Multiculturalism is well on its way to being the new status quo.
It is becoming increasingly clear that brands who embrace diversity and reflect the new American consumer landscape are those who will win in the modern era.
This is especially true of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer) segment, which is the only diverse segment that crosses all other cultural, socioeconomic and ethnographic lines. When you layer on the advances in equality, increased visibility in the media and a changing mindset of younger generations, it’s clear to see the segment has grown exponentially.
The segment is now often inclusive of allied people, straight folks that are inclusive-minded, expanding LGBTQ to the LGBTQA segment. Most studies show the LGBT segment at somewhere between 4–10 percent of the total population. Add the “Q,” that is those who identify as somewhere on the sexuality spectrum, and the number jumps even higher. Factor in the 63 percent of persons aged 18–34 identified as allies in a recent GLAAD/Harris Poll study, and it is easy to see what a massive opportunity this is for brands.
As the LGBTQA segment has evolved, so has the way that brands are approaching it. Before, traditional PR had virtually no place in the marketing mix to reach gay and lesbian consumers (as other facets of the community - the “BTQA” - were yet to be recognized) for fear of backlash or alienating a mainstream audience. Back then, brands who engaged with the community did so in silos, without using earned or owned media. If a paid placement or experiential message reached you with a rainbow, you were meant to get it.
Take a closer look at how brands are seizing the opportunity today, and a few things will stand out.
With the wider cross-cultural opportunity, successful brands are taking a more holistic approach to marketing to diverse segments, rather than just “checking the box” by adding a rainbow or a person of color to an ad. Today’s consumers and the LGBTQA segment are savvy and will call out inauthenticity in a heartbeat. In today’s multi-screen, uber-connected world, quality content wins.
With many LGBTQA campaigns, there usually is a core marketing element that is more directly targeted at those who identify as LGBTQ. However, thoughtful program extensions will further the campaign on the brand’s owned channels and a strategic effort to garner earned media will extend the message of inclusion to a wider audience of like-minded people.
A great deal has been written about this new era of consumer activism; it is the idea that consumers want to align with brands that echo their own values. With that in mind, there is a clear upside for brands that amplify their inclusive policies and marketing to the general consumer audience.
Take Toyota as an example. They have a rich history of celebrating diversity and supporting the community on multiple levels. Toyota, like many other companies, takes great pride in and uses owned media to promote their perfect 100 score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) which recognizes their internal policies for workplace equality.
Programs like the CEI serve to both engage consumers, as the CEI fuels an equality-based buying guide, and position a company as an employer of choice aimed at attracting top talent, adding another facet to an overall approach to the segment.
Also, brand managers should realize that LGBTQ people read more than the LGBTQ press. It is one thing to see an LGBTQ-focused ad on Viacom’s LOGO, and yet today, there is still a bit of a “wow” factor to seeing a piece in The New York Times.
As mainstream as the LGBTQ community appears to be at times, it is also important to point out that there are more of LGBTQ-specific media outlets than ever before. Mass consumer publishers like Condé Nast and Hearst have recently introduced digital outlets reaching this segment.
Readership of local print publications has grown over the past few years, the recent buyout of The Advocate and Out have brought new life to the nation’s oldest queer press and the digital landscape continues to grow with outlets such as AfterEllen, Them, and OutSports reaching various sub-segments.
Finally, it is important to remember that the LGBTQ experience is not the same for everyone. While advances in this community have moved faster than any other civil rights issue and many people are now afforded a more welcoming place in the world, that is not the case for the community at large. There are still many LGBTQ people who still today feel marginalized, threatened and rejected.
For years the community has built organizations from within to work for equality in healthcare, housing, employment and many other issues including overall acceptance and ensuring that queer kids feel safe at school. Corporate support of these organizations can have a huge impact on brand perception and flow into purchase decision (back to aligning values).
There is an amazing program from GLAAD called SPIRIT DAY where individuals, companies and celebrities all “go purple” to support anti-bullying of LGBTQ youth in schools. Events like these are incredible opportunities for brands to support great causes, but also activate both owned and earned channels to extend their message to an audience of allies across the country. When Tony The Tiger goes purple, you know the message is reaching more than just LGBTQ people.
The opportunity for LGBTQ and allied marketing is huge, and with Gen Z being the most diverse with the highest number of out LGBTQ people than any previous generation, it will continue to grow. Diversity isn’t just an HR function any longer. With cultural competency, it can and should be part of any brands overall marketing communications plan with strategic public relations as a key component.
Joe Keenan is the executive director of imre’s LGBTQ and Entertainment practices.
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