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Guide To LGBTQ Brand Marketing

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Guide To LGBTQ Brand Marketing

Here on Branding Strategy Insider, we’ve discussed the value of demographics in brand strategy many times. For instance, in Mark Ritson’s article “The Everlasting Value of Demographics,” he states, “… using demographics as part of a broader approach to behavioral segmentation and targeting remains a valuable activity for many marketers and brands.” And in “Brand Growth and Changing Demographics,” Walker Smith compared Millennials to retirees and observed the surprising value of the “silver economy” as “a robust source of innovation and future growth.”

However, in comparison, little has been written about the emerging demographic group composed of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender individuals known as the LGBT community. It can also be referred to as LGBTQ—the “Q” standing for Queer or Questioning. The Q is an all-encompassing designation that avoids specific labeling but indicates a sexual preference or identity outside the “dominate narrative.”

As a marketer, you should have a better understanding of the size and scope of this demographic. Research indicates the percentage of the overall population for LGBT in the U.S. is 4.5% according to Gallup. This is a significant growing portion of the population and should not be ignored.

How Will Your Brand Respond?

How brands respond to these customers can have a positive or negative impact, depending on whom you ask. For example, LGBT individuals may be deemed unacceptable and discriminated against by many cultural or religious groups, such as Protestant White Evangelicals or Republicans, according to PRRI, a non-profit, nonpartisan research organization. Since most brands prefer to stay neutral when it comes to matters involving politics, religion, or sexual orientation, the growth of LGBT becomes problematic. By refusing to acknowledge that some of its customers are LGBT in its marketing, brands may risk alienating, losing or simply not attracting that demographic. On the other hand, by including LGBT in their marketing, brands may also risk losing or attracting customers who are opposed to promoting this lifestyle by its inclusion on religious or cultural grounds.

What is the true size of that risk? Actually, surveys would indicate that the risk of alienating the non-LGBT portion of the population is rapidly diminishing in the U.S. PRRI surveyed 40,000 Americans across all 50 states and reported that 69% support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT. Support is highest in the Northeast (72%) and lowest in the South (65%). According to the study, 76% aged 18-29 are supportive, while even 59% of Boomers (aged 65+) also support it. And the website FiveThirtyEight.com headlines “Fewer Americans Think LGBT People Face Discrimination” and that two-thirds support gays and lesbians to marry. So, while a relatively small percentage of the population identifies as LGBT, a much larger percentage is open-minded and supportive.

In the U.S., LGBT identification tends to follow regional geography and urban as opposed to rural concentrations. According to a survey conducted by The Williams Institute, School of Law at UCLA, the heaviest population numbers of LGBT are in the far western states and District of Columbia (with the highest percentage at almost 10%). New England, Indiana, Georgia and Florida also scored high. The majority are white (58%), female (58%) and almost 1/3 (29%) have children.

Age and earning power are also factors. The rise in LGBT identification is highest among Millennials and is also highest among lower income groups, according to Gallup.

In Europe according to Dalia research, the numbers are slightly higher, with roughly 6% identifying as LGBT. The ratio of men to women will vary, depending on the country. For example, the ratio of men to women in Great Britain identifying as LGBT is equal, but in Holland, as a percentage of the overall population, women are far greater (10%) than men (2.5%).

Smart Brands Evaluate And Evolve

Given the growth and general cultural acceptance of the LGBT community in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere in the world, global brands will need to evaluate their marketing approach or risk becoming irrelevant to a significant share of customers. They will also need to evaluate the opportunity for creating gender neutral or “bending” products or services. Of course, this matters most to traditional B2C brand categories, as we are already witnessing in the advertising of airlines, hospitality, fashion, financial services and consumer packaged goods like soft drinks. B2B marketing and some traditionally gender dominant categories, such as cosmetics, firearms, and types of sports and athletic equipment will be less influenced. For now.

Just as marketers must adapt to changing demographics, social trends, and cultural mores, so too they must consider the navigating a sometimes-contentious heterosexual vs. non-heterosexual debate. There is no “one size fits all” solution, but there are some commonsense considerations for marketing.

  • Beware of the “green wash” affect. Just as brands have been shamed by inauthentic environmental claims (green washing), they should also not engage in inauthentic gender-neutral posturing. You will be found out.
  • Be sensitive to demographic preferences. According to research, 81% of Gen Z (born after 1997) are “passionate” about gender equality. 63% “care deeply” about LGBT issues.
  • Staff LGBT on your team. If you are marketing to the LGBT community, staff accordingly. Your brand needs that perspective and sensitivity.

Brands such as Google, Starbucks, Apple, Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi all have reputations of being very supportive of the LGBT demographic. Burger King’s “Proud Whopper” supported San Francisco Pride events with a spin on its iconic tagline: “Be Your Way.” Delta Airlines included a Gay lifestyle scene in its recent campaign. Other brands recognized by Ad Age as “Trailblazing Brands” include Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol, Wells Fargo, Marriott, Gap and many others.

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