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The Pitfalls of Inequitable Community Building: A Tarte Cosmetics Case Study

May 23, 2023

When it comes to the efforts employed in growth and marketing, successful brands often hinge on robust community-building strategies. However, when mishandled or approached without sensitivity, these strategies can become a breeding ground for controversy. A prime example of this is the recent Tarte Cosmetics incident, which demonstrated the potential pitfalls of community-building efforts when diversity and inclusivity are not prioritized.

Tarte cosmetics
Tarte Cosmetics

The Tarte Saga: A Comprehensive Analysis

Tarte Cosmetics, for several years, has been fostering relationships with influencers and creators via their #TrippinWithTarte initiative, offering all-expenses-paid trips to exotic destinations. Unfortunately, this seemingly beneficial program has recently been under scrutiny due to allegations of racial bias and uneven treatment.

This controversy came to a head when beauty influencer Bria Jones disclosed her less-than-stellar experience during a press trip to the Formula 1 race in Miami. Jones claimed that Tarte treated her differently - she was scheduled to depart Miami prior to the main event, while other influencers, primarily non-POC with larger followings, received invites to stay for the entire event. This revelation initiated a broader discussion on TikTok, with creators calling out Tarte's apparent lack of inclusivity and preferential treatment.

Tarte's initial response, led by founder Maureen Kelly, seemed to minimize the allegations instead of directly addressing them. This approach was met with further criticism, leading many to accuse Tarte of 'gaslighting' and brushing off serious concerns raised by its community. It wasn't until Tarte's CEO released a subsequent statement acknowledging the brand's shortcomings and promising improvement that the situation began to shift. However, by this point, the brand's reputation had significantly suffered.

The Tarte incident, while unfortunate, serves as a stark reminder of the delicate nature of community engagement. A brand's success leans heavily on the trust and goodwill of its community, and missteps in this area can quickly erode that foundation. The backlash was swift and widespread, with numerous TikTok creators voicing their disappointment and frustration over Tarte's perceived lack of respect and inclusivity. This incident not only strained Tarte's relationship with its community but also initiated an essential conversation about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the beauty industry.

Unpacking Tarte's Community Building Missteps

  1. Delayed and Insincere Acknowledgment of Mistakes: The Tarte incident emphasizes the importance of promptly and sincerely acknowledging mistakes. Tarte's initial attempt to justify the brand's actions only exacerbated the controversy. It is worth noting that this is not the first time Tarte Cosmetics has faced criticism regarding diversity and inclusivity. The brand's previous promises to address such concerns in 2020 went unfulfilled, further amplifying the community's concerns. Given this context, a candid admission of error, coupled with concrete plans for rectification, would have likely been more effective in rebuilding trust and loyalty.
  2. Overlooking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI): The controversy highlighted the crucial role of DEI in community building. Tarte's #TrippinWithTarte events drew criticism for their lack of diverse representation, which led to accusations of racial bias. Brands must proactively integrate DEI principles into all aspects of their operations, including community-building initiatives. In an encouraging development, the brand is now taking steps to address these concerns. The brand is currently in the process of hiring a Director of DEI, indicating its commitment to tackling these issues head-on.
  3. Disregarding Community Feedback: One glaring issue was Tarte's apparent failure to heed community feedback. The brand seemed disconnected from its community's sentiments, leading to a feeling of disillusionment and mistrust. Brands must not only actively engage with their community but also seek out feedback and use it to inform their strategies.
  4. Promoting a Divisive Atmosphere: The Tarte incident also brought to light the detrimental effects of favoritism within a community. When community members perceive some individuals as receiving preferential treatment, it can create division and resentment. Brands should strive to treat all community members equally, fostering a sense of unity and mutual respect.

Leveraging the Right Tools for Community Building: A Look at Norby

In light of the lessons learned from the Tarte incident, it's important to emphasize the role of strategic tools in fostering effective and inclusive community engagement. Platforms like Norby are designed to support creators in building and nurturing their communities directly and effectively.

Norby empowers creators by centralizing their community-building efforts, offering a suite of tools that promote engagement and understanding. Our comprehensive platform enables creators to bring together like-minded individuals, providing a space for open dialogue and feedback collection. Such an environment allows all community members to feel heard and valued, potentially mitigating incidents like the one Tarte experienced.

Norby's tools like personalized landing pages and sign-up opt-ins serve as conduits for effective communication and engagement. By using landing pages that reflect the brand's personality and ethos, creators can guide their community members towards specific goals, while also promoting their offerings in a way that resonates with their community. Moreover, sign-up opt-ins allow creators to gather first-party data, which helps in understanding their community's interests and needs on a deeper level.

In essence, while learning from missteps is crucial, leveraging the right tools like Norby can help brands build, maintain, and grow their communities more effectively and inclusively.

The Value of Learning and Growing from Missteps

The Tarte incident serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of community building done right, emphasizing the need for brands to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion while fostering environments where all community members feel heard, respected, and included. Mistakes are inevitable, but how brands respond and grow from these missteps truly matters. The strength of a brand is not marked by the absence of errors but by its capacity to sincerely acknowledge them, actively seek community feedback, and make a firm commitment to improvement.

The strategic use of tools like Norby can significantly enhance a brand's community-building initiatives. Norby empowers brands to understand the interests and needs of their community more deeply, which is instrumental in facilitating the creation of an inclusive and supportive environment. The ultimate goal goes beyond merely building a community—it is to nurture a thriving network that is deeply rooted in mutual respect, inclusivity, and shared growth.

By learning from the Tarte saga and leveraging the right tools like Norby, brands can navigate the complexities of community building with greater ease and effectiveness. This approach allows them to turn missteps into opportunities for evolution and growth, paving the way for a more inclusive and community-oriented brand.

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