Brands and marketers often talk about the value of inclusive marketing, but we usually do so through the lens of where diversity is missing. In fact, it’s pretty rare for us to see the power of inclusive marketing in positive examples.

That’s not the case, though, with a photo taken earlier this year by a mother in the middle of a Target run with her two-year-old son:

Gives you chills, no?

With most conversations around inclusive marketing focusing on what’s lacking—or showing staged attempts at it—this photo stands out. It’s something you normally don’t see. And when you see something you don’t normally see, it inverts the conversation in a powerful way.

It’s such a powerful picture, we’ll go so far as to call it the photo of the year in retail. And there are a few reasons why:

  • A customer took it
  • It spread organically via social
  • Target didn’t try to capitalize on the buzz

In other words, this photo is noteworthy as much for the story of the photo as it is the story of what happened with the photo: A photo taken on a cell phone got posted to Facebook, shared 35,000 times, picked up in the press, and featured on TV… And everyone loved it.

Perhaps all this seems inevitable now, as social strategies have shifted amidst COVID-19 and brands are taking active roles in social justice initiatives, but remember: This photo is from February, when Demi Garza-Pena snapped the photo during a routine Target run and posted it to a Facebook group.

It is, then, worth reflecting on those above bullets through a lens of inclusive marketing, but also brand building. Let’s try.

A customer took it

It’s not just the moment that was captured that makes this photo of Oliver special. It’s also who took the photo, how it was distributed, and what it accomplished.

This is, when you step back from it, a perfect example of user-generated content. It’s authentic, its rise was completely organic, and it has emotion that feels real. “Photo of the year” is usually a plaudit reserved for professionals and photojournalists, but this photo was taken by a mom with a cell phone to capture the power of inclusive marketing.

What does this show us? Exactly what data tells us: Diversity in marketing matters. In fact, 61% of Americans say it’s important, and 38% of consumers say they’re more likely to trust brands that demonstrate inclusivity in their merchandising and marketing.

Representation can build brand loyalty just as easily as a lack of representation can result in more than just bad PR. In a 2019 study, Adobe found that 34% of respondents have ceased to use a brand because it didn’t represent their identity in advertising. Narrowing it down further, more than half of LGBTQ+, African American, and Gen Z respondents have boycotted brands because of a lack of representation.

This kind of inclusive, uplifting content is exactly what consumers want—and precisely the kind of content they want to consume and share.

It spread organically (and Target didn’t try to capitalize on it)

This photo of Oliver propelled Target into positive conversations about branding and diversity across the country and led to countless national headlines.

What did Target do to help promote the story? Nothing. The brand didn’t need to—it had already done its part.

All Target did was think about its customer and create merchandising displays with some really inclusive principles. Its PR team didn’t issue a press release or push this story in the news. It didn’t comment. It didn’t tweet about it. It didn’t post on Instagram. They didn’t comment on the photo on Facebook.

Basically, Target sat this one out and got an incredible amount of goodwill and press out of it. In the process, its brand perception received quite the boon. And this is exactly how any brand that truly champions diversity should respond. Because trying to capitalize on the moment? That would have been exploitation—not representation.

Plus, consumers can tell when a brand’s inclusivity efforts are authentic and when they’re trying to simply check a diversity box.

What Can Marketers Learn from This Photo?

The obvious takeaway from this photo of Oliver Garza-Pena—and from recent events around the Black Lives Matter movement—is that representation matters to consumers.

But there’s a much larger lesson here for marketers: the brands that simply do the right thing and make connections with their customers are the brands that will succeed.

Consumers support the companies they love with their dollars, their social follows, their recommendations, and their loyalty. So the brands that take a stand and take action are the ones that customers will want to talk about for all the right reasons.

And the data supports this: Gen Z shoppers are 1.5 times more likely to refer a brand on social media after learning about its values, and 68% of Gen Zers expect brands to contribute to society. Meanwhile, 70% of millennials say retailers’ inclusion and diversity practices play a significant role in purchasing decisions.

Even still, stepping back from all the data, this photo is a great reminder of how impactful it can be to include your customers—all of them—in your marketing channels.