Her podcast, Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional, features strategies for marketing to the LGBTQ community in a meaningful way, as well as insightful interviews from LGBTQ entrepreneurs and leaders like author and Duke Professor Dorie Clark, Lesbians Who Tech founder Leanne Pittsford and Liz Cooper, the Associate Director of Corporate Equality Programs at the Human Rights Campaign.
I spoke with Grace about what suggestions she had for marketers and brands alike when advertising to the LGBTQ consumer based off her experience.
Brian Honigman: What are the first steps an organization can take to make a campaign resonate with the LGBTQ demographic?
Jenn T. Grace: The very first step any organization can take in marketing to the LGBTQ community is knowing your audience – do the market research and identify if your product or service resonates with the community.
The bottom line is that the LGBTQ community is not one monolithic mass of people that have the same beliefs, ideals and values. Most organizations get this wrong by believing the entire LGBTQ community looks the same, acts the same and buys the same – this is the biggest misconception that can derail an LGBTQ specific marketing strategy.
You must first know who within the LGBTQ community is in your existing customer base. If your product or service is designed with women in mind, marketing to the LGBTQ community with imagery and advertisements with men is going to put you at an immediate disadvantage.
I personally receive a lot of LGBTQ specific marketing in both my virtual inbox as well as my physical mailbox – something that lands in front of me that features shirtless single gay millennial men is not going to resonate with me as a consumer when I am married to a woman and raising children. Go back to basics. Understand who your existing customer base is and apply the LGBTQ lens on top of it.
Honigman: What about a product or service makes it more marketable to the LGBTQ community?
Grace: Nearly all organizations (there may be a few exceptions, such as churches or other religious organizations) have a product or service that can be marketed to the LGBTQ community. It is less about the product or service and more about what the organization stands for in relation to the LGBTQ community itself.
Any product or service can be positioned as something beneficial to the LGBTQ audience, however, it goes back to question one about knowing who you are marketing to. The added complexity with this is that when you are marketing to the LGBTQ community it is expected that this effort is not just external but also internal. Internal in the sense that you have top down support, employee buy-in and are actively engaging within the community itself.
Many organizations fail when they begin marketing their product or service to the LGBTQ community without doing their homework and seeing how they are perceived in the LGBTQ community from the onset. It is a very simple process to obtain information via focus groups or other types of surveys within an audience to see how to best approach the community in a way that will resonate with their needs.
Honigman: How does a brand best determine what aspects of the LGBTQ lifestyle they should focus on?
Grace: A brand must first know how it is perceived in the marketplace with the added layer of how LGBTQ people view it in the marketplace. The LGBTQ community is truly a microcosm of every community. LGBTQ people come in all shapes, sizes, races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.
For example, if you have a product or service related to Spring Break travel, your audience is likely 25 and under and attending college. You could translate this focus into identifying LGBTQ individuals on college campuses, who are likely to travel.
These LGBTQ individuals may be part of a campus pride organization either on campus or online. If you were to begin advertising toward this segment but marketing this to a local LGBTQ chamber of commerce or advertising in an LGBTQ publication with a readership that is 45+ over – then you are missing the mark.
Honigman: What are your favorite LGBTQ targeted marketing campaigns and why did you think they were impactful?
Grace: There are many marketing campaigns that have included LGBTQ individuals that have really done a wonderful job. A few from the last couple of years include Coca-Cola KO -0.80%’s “America the Beautiful” and Honey Maid’s “This is Wholesome.” I use these both as good quality examples for a very specific reason.
Both of these marketing campaigns did not focus on LGBTQ individuals specifically but rather they incorporated LGBTQ people as part of their larger message of inclusion. The America the Beautiful campaign included Americans from all walks of life in their commercial – from different ages – to different races – to different speaking languages – to a LGBTQ couple.
The “This is Wholesome” campaign did the same thing – including couples and families with varying backgrounds and diversities – from the biracial family to the gothic family to the two dad family.
These organizations caught a lot of slack for featuring LGBTQ individuals within these commercials but the messages landed loud and clear within the LGBTQ community itself – the message being, we see you – we hear you – we know you are part of our consumer base and we want our marketing to reflect that.
Honigman: How can a marketer ensure they are targeting LGBTQ customers for the right reasons?
Grace: This is probably the trickiest part of marketing to the LGBTQ community. The term “the right reasons” could have many different meanings – to the Fortune 500 company the right reason might be to increase LGBTQ market share because it is a known part of their customer base and their employees have been championing the case – to the local financial firm the right reason might be that that they believe the LGBTQ community needs more targeted guidance than their straight counterparts – to the soloprenuer the right reason might be that they are serving many LGBTQ customers already without intentionally trying and now they are looking to streamline the process.
Everyone has a different version of the ‘right reason,’ however, the bottom line is you must put the people first before the profits. This is not to say that your LGBTQ marketing campaign shouldn’t be profitable – it absolutely should be – or else don’t waste your time.
But this does mean that the LGBTQ community will be skeptical of you at first, when you first enter the scene and start saying that you are serving the LGBTQ community. They will ask tough questions and demand concrete answers. You must know what those questions and answers are prior to going all in.
Honigman: Any suggestions on how a brand should react to backlash to their pro LGBTQ messaging?
Grace: Marketing to the LGBTQ community can still be risky, depending on your product, service, industry or the marketplace, I won’t lie to you. However, if you are truly coming from a place of good intention that intention will always win out over any backlash received.
The previous example of Honey Maid’s “This is Wholesome” campaign is a shining example of how to handle the backlash. When their campaign came out they received quite a number of hateful comments on their social media platforms condemning the brand for supporting the LGBTQ community.
However, the number of their customers who supported this far outweighed the negative. They used the negative and positive comments in a beautiful display of creativity and art and created a video that stopped the haters in their tracks – the primary message being – we hear you haters, but we are not backing down in our support and commitment to our LGBTQ customer base. Deal with backlash of LGBTQ advertising by not backing down in your support or commitment to the community.
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Image Credit: Jenn T. Grace
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