Black Media Is An Untapped Goldmine, But Earning Trust Won’t Be Easy

Damian Benders GM B Code

"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Damian Benders, general manager of B Code Media.

The world’s commitment to addressing social injustice has been magnified and reinvigorated. After the movement gained massive momentum in the past year, more advertisers acknowledged the value of organically partnering with Black media outlets to reach this influential demographic.

Marketers don’t have to reinvent the wheel to advertise to Black audiences. The same essential techniques for engaging mainstream audiences still apply: Listen and do the research, use the data carefully and treat the audience with respect. 

Here’s what companies need to know to make their Black-owned media content strategies successful.

Allocation Of Spend Matters

Advertising dollars flowing into Black-owned media means growth in the authentic and trusted outlets that reach and reflect this invaluable target group. 

In response to the awareness gained over the past year, brands and agencies alike announced commitments to significantly increase their spend with Black media. In April 2021, General Motors (GM) announced it is doubling its commitment to spending with Black-owned media. In 2021, that commitment amounted to 4% of GM's ad budget. It's targeted to reach 8% by 2025.

Agencies are making similar adjustments and calls to action. In May 2021, IPG Mediabrands pledged to spend at least 5% of their total marketing budget on Black-owned media by 2023. Also in May, GroupM, WPP’s media investment group, formed a Media Inclusion Initiative. The program includes a pledge to invest at least +2% of total annual media budgets in Black-owned media. 

Each of these initiatives, and others like them, represent important steps forward in eliminating existing disparities. Brands will reap the benefits of investing in this audience and the media that supports them for years to come. With the Selig Center for Economic Growth and MAGNA projecting Black GDP is on pace to reach $1.8 trillion by 2024, these investments in the Black audience and Black-owned media are not simply the latest industry trend; they are smart and strategic business decisions.

Understanding Black Audiences

For more than a decade, I have consulted brands through activations across various mediums, and I have had a front-row seat to brands with winning campaigns and those that missed the mark.  

As a Black man and a member of the culture, the misses always stay with me longer. Some brands decided to overcorrect in response to a scandal and, in doing so, came across as inauthentic. Other advertisers presented one face in their creative while the company’s values and actions reflected another. 

One of the enduring themes and lessons: Take the time to study and understand your audience. Black audiences, like other high-priority segments, are constantly shifting. Staying current requires brands to build or tap resources that keep them informed in real time.   

Most recently, Black audiences have evolved to view brands as more than just producers of products. Brands are increasingly perceived as social and political players whose dollars, policies, commentary and civic actions carry significant weight locally and nationally. 

Black consumers are adding “values alignment” to the evaluation criteria for purchase decisions right alongside product features and functionality. A recent Nielsen study revealed that African Americans are now 58% more likely to expect the brands they buy to take a stance on issues that matter to them and 37% more likely to buy a brand when they do.

Data is more powerful than opinion, and I am a fervent believer in using data to understand target audiences. With Black audiences, listening with data takes on even more importance.  The community is wary of being misrepresented or misunderstood. Brands must examine historical context, understand subsegments of the audience and analyze the current cultural context before taking action.

Lean Into The Expertise Black Media Offers

Black-owned media companies, both large and small, dedicate their time and their livelihoods to informing, entertaining and connecting with Black audiences. Brands should engage the talented professionals who operate these platforms. They hold insights into which topics will resonate, where to find the audience and how to show up authentically with brand messaging.

If your brand has already invested in creative work that you would like to use to reach Black audiences, cultural researchers and strategists can and will help you understand if you are wasting your spend.  

If the right way to highlight Black culture in content is a question for your brand, the media companies themselves and the agencies that serve them should be considered a key part of your solution set.  

The industry faces tremendous time and efficiency pressure, which often drives advertisers and agencies to focus on the biggest bang for their buck. But the innovative media strategies that will win going forward will incorporate larger Black-owned media alongside complementary smaller and niche-focused Black media, where loyal, affinity-based audiences thrive. 

This is not a time for symbolic gestures and press headlines that are forgotten in word and dead six months later. Black-owned media represents a gold mine of engaged consumers and insight to grow revenue. The brands that move forward with purpose and intention and follow through not just on their commitments, but on the meaning behind them, will win. 

Black audiences are paying close attention and are consistently voting with their wallets and their voices.

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