Years have passed since major corporations began to take notice of the LGBTQ community’s buying power, as well as its growing prominence. Companies are still developing strategies to target the LGBTQ consumer market. One major way to reach these consumers — tried, true and effective — is through sponsoring major events, like Pride festivals and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) projects.
Locally, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte (CTC) contacted qnotes after the great success it had attending the 2016 Charlotte Pride weekend. It was the first time CTC participated in the event, and Media Relations Director Jared Misner felt ecstatic.
“Children’s Theatre of Charlotte was so impressed with the overwhelming amount of support it received at its first year at Charlotte Pride,” Misner wrote in an email. “I couldn’t help but think how this feeling must be widely shared among many first-time attendees.”
Big LGBTQ events with state-wide attraction may aid the bottom line for any business committed to supporting it. But is there more that these companies could be doing to reach the LGBTQ community?
Queer consumers represent around $830 billion according to a 2013 study by Witeck Communications and MarketResearch.com. In years since, that financial influence has only grown. One corporation has held a longstanding commitment to sponsoring LGBTQ events, but recently faced criticism for not following through on its promises.
The Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade has been a staple event in the local community since its inception in 2013, helping the festival and parade to set records with an estimated 130,000 visitors over 2016’s two-day celebration.
Yet news broke earlier this year that Bank of America (BOA), despite years of flawless scores on the HRC Corporate Equality Index, fell to a score of 75 out of 100 on the most recent index.
The score reflects a key failure of the company’s marketing to the LGBTQ community: consistency. After BOA executives mediated meetings leading to the passage of HB142, the “fake repeal” of HB2, HRC demoted BOA to make a statement about solidarity and commitment.
BOA’s misstep may have been avoided had they consulted the Commercial Closet Association (CCA), an organization promoting LGBTQ equality in advertising. CCA recommends five principles when any company considers targeting consumers who identify as LGBTQ: Go national; be consistent and confident; be inclusive and diverse; be sensitive to stereotypes; and do good market research.
“Go national” goes hand-in-hand with being consistent. Instead of running an ad exclusively in big, liberal cities, advertisers need to take the risk that less urban consumers are able to handle LGBTQ themes. If and when criticism occurs, these companies shouldn’t compromise or withdraw the campaign, sending a message to LGBTQ people that the inclusion isn’t sincere.
As for the diversity element of inclusion, self-proclaimed ‘Professional Lesbian’ and LGBTQ marketing expert Jenn T. Grace puts it best:
“The bottom line is that the LGBTQ community is not one monolithic mass of people that have the same beliefs, ideals and values,” Grace told Forbes. “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.”
Including queer representation in advertising should unquestionably avoid oversimplifying LGBTQ people into comedic or threatening stereotypes. Instead of brainstorming at a table full of cisgender, heterosexual white men, seek ideas from LGBTQ people, especially those that market research reveals are a strong customer base.
For more targeted community outreach, look to local organizations or LGBTQ publications. In addition to attending big events, fund non-profits that work for marginalized neighbors — such as Time Out Youth, Campus Pride or RAIN — or speak directly to the community through queer media like qnotes and others.
More resources exist for companies seeking to market to LGBTQ people outside of major event sponsorships. Out Now Consulting, a global marketing firm with decades of experience, has broken ground with its new website, OutNow.LGBT — the first “.LGBT” domain in internet history.
“Gay and lesbian marketing is not about niche marketing,” explains OutNowConsulting.com. “It is all about integrating gay market consumers effectively into our clients’ mainstream marketing strategies and market initiatives.”
So for any company looking to reach queer consumers, the key is to do research and always remember that “LGBTQ” is not a label, but a whole world in itself, with the complexity to match. As Grace succinctly wrote on Twitter:
“The LGBTQ community is truly a microcosm of every community.”