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Sparq Worldwide execs on Black leadership as the way to win in e-commerce

Sparq Worldwide

For the CEO and chief strategist of Portland-based e-commerce and digital transformation firm, Sparq Worldwide, it’s clear that in order for companies to be competitive in today’s retail and direct-to consumer market, they need to allow people of color to lead e-commerce initiatives.

With energy rising around the Black Lives Matter movement, Dedrick Boyd and Chris Campbell assert that Portland is poised to become a leader in changing the culture of e-commerce.

Sparq Worldwide helps organizations with their digital commerce platforms by focusing not only on the technical aspects but also on the key components of culture and data. Boyd, who is CEO, noticed that every time he worked with a larger client on e-commerce development, the common issues often weren’t technical, but instead challenges around strategy, internal culture, and a general understanding of “how to be digital.”

Campbell, global strategist for Sparq, explains that in order for digital transformation to be successful, an organization has to have the right mindset and strategy.

“Most people try to use tech to transform a company,” said Campbell. “Tech doesn’t transform a company, people do.”

With that concept in mind, Boyd and Campbell see an important opportunity for companies in Portland — which is making international headlines for residents’ protests of police brutality and support of Black Lives Matter — to transform their cultures, empower Black employees, and become more successful in doing so.

“Simply put, you can’t reach your target market if you don’t understand it,” Boyd said. “So, when trying to reach Black and brown people, why have people in charge who don’t actually understand Black and brown people? People of color should be involved in the decision-making process, so your brand doesn’t make a costly mistake and alienate your target market.”

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Black buying power was $1.4 trillion in 2019. Companies without Black employees in leadership risk making terrible brand decisions when marketing to the Black community.

“When you look at an organization’s e-commerce and marketing departments if there isn’t alignment between the organization, the messaging, and the people you’re selling to, you’re going to fail,” Boyd said. Additionally, by not creating an inclusive ecosystem, brands risk losing market share as people of color who “don’t feel like they’re part of the ecosystem” increasingly turn to private labeling.

As an example of how Black leadership can positively influence a brand, Boyd and Campbell cite the success of luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton since it brought on African-American Virgil Abloh as its Men’s Artistic Director in 2018. The company saw a 16% increase in revenue during the first quarter with Abloh at the creative helm.

“I want the retail space to be inclusive because I think it will be better if it’s inclusive,” Boyd said. “With Virgil, you took old money society and paired it with a Black influencer. Now, look at how amazing they’re doing together, how they’re bringing together various cultures. That’s what I want to see. I don’t want someone who doesn’t understand the culture trying to pitch what they think someone wants.”

So how do Boyd and Campbell recommend local companies build relationships with the Black community and work to change the face of their brands?

Boyd and Campbell stress that CEOs should be seeking out Black-owned vendors as a way to develop their talent pipelines down the road.

“We’ll be your vehicle for bringing in Black entrepreneurs,” said Campbell. “We already have that network. If you work with a Black vendor to deliver a certain project, that vendor will bring in resources to deliver it, and those may end up being people that you want to hire full time.”

Campbell puts the onus of structuring inclusive policies on CEOs and emphasizes the importance of having Black leaders on the boards of companies as a way to share power within the organization.

“This should be very intentional,” he said. “It should be around activism and helping that company achieve results.”

Finally, Campbell advocates for creating departments that are specifically focused on cultivating the uniqueness of Black culture and ensuring that the richness of Black culture is included in a company’s DNA. By intentionally weaving “Black American talent into the fabric of American society,” Campbell believes that businesses will be more competitive.

“Portland is really out there fighting for what’s right in the world,” says Campbell. “If we can take that energy into corporations, Portland would be the leader in the world for attracting diverse talent and we can potentially see a migration of Black entrepreneurs and talent into the city.”


This is part of a regular guest column written by the Technology Association of Oregon in the Portland Business Journal.

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