More brands, big and small, are commemorating Black History Month with discounts, sales and promotions in February. But a recent survey found that one in five Black Americans think Black History Month promotions are offensive. surveyed 1,300 Black Americans and found that 20% don’t believe brands have good intentions for holding Black History Month promotions. When asked what they believe brands’ true motivations are for running these promos, 74% answered‘to make more money.’

Small business expert Dennis Consorte says, “There is a fine line between pandering and being communicative about an issue. Treat your audience with respect and realize that beyond physical diversity, there is diversity of thought. Your message isn’t going to resonate with everyone, so do your best to make it resonate with your target audience.

“Use empathic language that doesn’t make people feel like you’re treating them like children. Be transparent about the outcomes you want and recognize that other groups are consuming your content and promotions, too. With these ideas in mind, you want to shine a light on Black History without simultaneously making anyone feel less than or excluded.”

While many consumers treated Black History promotions with a dose of skepticism, overall, most respondents are supportive of these promotions. Sixty-six percent say they believe more brands should participate in the February promotions, and 85% say the promotions are at least somewhat likely to incentivize them to patronize a business. In fact, 93% believe Black History Month promotions are at least somewhat supportive of the Black community.

PPAI associate editor Kristina Valdez spoke with Consorte to learn more about how brands can best participate in Black History Month.

Valdez: What do Black Americans want to see from companies that run Black History Month promotions?

Consorte: No group is a monolith. The challenge is to recognize different trends and mindsets while also recognizing people as individuals. From my conversations with Black Americans who hold a variety of opinions, people tend to want to feel welcome, and they want to be treated with respect.

So, frame your Black History Month promotions in a way that feels inclusive without making people feel awkward. Also, recognize that people are at various stages of individual and societal awareness. So, don’t preach to people. Instead,meet them where they’re at and use celebratory language that welcomes your audience to engage your content.

Most importantly, try not to make people feel like you’re pandering. Conscious capitalism is wonderful, and you don’t need to obfuscate your profit motives. You can raise awareness and do good through voluntary exchanges of ideas and value.

The key is to show that you are authentic about the outcomes you want. Black History Month is a wonderful time to shine a light on the different experiences that Black Americans have had throughout history. As Morgan Freeman said, “Black History is American history.” So, don’t limit your promotions, engagement and content to a single month. Be inclusive year-round and your intentions will come across as more genuine.

What criteria should businesses meet before they run or create a promotion focused on Black people?

It’s good practice to get feedback from your target audience before releasing a promotion to the public. So, ask lots of questions. Also, don’t focus entirely on a single demographic or psychographic profile. Engage Black people across a variety of ages, genders, locations, and other attributes. Ask them how they feel about your promotion. And ask non-Black people how they feel, too.

Overall, most people are supportive of Black History promotions. How can we create empathetic and tasteful promotions all year-round?

Start a conversation with your team and talk about how you can work a more inclusive culture into your mission and core values without making people feel awkward. A good start is to take inventory of your content. You can use imagery and language that is representative of a broad range of people and voices, and you can be intentional about including Black people and their experiences in your content.

Reach out to prominent Black influencers and ask them to participate in your promotions, too. And give your customers a voice.Encourage them to engage with your content and provide an easy way for them to give feedback on your messaging. Nobody is perfect, and well-intentioned people are very forgiving and tolerant. When you get negative feedback, listen and understand it. Recognize that no single opinion is representative of an entire group. Then use empathy and make a decision on next steps based on your core values.