Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking values podcast.  In this episode, we have Bernie chatting with his friend Sonia. They are going to talk about how inclusivity impacts marketing and how it is the future of marketing. And how cultural intelligence/awareness contributes to the impact of a brand.  

Sonia Thompson is an inclusive marketing strategist and consultant who helps brands win customers by creating inclusive and amazing experiences that make them feel welcome.

Some points in the podcast:

  • And I suppose I became tired of not thinking about those who didn’t fit into the mainstream, quote, unquote. And then I became frustrated because I was trying to offer you my money, like, I’m ready to buy like I’m here.But they didn’t have anything that met my needs. Thus, I felt both annoyance and satisfaction knowing how dedicated I was to brands who made an effort to make folks with differences feel like they belonged. And given that nobody was really talking about it, today there may be a few more, but not many. But it’s important since inclusive marketing is the future of marketing. (3.02)
  • Sometimes people want to help but are unable to do so since they are not a part of the community. They don’t comprehend the culture or what is acceptable. So, even though they’re attempting to acknowledge or celebrate, it doesn’t always work?If you wish to appreciate, elevate, or otherwise honour a culture, you must comprehend its intricacies. Cultural intelligence is not optional. And it’s crucial when trying to connect with people who aren’t like you. To make people feel seen rather than like, “Wow, I can’t believe they just said that,” (13.03)
  • We can proactively like what you all are doing with the idea project, you can proactively start to try to understand and have empathy for people who are different from you and who have different plates, so that we can start to identify more proactively ways that we can better support them better and make them feel like they belong rather than having it to be something that happens only whenever it impacts us or someone we love. (15.44)

To connect with Sonia, and to join us on the Coworking events and projects – click on the links below.


Sonia Thompson 

Sonia on Twitter

Sonia on Instagram

Inclusive Brand Academy

February 2022 IDEA Challenge

Coworking IDEA Project

Plan Your 2022 Inclusive Marketing Calendar


Željko Crnjaković 0:03

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Bernie J Michelle 0:47

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking Values podcast. Europe’s only coworking values podcast, which makes it the best one and I’m really, really excited. Because on the line, I have my friend Sonia, who… I’m gonna let her do her. What are you known for Sonia? What would you like to be known for?

Sonia Thompson 1:06

Sure, inclusive marketing strategy

Bernie J Michelle 1:09

That was a module? Is that it? Is that what you’re known for?

Sonia Thompson 1:06

I think so, yes. Short and sweet.

Bernie J Michelle 1:09

That’s true, actually. So I met Sonia, I think it was in 2014, or 2015. And there’s a big website called Copyblogger. And there’s a membership area in it. And every time I go to an online space, I always Google or sorry, I don’t Google, I always look in the forum to see who else is from Buenos Aires, because that’s where my wife is from. So I just see who’s there. And the only person in the whole of Copyblogger in Buenos Aires was Sonia. And that’s, that’s where I discovered you and now… how… Could you say a little bit about how you developed into inclusive marketing? Because that is right… It wasn’t just something you woke up and did it, was it?

Sonia Thompson 2:03

Sure, so my career started in healthcare marketing, I worked in J&J  for nine years. And my background has always been marketing, whenever I left to start my own business, my focus was really on customer experience. I’ve written a book on customer delight. And I was just really focusing on helping brands deliver better experiences to the people that they serve, because that was going to be what I felt was a growth driver for them. Throughout working on building that business, I started to see that the things that people are finding most interesting, and for me to talk about, and to learn from me, and to hear my point of view, and perspective was around things related to inclusive marketing, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, more so from a marketing standpoint, rather than sort of DNI on a whole. And the way I started talking about that is because I’m a person with a lot of differences. I’m a black woman, I’m left handed, I follow a gluten free diet. Now I have an interracial intercultural marriage, my husband is Argentinian. He’s from Buenos Aires, we live in Florida now. So I have an immigrant husband, who doesn’t speak English yet. So that’s been fascinating. We have a mixed race, bilingual baby, Luna will be two in a couple of months. So not fitting into what has largely been considered mainstream is my life. And I think I just got to a point where I was tired of brands, not thinking about people who didn’t fit into what was considered to be, quote, unquote, the mainstream, not even considering them. And then just being not only frustrated by it, but there were times where I’m like, I’m trying to give you my money,  I’m ready to buy, I’m here. But I couldn’t do it because they didn’t have things that would suit my needs. So it was a combination of that frustration, but also feeling the delight in knowing how loyal I was to brands who went on the opposite end of that, and they took the time to make people with differences feel like they belong. And just knowing that that was something that nobody was really talking about. There might be a few more people now, but there’s still not very many. But it’s something that people are seeing as very important because inclusive marketing is the future of marketing.

Bernie J Michelle 4:45

Damn right, sister, something I’ve really picked up on you over the last maybe two years about… because I’m a hardcore marketer, and the whole inclusion the whole idea project content is really, really important to me for a lot of the same reasons as you just articulated. And I never knew quite how to match the two because, I was either like an activist or a marketer, and ground of merging the two. So actually it makes sense that I was… I still need all the help I can get Sonia so don’t you know…I’m hanging around for more. Okay, so you’re running this month’s idea project. And for those of you that don’t know what the idea project is, it is the monthly challenge that was the brainchild of Ashley Proctor, and a lot of us have dived in to help her do it, where we talk about inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. And many of you listening to this cannot afford to, or don’t have the time or  the headspace to hire a full time diversity and inclusion member of staff, but you need to do it a little bit often. So that’s what we’re doing. That’s how the idea project runs. And can you explain a bit about what your… What does this mean? Or what you want to get people to do this month, please?

Sonia Thompson 6:02

Sure. So this month’s project is all about planning your inclusive marketing calendar. So we’re in February, so there’s still plenty of year left. So could you go ahead and plan out your 2022, inclusive marking calendar. And if you’re ambitious, you can plan a few months into the following year as well. The idea is that there are certain events that happen every year. From an inclusivity standpoint, whether it’s something like Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day, Pride Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, International Women’s Day, depending upon whatever group you decide, or groups you decide that you want to serve, celebrating or acknowledging observances that are important to these communities. It’s not just related to racial or sexual orientation, sometimes it’s about religion, a lot of times, brands very much focus on whenever they’re acknowledging religion in some way, it tends to really only be Christian holidays. So people who aren’t Christian, feel left out. Right, and that’s not just about the customers that you serve, that also includes the people on your team. So how can you think about the people who are in your realm, your team and the customers that you serve. The ways in which they’re different? And what are the observances, the celebrations, the religious, things that are happening, that are important to them, that if you were to acknowledge in some way, would make them feel seen, respected, and like they feel like they belong. And the best way to do that is to plan for it in advance because these things are dates that we know. But the challenge is, like so many people, we come up to it with, “oh, my gosh, it’s February 1 is Black History Month, we got to plan, but we got to do something.” And then whatever you end up doing, if you do do something turns out to be not as good as it could be because it was put together in a rush. But what would happen if you were like, “okay, Ramadan is coming up in three months, what do we need to do to support our team? Are we going to do anything? How can we celebrate this were our customers to let them know that our Muslim customers know that we see them.” And just thinking about it from that way, it’s not about saying you have to celebrate everything, but just plan for one of the things that you want to take note of that you want to as a brand as an employer brand. Acknowledge and support your team and your customers.

Bernie J Michelle 8:46

What’s the one thing I think we have to be really careful of is… and I’ve definitely worked in places where we’ve done this is like you said, you realise 48 hours before there is a need? Or Yes, young people and you suddenly hash together a really bad offer. I think that does more brand damage. Can you say a bit about that?

Sonia Thompson 9:09

Yeah, because it makes it feel sloppy. People know when it’s kind of an afterthought. Think about it, comparing it to Valentine’s Day, which was just a couple of days ago and I saw this woman’s posts on Tik Tok. She’s like, I always give a bit of a side eye whenever I see the men in the grocery store on the day of Valentine’s Day picking up flowers, because she’s just like, “yeah, you’re making the effort, but it was last minute and it was rushed” and it felt for her very cliche. It’s the same type of thing. “Okay, yeah, we’re thankful that we ‘re celebrating or acknowledging something, but it feels rushed like you didn’t put much thought into it because you’re scrambling at the last minute. I will appreciate what you’ve done and feel like you’ve put more thought and effort to it. If you took the time to think about it, plan for it in advance so that you weren’t scrambling”, because a lot of times, it’s like whenever, if you’re on Facebook, whenever Facebook alerts you that it’s somebody’s birthday and you go in and say happy birthday, it doesn’t have the same meaning as if somebody who they call you, they text you, they sent you a gift in the mail, and they got it, but they’re on the day of your birthday, because they knew in advance that was coming up and they planned for it. Those things have a bigger impact because they know that you’re doing it because it’s coming from a genuine place, rather than something that feels like we have to do it because everybody’s going to be doing it and if we don’t do it, it’ll look bad. So it’s more about making people know that you are important to them. And how do you know that you’re important to them? You plan something in advance.

Bernie J Michelle 10:56

Yeah, that Facebook alert I always deliberately message people on WhatsApp so they know I actually really do want to wish them happy birthday. and go have a great that you can always do like an autoresponder like, have a great day, Sonia. I think I already asked… but can you talk about cultural intelligence? Or did we talk about that already?

Sonia Thompson 11:20

We didn’t, but that’s another important aspect of it. So you mentioned some religious holidays that pop up, if I am not part of a particular religion, but I want to celebrate it and acknowledge it. The easy thing for people to do sometimes is to just pull out some type of quote, or Happy Hanukkah, or whatever it is. But there are other times where people want to try and do something, but they do it just because they’re not a part of that community. They don’t have an understanding of what the culture is, what’s appropriate and what’s not. So even though they’re trying to celebrate or trying to acknowledge, it doesn’t always come off. Let me give you an example, that’s completely unrelated. A couple of years ago, when I was living in Buenos Aires I came home, and I went to a dance class, a group tango class, before I had gone to the tango class, I got my hair done, I had a braided updo. So I felt like I was looking cute. I went to the class and this man, who I had never met before, because what happens in group classes as you rotate partners to make sure that you really are learning the steps. So I got rotated to this gentleman who I had never seen before and never met before. And the first thing out of his mouth was, I like your weave. And I just kind of froze in my tracks. Like I mean, oh my gosh, I can’t believe he just said that. And he thought he was complimenting me, but it had the opposite impact of what he wanted. Because saying, I like your weave is inappropriate, because one, how do you even know that this is a weave and not my real hair. And too, even if it’s obviously not my hair, it’s just like saying to somebody, “Hey, I like your breast implants, or like your Botox, or like your wig”. Like it’s not something that’s really appropriate to say to anybody ever, right? So it felt like he was taking a very superficial understanding of what he thought my culture was. And it was trying to give me a compliment trying to celebrate it. But it backfired because he didn’t have the cultural intelligence to know that that was inappropriate, that was offensive, and that I wasn’t going to receive it the way that he might have been intending. The same thing happens whenever you don’t take the time to understand the nuances, the norms, what’s acceptable, what people want to hear, who are part of a particular culture, when you’re trying to celebrate them, elevate them, or otherwise, cultural intelligence is something that’s not optional. And it’s especially important whenever you’re trying to engage with people who are different from you. So that if you’re trying to celebrate them, you’re actually celebrating them, you’re actually making them feel seen rather than like, “what,  I can’t believe they said that” and not in a good way

Bernie J Michelle 14:26

There are a lot of cringy things that I’ve been around, a lot of them like… we’ve been doing the idea project for a year non stop. And there was lots of stuff before that, that this formed into and I am… I know ashamed has a bit of a negative connotation, but I think I’m amazed at how many things I didn’t notice. And I’ve had to have it pointed out to me by the range of people around here, and I think it’s like, no not think I know it is so worth putting the effort in. Because now The understanding and connection I have with people is way higher, because I’ve partly just taken an interest in people

 Sonia Thompson 15:06

And you’re right. And there’s no shame that’s necessarily that needs to be associated because we all do it right. So, when we had my daughter and I started walking around the streets with a stroller in Argentina, suddenly, I recognised how many streets aren’t accessible for people who are using strollers, who are using wheelchairs, and how some things just aren’t designed properly. Before, that wasn’t my world, I didn’t hang out with people who were in wheelchairs, or were pushing around strollers. So it was something that I never thought about, I was privileged in that way. But now, my life circumstances changed, it has become something that I started to pick up and notice. And anytime I was around other people who were with me pushing the stroller, they started to be able to notice it, it wasn’t something that was ever evident to them. Unless that was something that they’re pretty much in tune to. But it just so happens if it’s not a part of your world, or somebody who is close to you,  who you are interacting with, you’re not going to, it’s not going to be something that you often think about or may not be aware of. But that doesn’t mean that we have to just wait for it to to be connected to somebody or have you know, a certain issue happen to us, we can proactively like what you all are doing with the idea project, you can proactively start to try to understand and have empathy for people who are different from you and who have different points, so that we can start to identify more proactively, ways that we can better support them better make them feel like they belong, rather than having it to be something that happens only whenever it impacts us or someone we love.

Bernie J Michelle 16:57

Definitely, I’ve had that same stroller experience with a four by four, buggy thing. It’s amazing how many potholes and unrepaired pavements in the Belgrano area, in Buenos Aires. So the other thing I want to add in here, just before we get to the the actual challenge, and where to find that is, folks, is that something we can keep on saying if you can’t, don’t feel you need to like solve every world problem with your marketing calendar and everything like don’t doing one of the one of the key messages that coaches from urban MBA tours, just after George Floyd’s murder, when we will go, what can we do? He goes, you can get online and you can tweet forever, and like stuff, but that won’t really do anything. Doing a little bit every day is what’s going to do that. And as a group I mean, there’s lots of people that take part in this, but there’s a little group in the London co working assembly, and that’s kind of our thing. And actually, that’s what it was, is it appropriate to call it compound interest? Oh, that seems to be one other thing as culturally inappropriate. Did that land as the right analogy?

 Sonia Thompson 18:14

I think it is fine. I mean, I understand what you mean, I don’t feel put off by it.

Bernie J Michelle 18:20

Let’s just talk through the PDF here. So we’re going to put a link in the show notes to the idea challenge page. And we’ll actually just put a link directly to the PDF here, which is… Can you talk us through this like the state number one choose? Choose what to celebrate? I think we covered that, but you want to touch on that a little bit.

 Sonia Thompson 18:38

Yeah, so first off once you choose which celebration observances you’re going to be acknowledging as your brand. The next part is as we were alluding to, is cultural intelligence. Find out the how aspect. So how is a way that you can celebrate something, in a way that actually makes people feel seen, and know that you put some effort into it. So for instance, if you are for Pride Month, and you decide that you want to celebrate Pride Month, just putting up a rainbow flag isn’t… It feels lazy and superficial. It doesn’t feel like you’ve actually done enough effort to understand what would be meaningful and helpful to the LGBTQ plus community. So take the time to understand from their perspective, what it is that they most need to see and feel from you. The next part is to start early in the planning. So don’t wait till the day before the day of or even three days before it. That’s the whole point of going through this challenge is identifying what you’re going to celebrate and then giving yourself and your team sufficient time to plan for whatever type of celebration or observance you’re going to do for your brand. And then the last thing to remember is to cocreate wherever possible for people who are coworkers. This should be something that comes natural to you, wherever possible, partner with people who are part of the communities that you want to serve and celebrate. If you’re creating a product, it’s great to work with people to have them create it on your behalf. If you are putting together a series or social media content, or figure out how can you involve people who are part of the community, not only will that help you from the cultural intelligence standpoint, but it also gives opportunity to elevate the voices of people who are often part of underrepresented and underserved communities. And it just helps you just get the whole thing right, and it gives you a deeper degree of intimacy in the process.

Bernie J Michelle 18:20

We were gonna put a link to that PDF in the show notes. And it’s also on the idea Challenge website, there’s a big red button on the page, that is Sonia’s challenge. And in the PDF, there is a link to click that goes through a whole calendar to explain… Do you want to explain about the calendar because you created it then. 

 Sonia Thompson 21:14

Sure, it’s an inclusive 2022 inclusive marketing calendar. So the idea is to make one every year and then to just keep adding to it. Right now, it’s very US focused. But if there are a number of things that are universal on there, and if you have suggestions for other things that I missed, that aren’t there, definitely let me know. However, not only is it a calendar of a ton of different inclusive marketing events that your brand could choose to celebrate. But I didn’t want to take for granted that anybody just knows what some of these events and observances are. So the next step is just explaining, “alright, what is equal pay day? What is Diwali? What is Hispanic Heritage Month?” and just explaining what those things are, what the purpose of it is, and the celebration, and giving you that context, in addition to the dates. In the future, I want to update it to make sure that I can even provide examples of some campaigns and celebrations that were done really well, in that regard to help people get an idea and some inspiration.

Bernie J Michelle 22:25

Excellent. And the last bit is on Friday, no sorry, Wednesday, I don’t know why I said Friday, on Wednesday, the 23rd at 5pm. UK time, which will be 6pm. Central European Time. Sonia is going to be here for the… every month we do like… we start with a challenge, which we’ll see on the website. And then we do a kind of q&a Roundtable presentation that Sonia will be hosting on Wednesday, the 23rd to wrap up this month. And then where can we find you online, Sonia?

 Sonia Thompson 23:00

You can find me on my website. It’s inclusivemarketing.co Or you can find me on social media generally, it’s @Soniaethompson, or Sonia E. Thompson. Excuse me, that’s my handle on Instagram. On LinkedIn, it’s my name, Twitter it is Sonia E Thompson.

Bernie J Michelle 23:19

Can you say a little bit about the membership you have about coaching and that type of stuff. Because I think it is a really important thing, I don’t normally do plugs, but I definitely want to plug this one.

 Sonia Thompson 23:29

Sure well, thank you. I’ve recently revised it and am relaunching it again in the spring. It’s an inclusive brand Academy. It’s a group coaching program, where I give you a five part framework, my five C framework on how to build an inclusive brand. Because inclusive brands are made from the inside out. So giving you all the things that you need to do step by step, and how those things are linked together. But also, it’s group coaching, because we know that it’s not just about taking a training and saying, off you go, when it comes to the nuances of inclusion, of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and all these things, making sure that you’re doing it in an authentic way I find that people are very nervous about messing up. So giving them the opportunity to learn in a safe space, to ask questions, to get feedback is something that people have really found valuable. So combined with the curriculum, the five C framework, are these coaching calls where people can get feedback, so they know or have a lot more confidence in what it is that they’re putting out, and the changes that they’re making to build an inclusive brand.

Bernie J Michelle 24:43

That’s nice, that’s really valuable. I have a little group of people around me where I can say “is it alright to say this. I’m much more coherent in the world nowadays. It is terrifying, “is this an okay thing to say?” Because you don’t want to be the guy at the tango thing. Actually, in that story, I thought I was gonna go several different ways. “Can I touch your hair?” kind of thing. So thank you, very much for your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to do the idea project. I’m really looking forward to the call, and hopefully we’ll be having it somewhere soon. Thank you very much for listening, folks, if you go to coworkeringassembly.eu And there’s one of those amazingly slick little pop ups that come up that are annoying, but highly effective, and you can join at least 300 people in the coworking Europe community, and we give you updates about the events that are going on with all the projects surrounded and connected to the cowork, European coworking assembly, also this podcast and also our weekly blogs. And you can always hit reply to that email and we’ll come to me, Jack’s or Jeannine, and tell us what you like. Thanks very much and be careful out there, it is a jungle.

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