May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In 2021, it comes at a fraught time in the U.S. as attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, particularly elders and women, have soared.
Brands have taken public stands by donating to causes or issuing “We Stand With” statements. But, as with Black History Month and Women’s History Month, brands can do more to demonstrate solidarity with their customers.
Brands should leverage the intimacy of the inbox to begin recasting their messaging for authenticity and empathy. Email is an excellent starting point for a wider corporate effort to become more inclusive and deliver those messages to a valuable audience: their subscribers.
Leverage Email for Brand Activity
Attacks and discrimination against AAPI communities have risen exponentially during the pandemic, which some politicians and media commentators used to scapegoat Asian Americans.
Stop Asian Hate recorded 3,795 “hate incidents”—from verbal assaults and discrimination to physical attacks—from March 2020 through February 2021. This number doesn’t include the March murders at several Atlanta-area spas, where six of those killed were Chinese and Korean women.
These brand statements are often posted on social media, but brands can use email as a powerful channel to increase AAPI representation in day-to-day brand messages.
The inbox is a brand’s direct connection to its audience. It’s also the natural conduit to share how the brand is actively bringing about cultural changes to reduce fear, prejudice and racism.
4 Steps for Inclusive Messaging
Now that we’ve established email as the correct conduit for your brand’s intentional messaging, it’s time to learn how to integrate the channel into your workflow. Follow the next steps to integrate inclusive messaging, and ensure your brand lands well with your customers (right at the top of their inbox).
1. Change begins with representation.
Don’t wait for systematic progress to change your companies’ culture! Challenging the status quo can start with your next email campaign.
Who’s in your email images? Do you use a diverse range of people in your messaging all year long? Or do you include them only at Diwali or Lunar New Year?
2. Quality control your calendar.
Take your mindset of active accountability and allyship to your marketing calendar and ensure the days that your brand is celebrating are inclusive, not exclusive. There are some holidays, like Independence Day (July 4) , that celebrates the freedom of most Americans, but not all Americans.
You don’t have to fully remove these instances from your marketing and editorial calendar, but take the time to ensure your campaigns recognize, support and celebrate all audiences to respect the experiences of marginalized communities.
3. Understand the different communities within the AAPI designation.
The latest edition of the AP Stylebook, which is the standard reference work for copy editors, journalists and writers of all kinds, has been updated to include this recommendation among others: “Avoid using Asian as shorthand for Asian American when possible.”
“Asia” and “Pacific Islands” include people who are natives or claim heritage in five to six wide regions. Beyond China, Japan and Korea (East Asia), they can also include India and Pakistan (South Asian), the Philippines, Guam and Samoa (Hawaii and the Pacific islands), Vietnam and Thailand (Southeast Asia) and Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan (Central Asia). (See this explainer for the complete list.)
Members of AAPI communities do not think and act like a solid bloc. A 2020 survey by AAPI Data found striking differences in political preferences and concerns among Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and other communities.
4. Collaborate with your communities.
The best way to eliminate stereotyping and misrepresentation in your messages is to have a diverse leadership and marketing team with members of underrepresented communities involved in creating or vetting your messaging.
If diverse teams are not your reality yet, ask for help and guidance from advocacy groups within your company and beyond it. These can help you make sure you are putting out the right message—at the right time. They also can help avoid sending out messages that can be misconstrued or offend, however inadvertently.
Returning to the Lunar New Year example: This holiday, once referred to mainly as Chinese New Year, is celebrated throughout countries in and beyond Southeast Asia under various names. Focusing solely on the Chinese experience can negate the holiday experience for Korean, Indonesian or Thai customers. Including other cultural references can make your messages more meaningful.
5 Email Examples
1. Glow Recipe
Glow Recipe’s email is a blueprint for engaging customers in working against anti-Asian racism, and not just because it is a personal matter for the co-owners. In picturing its Clubhouse discussion leaders, the brand illustrates the diverse backgrounds and concerns of Asian Americans.
Goldune’s email, sent on May 1, demonstrates how a brand can navigate a potentially tricky area as it rethinks its messaging around social and cultural issues. The email combines recognition and resources with an editor’s note that explains why Goldune is not going the usual route of promoting items by AAPI makers.
Instead of just focusing on the food to promote AAPI-owned restaurants, Grubhub’s email turns the spotlight on the makers. This email features photos and quotes from two women restaurateurs, doubling the visibility at a time when AAPI women are more likely to sustain racial attacks.
Casetify’s email, sent after the Atlanta spa shootings, departs from much of the usual brand messaging by promoting its alliance with Stop AAPI Hate. The email contains a sales promotion but notes the company would donate proceeds to the cause.
5. Our Place
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent a wide range of countries. Cookware manufacturer Our Place highlights Laotian cooking in its email, and the brand regularly features cooks from Black, indigenous and other communities of people of color.
Dear Brands: Allyship Matters More Than Ever
We all have a role to play when it comes to acknowledging injustice, elevating voices and driving for change. Brands and businesses can take action as an ally and support the AAPI community by baking diversity and inclusion in their culture.
Here are some more ways to show up as an ally:
1. Proactively learn about discrimination and challenges than AAPIs continue to face.
Read about the struggles of AAPI communities, like why they continue to be minimized. Learn also about the relationship the AAPI community has with the United States.
- How the Model Minority Myth continues to perpetuate the conversation around AAPI, despite rising inequities within the community
- Asia Society On Racism
- Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
2. Take action to increase workplace diversity.
Having a diversity of backgrounds at all levels of the company leads to enhanced innovation and creativity, better and more holistic decision-making and problem-solving, and ultimately a stronger and more well-rounded team.
At Iterable, we commit to increasing the number of women and underrepresented genders and underrepresented minorities in people manager and individual contributor roles at Iterable to 50% and 20%, respectively, by the end of the year (2021).
3. Build an inclusive culture at work.
Creating a culture of inclusivity empowers your workforce. Affinity Groups, which are employee-created and managed groups of people sharing a common purpose, community or interest, build safe and creative spaces for employees at Iterable.
In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, our Asian and Pacific Islander Affinity Group will be hosting events, sharing resources, and creating additional opportunities for educated discussions.
4. Support your local communities.
Giving back—in time and financial support—is a great way to support a cause. To help AAPI communities build strength and resilience, find ways to support them. Here are just a few resources to get started:
- AAPI Community Fund
- Asian Pacific Fund COVID-19 Recovery Fund
- Asian Mental Health Collective
- National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
Standing up for AAPI communities is not a marketing moment. It’s about doing the right thing. And you shouldn’t wait to speak up! Start now to encourage story sharing and community evolution. Spark conversations with your marketing to enable those authentic stories and movements to emerge.