Room 301 Podcast 012 – Avoiding Unconscious Bias In Your Marketing Campaigns

Posted on: July 20, 2023


Rob Twells


Join Rob Twells chatting with Billie Geena Hyde as they uncover the path to a less-biased marketing future.

Get ready for an eye-opening discussion jam-packed full of practical tips, actionable advice, smart resources and a fresh perspective on how to navigate the marketing landscape with empathy and consciousness. Let’s revolutionise the way we approach marketing…

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Podcast Transcription

0:00:07 – Rob Twells

We are back, Room 301. Thank you all for joining us. Today we’re going to be talking about, I hope I get this right, unconscious bias in marketing. And we’ve got Billie from Uptake Agency joining us today. Billie, how are you? Feel free to introduce yourself.

0:00:59 – Billie Geena Hyde

Hi. Thank you so much, Rob, for having me on. I’m very well, thank you. As you said, I’m from Uptake Agency. I’m an SEO and training consultant there. And I’m so, so excited to get to be a part of this and to talk on this subject even more.

0:01:19 – Rob Twells

Fab! So I have to admit this will be somewhat of a learning experience for me. I know we were just talking off the microphones a moment ago and I know you’re doing a lot of research into this. So, yeah, excited to jump in, excited to learn some bits and bobs myself. And I’m sure there are a lot of things we discussed today that I can take into my own business and so on and so forth. So, first of all, what is unconscious bias? And in your words, how did it show up in the world of marketing?

0:01:48 – Billie Geena Hyde

So, unconscious bias is something that’s absolutely everywhere. Whatever industry you’re in, whatever walk of life you’re in, you will have some unconscious bias. A good example of this is there’s like a riddle or a joke or whatever it is, I always butcher it, so I’m not going to do the whole thing. But it’s essentially where it’s like: this guy’s in a car accident, his dad comes in as a visitor… butchered it already. But basically it’s about trying to guess who a surgeon is and the surgeon is his mom. And a lot of people fail it because the unconscious bias is a male person would be a surgeon, a doctor how often media portrays nurses as women? Because that is an unconscious bias there. But it’s everywhere and it’s a lot deeper than that and it’s very much about your bringing and the world that’s been around you and your experiences that make you just make these snap judgments on next to nothing and we see it absolutely everywhere.

0:03:01 – Rob Twells

Yeah, I was going to say my understanding is it’s judgments based on prior experiences and it’s quite deeply ingrained into our own thought patterns, our assumptions, our interpretations and actually we’re not often aware that we’re doing it, are we? And that’s I suppose the biggest challenge around all this, isn’t it? So this is a marketing podcast though. So my next question is why is it important for marketing leaders to be aware and address those unconscious bias in their campaigns and strategies? Because I’m sure there’s plenty of examples. I’m not sure if you can give any Billie, but I’m sure there’s plenty of examples where that does happen.

– Billie Geena Hyde

Absolutely. So there’s two ways that but there’s probably more than two. But there’s two core ways that I see it within marketing. So there’s the marketers who work as part of an agency, and they’ll face unconscious bias from clients. So that could be if you are an SEO or work in some kind of technical marketing, data analysis, whatever, the assumption would be that the person that would be working on those projects is male. This is something that’s affected me most of my career. I’ve reached out and ran polls to see how widespread it is, and over 50% of women have faced some sexism from clients that’s just from women that work within SEO agencies. It’s absolutely mad and disheartening that those assumptions come in, but there’s loads of stories out there where clients have refused to work with certain people because they’ve got excuses. This person’s too young, this person’s too inexperienced, whereas this person could have had years of experience. They just look like a young woman. I’ve got countless stories from interviewing women in the industry. And then the second part is when we’re creating campaigns, how we can just make a snap judgement and try and advertise something for what our experience is without encompassing the actual lived experience from whatever we’re trying to market or whatever. We’ll just make an assumption from our experience and put that into our work. And that can cause loss of money, damaging a brand, all sorts of big mistakes. It’s such a big, vital part that we can’t just let our experience guide our decisions.

0:05:47 – Rob Twells

No, for sure. Have you got any examples of that happening? Any real world examples?

0:05:52 – Billie Geena Hyde

Well, there’s absolutely loads out there, I think, at the moment, so at the time of recording it’s sorry, I hope you don’t mind that I’m saying this, some people are protective about when they record it’s Pride Month, and we see a lot of rainbow washing of this. Whereas they create, let’s say, Coca Cola. They do a big Pride thing, Pride advertising, every single year, but also, every single year they donate money to political parties that are very anti LGBT.

0:06:28 – Rob Twells

Wow. Really? Did not know that.

0:06:31 – Billie Geena Hyde

Yeah, I think it’s something 1s I read a study recently, I think it’s something like $90,000 in the US is what they’ve paid towards certain political parties there. But this isn’t politics. And also, this is a little bit off subject, but that advertising misses the mark because it’s not genuine. And that you can see that. You can find this data. You can see this information online. It could be a company trying to think of the example right now from my brain. We’ll just say, like furnishing company. They’re trying to sell themselves as leaders in. The example is completely gone. I’m really sorry.

0:07:23 – Rob Twells

Absolutely fine.

0:07:26 – Billie Geena Hyde

That’s going to really annoy me. Can we circle back? And if comes back?

0:07:28 – Rob Twells

Absolutely circle back. No problem at all. But now you said that example about Coca Cola. I imagine it’s one of those you only know that if you know that, don’t you? I suppose I imagine that happens across the board and things that me or you see every single day that we just look at and glance over. But some people might see that in a completely different way based on their own experience or what they’ve had to go through in their lives. So no, totally can see how that can happen. And I suppose the campaigns are only limited by the people that work on them as well. What are the practical steps that a marketer can take to become aware of unconscious bias in the campaigns that they’re planning?

0:08:16 – Billie Geena Hyde

I think, again, there’s multiple ways of looking at this. So as a marketer, it’s important we try to experience as much as we can and read up on world issues and become knowledgeable of different walks of life. So myself, I grew up in a small area of Sheffield, predominantly white neighborhoods. My school only had a handful of people of color there, so it would be very easy for me to just go from my experiences and let that drive judgments. But we have to make sure that we learn and study and we can’t live someone else’s experience. I can’t guide a judgment and decisions on, say, like a marketing campaign from the eyes of a person of color, because I’ve never lived that life. So it’s important that we diversify our knowledge and become aware of social and societal issues, but at the same time that we can’t take credit and say that those are our lived experiences. We need to diversify our colleagues, our friendship groups, what media we intake. So I really recommend a book on this.So if you wanted to read it, say, to better understand women’s experiences in business, there’s a really good book called “Invisible Women”. And then to understand kind of some unconscious biases and societal issues that face people of color, I really recommend “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. These are really fantastic resources, but at the same time, it can’t just be on a single marketer to make a decision on a campaign, we need to have a diverse team that we work with. It can’t just be one person that solely makes a decision for a client. There’s always going to be a team and it’s really important that the hiring processes make sure that we can have diverse colleagues and we can advocate for that as marketers. But unconscious bias in marketing doesn’t just start and stop at marketing.

0:10:40 – Rob Twells

No, of course. No. Suppose it’s really important to immerse yourself in different cultures and different perspectives, especially as a marketer. Because as marketers, we are trying to make a set of people, or a group of people, often a lot of people, to feel some sort of emotion in most instances and we don’t want that emotion to be “I’m offended” or “I’m upset” or whatever it might be. So yeah, in terms of I never even thought to think of that in terms of the hiring process. But yeah, you’re right, in terms of the hiring process you often go by skill set, experience, whatever it might be. But actually understanding where they’ve been, what their history was, their personal history is it can be really important perspective to add to the team. I imagine both B2 B and B2 C, but especially B2 C, where you’re going consumer led and there’s lots of people potentially consuming your content or your campaigns, whatever it might be, becomes really important not to alienate a certain subsection of society. I suppose so, yeah. No, I respect that input, really, in terms of the hiring process, for sure. So in terms of unconscious bias, obviously, diversity and inclusion, we know they’re essential in marketing. How can marketers ensure that campaigns embrace those values whilst avoiding the unconscious bias?

– Billie Geena Hyde

Okay, I guess it goes back to the point I was saying that no decision on a campaign should be from the eyes of one person, that it should always be a team that does the final send off and sign off before it even gets to the client. The client can then argue or do whatever they want and make their decisions. But it’s important that a well rounded set of eyes see the campaign and try to decide and think of any ways that there could be issues there, that it is inclusive, that there’s nothing that’s going to offend anyone, there’s no stereotyping. So it’s really important that the final asset, whatever it is, is seen by multiple people. And at the same time, I think the entire process of a campaign should be ran by multiple people. Right from the ideation that nothing should be sat solely on one person because that is where unconscious bias can come in, because everyone has their unconscious bias. I know I’ve definitely made mistakes in the past where I’ve made just like random stereotypes, recently I didn’t realize women smoked cigars. I didn’t know them little ones existed. And then that’s me also making another one that’s just women that drink them little thin ones. I don’t know anything about cigars, can you tell?

But yeah, there’s all sorts out there that people have just random assumptions about. And you need to be able to stop that and question that multiple spots within any campaign.

0:14:17 – Rob Twells

Yeah, no, 100%. Moving away from sort of the campaign side of things. You mentioned a few moments ago about sort of talking more about in agency and how people you know, and your own experiences with clients and particularly female in your example, what would you say if you were, and you are going to be one, an employer… What would you say sort of perfect looks like or good looks like in terms of looking after your people and ensuring that they don’t face troubled times and troubled clients like that? And if they do, what would you like to see happen?

0:14:54 – Billie Geena Hyde

I’d love every agency out there to have something within their contract that outlines acceptable behavior, not just from us as an agency, but what we’d expect from a client as well. Because clients aren’t always going to be happy. We’re not always going to be successful. We’re not always going to provide them great information, there’s going to be angry or upset. That’s going to happen. But we need to have an acceptance level of behavior from them. And they shouldn’t come in questioning the team and their credentials. They shouldn’t come in and try to belittle or diminish team members. They need to understand that how our businesses are set up are there for a reason. Like, we have a hierarchy in whether you’re a junior in SEO or you’re a senior SEO. Just because you’re a woman, that does not mean they should go to the man who’s the junior. Because I’ve seen that happen so many times that they’ve hired whatever agency it is because they’re experts. And they should be treated as such and how they look, their age, or their ethnicity shouldn’t be questioned and that needs to be in a contract. And if that is breached, there should be terms where, okay, well, you pay up to whatever amount and then we’re done. We’re not going to continue with this unless there’s significant change.

0:16:28 – Rob Twells

And have you seen, in your own experience, agencies continue with customers despite knowing that this is going on?

0:16:38 – Billie Geena Hyde

Yes, from my experiences, I’ve heard of plenty of agencies that do that. But it’s well, what we can do is we’ll take you off this project, but we’re going to put another account manager on and then similar things happen that they’d rather cater to a client’s needs than protect their team. There are fantastic agencies already out there that don’t do that. I’m sure yourself Rob would not stand for that for your agency. I’ve got previous employers that would not stand for that as well and do have things in their contract to protect their team. But I spoke to probably 90 women over the last two years about their experience with sexism from clients. And very few of them have actually seen a resolution where the client’s been dropped or a resolution where they felt satisfied with what happened.

0:17:36 – Rob Twells

And do you think there’s a difference between what comes out of a client’s mouth and their actions? Just speaking from my own experience, I know I’ve certainly seen customers not necessarily something they’ve said, but they’re definitely more receptive to certain people because of whatever it might be, they’re male or they appear more experienced. And when a quote unquote junior person in the team makes a suggestion, it’s almost brushed off. So technically they’ve not said anything, but actually it’s the same problem. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

0:18:16 – Billie Geena Hyde

Yes. That happens all the time. And it’s really important to keep colleagues up to date and aware of what could happen to them and to their other colleagues as well, because everyone is going to have a preference. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with unconscious bias. I know there’s people that I like more than other people. That happens to everyone. But it’s important to be supportive and empower your colleagues. So if, say, in the situation you were saying, that one person saying something to the client, they love it because they’ve got whether it’s unconscious bias or just a better relationship with this person, they’re going to then ignore or brush off, say, a junior colleague. What we should do as their colleagues or their mentors or whatever we are, is we can say, “Actually, no, I think that’s a really good point. Can we continue and you speak about that more?”. Don’t let someone bulldoze over someone that could potentially be adding a new insight or a new opportunity. It could be absolute nonsense. But they’re also an expert in what they’re doing for a reason. Whether they’ve been doing it for a year or two years, that’s a year or two experience. And they might see things we don’t.

0:19:41 – Rob Twells

That’s interesting. And again, I said at the start of this conversation, this is partly a learning experience for me as well because everybody, as you quite rightly said everybody’s been guilty of this at some point in their lives. And I suppose the overall aim is to minimize it as much as possible, isn’t it? So we’re all on a journey. Moving back to the campaign side of things, is there any industries where this is particularly prevalent, do you feel? Is there any, trying to think of my head, maybe something like maybe food and drink, alcohol? I don’t know. You tell me what your thoughts are on that.

0:20:21 – Billie Geena Hyde

I think there is, but I’ve also started seeing if we talk about advertising campaigns in particular, that’s stereotyping, we see it the most. So an example I feel really bad. Coca Cola Company. Please don’t come after me.

0:20:41 – Rob Twells

Twice now. You got it in for them, aren’t you?

0:20:43 – Billie Geena Hyde

I haven’t. I’m addicted to Diet Coke. But the Diet Coke advert, they’re targeting women. The assumption that they make is based on the male gaze they’re going to show the Coca Cola can running down a whatever and it’s picked up by a really sexy shirtless man who’s really buff and built and he’s sweating, he’s mowing the lawn, whatever it is. And that’s what they think their target audience wants to see. And they assume that their target audience is “single female” but with Coca Cola. I know a lot of people that drink it are I see a lot of male diabetic men drink Diet Coke. There’s a lot of people. It’s a very diverse people. It’s a soft drink. But that’s the assumption that they’ve made. And then their bias is this is what women want.

0:21:45 – Rob Twells

I’ve heard that Diet Coke is aimed at females and Coke Zero is aimed at males. I’ve heard that. Don’t quote me on that. I’ve definitely heard that. And to me, they are the same drink, pretty much. Granted, Coke Zero, I think, tastes slightly better.

0:22:01 – Billie Geena Hyde

I disagree. I think it tastes like (?) so maybe they’re right.

– Rob Twells

Maybe I think Coke Zero tastes more like the full fat version. So I drink that. But yeah, maybe. And maybe less so now. But the can design used to be black, didn’t it? For Coke Zero and all that kind of stuff. So it’s interesting. I’ve always wondered why they’ve got both. And maybe it is because their assumption is that but you’re right. Just because a female. Maybe their sales figures shows that females drink more Diet Coke. It doesn’t mean that every female is straight, likes males, single, likes muscular men who mow the lawn, do you know what I mean? There’s lots of different ways, and I suppose budget comes into it for them to produce a campaign that’s sort of looks at every pocket, maybe too expensive, but they’ve been doing that for a long time, haven’t they, in terms of because I know what you mean. I recall the Diet Cokes adverts that do that. So, yeah, it’s interesting. Any other examples at all or any industries?

0:23:09 – Billie Geena Hyde

Oh it’s just everywhere? Recently I was in a doctor’s surgery and they had a poster on wall and it was something about respecting their staff and they had it on multiple walls and it was just always female nurses showing. But then again, I could be making an assumption because I don’t know the different colors of scrubs, but they were like the dark blue, the white line, things like that, on the uniform. And it does give an impression that we’re just looking at women who work in this industry as nurses, where, again, it’s not like there were several people stood around, like one of the big desks that they have in hospitals. I don’t think it would actually count as a desk, but there were, like, multiple people there. They could have just put some man in or a person of color or anything to just make that a little bit more diverse. But all the posters were showing middle aged women in what to me was an nurses uniform.

0:24:18 – Rob Twells

In diversity and unconscious bias. How closely linked do you think they are?

0:24:25 – Billie Geena Hyde

I think they’re incredibly linked, I feel like unconscious bias stops diversity. And diversity allows you to not be as unconsciously biased?

– Rob Twells

No, it makes total sense. Total sense. And I mentioned it earlier, and I don’t know if I’m right or wrong about this, but is the overall objective, is it to minimize it? Do you think there’s ever a way that you can get rid of it?

– Billie Geena Hyde

No. Everyone’s always going to have assumptions based on their experience. That’s always going to happen. Everyone’s guilty of it. You can try your best to be as open and learn about the world. There are always going to be things that crop up and make you think like that. But I think it’s important to try to not be unconsciously biased and broaden your spectrum, especially in marketing, because we’re not marketing our experience, we’re marketing a product, a campaign, whatever it is. And our experience could be a limiting factor. Absolutely. We could stop its success.

– Rob Twells

Like I say, ultimately, this could well impact the overall success of a campaign. And I’m sure it does in a lot of ways. Well, look, we are coming up to the sort of half an hour mark, which is where we normally jump off. So my last question to you is, and this is something just before I ask this question, this is something that isn’t spoken about enough. And in fact, you’re the only… I know I met you a previous event, Drink Digital, that we ran probably two years ago now, wasn’t it? Or a year ago. But then you spoke about a similar thing, and you know, you’re really flying the flag for this. And this definitely isn’t spoken about enough. So do you have any recommended resources, books, tools, or even other people such as yourself who are trying to educate other leaders in the industry or other people in general?

0:26:48 – Billie Geena Hyde

Yes. So I’ve got the two books that I mentioned previously, “Invisible Women” and there’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. There’s loads of books out there. But also, this is probably an unconscious bias of mine. A lot of the people that I follow and try to learn from are just within the SEO community. That is my preference, and that’s my experience. I don’t know too many people outside of that, but I really recommend where you can to get involved with various schemes and companies. So Women in Tech SEO, Be Digital, even if you aren’t, you can’t relate to their experiences, and you’re not from there, from that background, from you could be a man, you could be a white person. I still follow people in there because I want to learn, I want to see what their issues are. I want to connect with people and learn, and that’s what I’d recommend as well. So whether it’s attending webinars, local events, whatever schemes you can get yourself involved with, that’s way you’ve got an opportunity to learn.

0:28:07 – Rob Twells

Brilliant. Well, I think it’s a really important topic. I think it’s credit to you that you keep flying that flag and I know you’ll continue to do so and I think that’s a great thing to do. There is some really good advice, particularly for me, the terms of the contract, in terms of especially the client facing contract, if you do this, if you do that, have to pay up and you’re going to have to get out. I think that’s a really good piece of actionable advice that people can take away from this. But no, Billie, really appreciate your time. This has been Billie from the Uptake Agency and we will see you again soon!

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Rob Twells

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Rob is the Founder of an award winning digital agency (since forming a digital agency group The Digital Maze with Boom Online) specialising in SEO, PPC, CRO, digital strategy and web design. With over 10+ years in the marketing space, Rob has been involved with hundreds of marketing projects and campaigns with some of the best known brands.

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