How To Build an LGBTQ+ Champion Brand
Do you want to become a better marketer for diverse audiences? Are you uncertain what to call that learning process? Are you an instructor interested in offering tools for future marketers to connect with diverse audiences? This article will provide that direction summarized in seven words: How. To. Build. An. LGBTQ+. Champion. Brand.
I am an academician whose scholarship has been steeped in the convergence of diversity and marketing for more than two decades. Over 15 years ago, I introduced the LGBTQ+ marketing curriculum into my pedagogical practice through a course entitled Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Advertising. Almost immediately following my course introduction, I was inundated with positive feedback from dozens of my GLBT course enrollees, many of whom were members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves. They sincerely appreciated me for developing a scholastic platform to validate the existence of LGBTQ+ shoppers that also showcased the real ROI for businesses that effectively target this audience. Fast forward to 2022, where several data points support their sentiments. According to Gallup, 7.1.% of American Adults over 18 identify as LGBTQ, and 20 million people comprise the LGBTQ+ community in this country. That's numerous shoppers.
When my course launched, however, I was a pedagogic pioneer. Teachings focused on specific diverse audiences were often not a part of the traditional marketing curriculum. Yet many campuses are more open to discussing this topic today, like many of you reading this article. To that end, allow me to share a few time-tested teaching strategies and one branding best practice example for you to better understand the LGBTQ+ demographic that can then be captured in classroom business lectures and marketing plans.
Let’s begin with a few self-assessment questions. What is your current knowledge of the LGBTQ+ audience? Are you familiar with any marketing programs that serve the LGBTQ+ community specifically? Are you a part of any initiatives which include LGBTQ+ programming? How is diversity-based language reflected in your curricular or communication messaging? Speaking of messaging, what is in your LGBTQ+ communication diet? What communication points are you digesting? How much of that transmission appears to be "somewhere over the rainbow" jargon, particularly during Pride month?
One of the BEST ways to capture the essence behind targeting and effectively reaching diverse audiences is to observe how others are doing it. One company that serves as an excellent example of being an LGBTQ+ CHAMPION brand is Oreo.
The Oreo cookie brand celebrated the LGBTQ+ community in June 2022 by dropping sweet crumbs from a third-year partnership with PFLAG National called the official retail Pride pack. PFLAG National is the largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents, peers, families, and friends.
Here is another example from OREO: OREO Proud Parent - YouTube
How do brands like OREO reach diverse audiences so well? Let’s unpack it. Research shows that LGBTQ+ Champion brands do the following:
- Explore the divergent consumer behavior of the LGBTQ+ market and how it differs from that of other audiences
- Identify media habits and valuable media outlets to reach this market
The need to remain aware and tuned into the psychographic needs of niche segments is also crucial. Concerning the LGBTQ+ community, this extends beyond marketing and into larger hypermasculine, hypercompetitive arenas like sports. According to Laura Burton, Associate Professor, Sports Management, UConn, who is working to combat stereotyping in sports, "from the time athletes begin to play, especially as children, they are often exposed to language negatively charged toward members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The OREO cookie brand erected a flag in the sporting arena too. Specifically, their parent company, Nabisco, chose to hang a giant banner near Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the 2015 NCAA’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis. This effort speaks to the organization understanding its core consumers’ needs and aligning themselves according. Many of my students expressed this tactic as a key connector to their expressed brand loyalty toward products and services. They reported, “authenticity as an ally” in LGBTQ+ advertising initiatives.
Another research study correlates to the Burton’s research and branding activities from companies like Nabisco. This Texas A&M University research study surrounding workplace culture and LGBTQ employees in college athletics found comparable results. In a 2015 research paper entitled “Creating and Sustaining Workplace Cultures Supportive of LGBT employees in College Athletics,” it was deduced that the more successful athletic departments were the ones with more diverse and welcoming climates allowing LGTBQ+ employees to express their true identities and have them celebrated. I think many would agree that type of dynamic might be a winning combination in ANY environment.
Here are a few LGBTQ+ member data points for further consideration:
- Two-thirds of this demographic agree that they are proud of what makes them different from their peers. They take great pride in creative expression, especially in genres like fashion. Uniqueness and happiness are two markers for this segment. Let us underline the word UNIQUE. The LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. They cite themselves as individuals who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
- They have lofty expectations for brands. Two-thirds of the LGBTQ+ target audience say they acknowledge Pride month somehow. Almost 40% say it is also essential for brands and companies to celebrate.
- They want more than 'service-level' advertising but want it to be more about education. I discuss this in-depth in a few Marketing Insights podcasts, including:
- Put Down the Duckets: How to Build an LGBTQ+ Champion Brand, Part 1
- Put Down the Duckets: How to Build an LGBTQ+ Champion Brand, Part 2
- How Do Brands Spell Diversity—R-E-S-P-E-C-T
- Brands That Take a Stand
Overall, the best strategy is for brands to be intentional and sincere in word and deed. LGBTQ+ consumers are just like any other niche demographic. The best communication messages focus on diverse audience members as individuals, not spectacles. Showing support after tragedies like the Pulse Nightclub shooting or celebrating the passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Law creates favorable impressions and lasting loyalties. Companies that deploy these successful strategies are on track to build an LGBTQ+ champion brand.
Classroom Discussion Questions:
- Many LGBTQ+ community members report “feeling invisible.” That is because many diversity-based ads rely on stereotypes. In what ways can marketing campaigns address this issue?
- Many brands use packaging embedded with colorful hues to express their allegiance to the LGBTQ+ community, especially during Pride month. Is this an effective strategy? Why or why not? What other tactics are applicable
- Create a list of ten (10) resources for marketers seeking outside expertise on reaching the LGBTQ+ topic.
- Society does not always embrace diversity-themed advertising campaigns. In fact, several are subject to backlash. Should brands be willing to support different audiences despite risk to their company’s reputation? Where should they ethically draw the line?
- How Great Brands Are Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community presented by The Collage Group. How Great Brands are Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community | Collage Group
- ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport’ by: Abigail Mace | Neag School of Education (uconn.edu)
- Cunningham, George B. "Creating and sustaining workplace cultures supportive of LGBT employees in college athletics." Journal of Sport Management 29.4 (2015).
- Oreo turns cookie packs into canvases for expressing LGBT support | Marketing Dive
- Oreo Extends LGBTQ+ Allyship With Moving Short Film 'The Note' | Muse by Clio
- Rainbow-colored Oreo filled with controversy: Rainbow-colored Oreo filled with controversy | Reuters
- Oreo cookies bring the rainbow to the Final Four: Oreo used the LGBT rainbow to send a message of inclusion at the Men's Final Four by Cyd Zeigler @CydZeigker, Apr 4, 2015, 7:06 PDT: Oreo cookies bring the rainbow to the Final Four - Outsports
- 5 facts about same-sex marriage | Pew Research Center