitness Industry ” campaign by Degree released in 2021. Recognizing that 81 percent of people with disabilities do not feel welcome in fitness spaces, the campaign puts a spotlight on trainers and coaches with disabilities to point out that everyone deserves the freedom to move.

Ready to create inclusive digital marketing campaigns?

Don’t be discouraged if digital accessibility is all new to you, or if your organization has not yet prioritized accessibility. Those of us at eSSENTIAL Accessibility and Level Access are passionate, ready, and willing to help get you started. Feel free to email Ian any questions you may have. Ian is also happy to speak to your team or your organization, serving as your co-champion on your path to prioritizing web accessibility.

eSSENTIAL Accessibility has changed its name to Level Access! Read More

What to do next

We can help you meet WCAG standards and maintain ADA and AODA compliance:

  1. Connect with us today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to digital accessibility, including our automated and manual auditing capabilities and extensive range of managed services.
  2. Visit our resources section to download free white papers and webinars, and find our newest blogs on industry trends.
  3. Connect with us to continue the conversation on Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

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Recognized as a representative vendor in the 2021 Gartner Market Guide for Digital Accessibility report.

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