<img height="1" width="1" alt="" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?ev=6026852841840&amp;cd[value]=0.00&amp;cd[currency]=USD&amp;noscript=1">
Skip to content

How brands can create content that respects the needs and wants of Native American communities

How brands can create content that respects the needs and wants of Native American communities

For many states across the country, November marks the start of colder temperatures and the holiday season. It also marks the beginning of Native American Heritage Month.

We’ve taken the past month to speak with Native American consumers and leaders about their feelings on modern-day marketing and how brands can create content that respects the needs and wants of Native communities. Here’s what they had to say. 

Marketers have a huge responsibility to their audience and the general public 

Much of the discourse that comes with the representation of minority communities in the media is around whether or not the content being displayed is both accurate and respectful. It’s not enough to simply create a campaign and highlight a few recognizable characteristics around the culture being discussed — actual research must take place to avoid any misinformation from being spread.

“Part of whether a consumer, myself included, even understands if something is respectful or disrespectful is the consumer’s own depth of knowledge about what’s being depicted or represented, which is why it’s a bit of a danger for a company to weigh into the area of depicting the culture of a distinct people as a way to market,” said Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Chief of the Cherokee Nation. “The company may not have much of a depth of knowledge [about what they’re discussing] and the consumers on average may have even less, but yet that [campaign] may inform their depth of knowledge of Hispanic culture or that of African-American communities or, in the case that I’m most concerned about, Native peoples.”

You must go into the community understanding that you may very well be the brand that is shaping the way consumers perceive your other customers and their culture.

“Even here in Oklahoma where there's a good population of Native communities and tribes there’s still people here who have no clue about how to adjust or address a product towards our community,” said Adam Proctor, Founder of Native Oklahoma Magazine, a monthly publication circulated throughout Oklahoma geared towards the Native American community. “All we’re asking for is for brands to be respectful and mindful.”

In other words, a marketing campaign isn’t simply a collection of written and recorded content to push your business forward. It can have long-lasting effects on how consumers of different backgrounds are viewed by others or how they view themselves. 

“People should understand that for Native peoples, often the purging of our culture, the suppression of our culture, left a void that many young Natives want to fill and they look to places to fill it, but what they see around them in terms of Native imagery fills the void in a very inauthentic way, in a way that does more harm than good,” said Chief Hoskin.

Hoskin isn’t alone in his thoughts — Proctor also talked to us about marketing that feels inauthentic. 

“In my early years I was always glad to see some type of product, whether it was national or regional, to be proud of and know that marketers are catering to that, but now I’m starting to see the intent behind those and once I realized that it’s not really in the favor of that ethnic race or community and it turns me off because the intent is not genuine or respectful,” said Proctor. “The product may look like it’s great, but once you realize the people behind it don’t have your best interests at heart, it turns you off. Yeah you want to give us something and that’s great, but you’re not reinvesting that dollar that you make off of us back into the community and that’s where we have an issue.”

Fortunately, Hoskin says Native communities have made great strides in developing outside resources that can serve as primary or secondary sources for anyone looking to learn more about Native American history.

“I think Native peoples in general and the Cherokee nation in particular have done a much better job of filling that void with our own depictions of our own culture and resources for our citizens to understand their own culture and for the larger public to understand their culture,” said Chief Hoskin. “If I do see depictions of Native culture in marketing I want to increasingly see it in a way that is responsible and accurate.”

Some consumers won’t jump to accept your campaigns with open arms

While it would certainly be nice if every marketing campaign was well-received by consumers, we know that isn’t always the case. This can be even more apparent in campaigns that focus on topics like personal identity.

If your campaigns haven’t come across as genuine or informative to consumers before, it might be difficult getting them to believe in the validity of your campaigns going forward.

Knowing just how much is riding on the accuracy of marketing campaigns and having witnessed less-than-stellar campaigns in the past, Hoskin says he’s apprehensive about brands attempting to showcase Native culture in their marketing. 

“When I see Native tribes depicted in popular culture, particularly consumer culture, I am a bit guarded as to whether I think this is a good thing or not. I think I’m almost predisposed at this point to assume that maybe the company has got it wrong, if they tried at all,” said Chief Hoskin. “I think, number one it’s a bit of a paralysis area for a company to go into in terms of depicting a culture, but if it’s well-informed and it’s done in a way that’s respectful then it’s possible to do it in a way that’s beneficial to consumers.” 

Ways to honor Native cultures in a genuine and respectful manner

Despite the challenges that will come with honoring a community and pleasing your consumers, it is possible to create marketing content that your audience will be happy with. Here are some of the suggestions provided by Hoskin and Proctor.

1. Know your audience

Before any major steps are taken to introduce your product into the market or represent a community through your offerings, you must have a clear understanding of the consumers you’re trying to market to.

“Say you are coming to Oklahoma with a product and you want to cater to the Native communities here, what I see most companies do is hire someone from this area because that person typically knows the community and knows how to brand the product to that community. If they don’t know someone [from the area] they’ll try to market the product on their own, but they miss the point of the culture and only have an understanding of what their product can do,” said Proctor.

It’s important to note that not every customer reacts to products in the same way as another customer in their community. Keeping this in mind will save you a lot of time and headache in the future.

“Some Native communities take product marketing as something to take pride in, others find it offensive so you have to be mindful of where you’re going with your product," said Proctor. "Your product might cater to one region because the Native communities there might love it, but if you take it to another area you might have the opposite effect. We might all be Native, but you’re still going to have to be aware of what tweaks you’ll have to make to address each area properly.”

2. Reach out with the intent to help 

Both Proctor and Chief Hoskins talked about the importance of reaching out with the intent to help. And helping a community is much more than attaching that community's likeness to your product. Instead, real assistance looks like true community service.

“If a company wanted to seek out places across Indian tribes and organizations that are doing something to benefit the community whether it’s language preservation, whether it’s helping elders in communities, whether it’s civic engagement…if a company looked at those efforts and said ‘rather than name our product that of a tribe or reference something in marketing as ‘savage’ or show some ridiculous Native imagery of people in a headdress, maybe we just sponsor those efforts' — and that’s just old-fashioned marketing where Company X is associated with some civic forum on Native youth engagement — it simply says that as a company we think this is a valuable part of society and we’re going to contribute to this effort,” said Chief Hoskin. “That’s the sort of basic fundamental type of marketing that would be okay.”

Again, it comes back to your brand's intentions. Having good intentions behind your marketing practices will keep you from looking ill-intentioned in the eyes of consumers.

“I think if [a brand campaign] is overtly about marketing and then after the fact cloaked in some expression or explanation that it was really about honoring Native peoples that strikes me as phony, as it is, because it was never from the get-go about honoring Native cultures — it was about profiting off of Native cultures,” said Chief Hoskin, who says approaching your marketing campaigns with the intention of honoring communities is the first step in creating content that resonates well with your audience. “Companies that make an effort to engage substantively with peoples, cultures and tribal nations, that’s a great way to start.” 

Before you even get into marketing something that might be associated with Native Americans, Hoskins suggests asking yourself the following question: Has your brand engaged substantively in helping Native communities? 

“You can look at some of the tech communities where they’ve engaged with us on helping save our language. They did not do that with a primary mission of marketing themselves as a Native-supporting company, but they did the real substantive work. If these companies came out tomorrow talking about the work they did on saving the Cherokee language, it may well endure to their bottom line, it may well be something that helps them from a marketing standpoint, but it was born of something that was of real substance,” said Chief Hoskin.

3. Do your homework

Implementing diversity and inclusion practices into your marketing strategies is no small task. Honoring a community with years of history and traditions is an even greater challenge. Doing ample research is critical.

“My recommendation to a company is that if you’re going to, at all, weigh into an area of celebrating a culture of a people, do the homework first and then engage substantively with the people you want to celebrate and on something that’s important to their community before you even get into the larger idea of marketing that touches upon any of those subjects,” said Chief Hoskin.

Proctor seconds the notion.

“If you’re going to try and sell a product to the [Native American] community then at least be respectful, know the market that you’re going into and be mindful of the culture of what you’re presenting in that commercial,” said Proctor.

The information discussed in this blog isn’t meant to be discussed in Native American Heritage Month alone. Truly contributing to the communities you aim to serve must occur all year round if you’re genuinely interested in being of service to the people who make up your customer base. Listen to their needs and respect their wants. You’ll be surprised at how far it’ll get you.


Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.