Reaching the GLBT Audience: Tapping into a rich and underserved market

The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender audience is a mostly unconquered demographic, but Jonathan Block finds companies that are seeking to change that

The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender audience is a mostly unconquered demographic, but Jonathan Block finds companies that are seeking to change that

The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community comprises as much as 10% of the US population and yields close to half a billion dollars in spending power.

But companies are only beginning to realize the enormous potential for marketing to this audience.

"It took a while for corporate America to reach out to diverse markets," notes Philip Sontag, a director at Peppercom. "Gays and lesbians are the last untapped market in America. This is an opportunity for companies to get involved [with the GLBT market], and it will pay off."

According to research from Inforte, a Chicago-based firm specializing in leveraging business and consumer intelligence for strategic marketing, gays and lesbians are more tech-savvy, more inclined to travel, more brand loyal, and wealthier than the average member of the US population. In addition, 81% of gays and lesbians are more likely to do business with a company if it is perceived to be gay-friendly.

Perhaps as an indication of the growing importance of the GLBT market to clients, late last year Fleishman-Hillard launched its FH Out Front unit. Codirectors at launch time were Sontag and current Fleishman SVP Ben Finzel.

Finzel says that because gays and lesbians can be characterized as powerful in terms of spending power, loyalty, and untapped potential, it just makes sense for most companies to want to approach the GLBT community.

"Gays and lesbians want to feel companies are walking the talk," he says. "The more a company is willing to do to reach the market, the more the community will reach out to you."

If a client decides it wants to reach the GLBT market, experts say, the first order of business is to do research both on the product and the company itself. This will establish if the product will appeal to the community and determine whether the GLBT market will favor the company, based on the company's internal policies when it comes to issues impacting the community.

Matt Tumminello, president of Target 10 Niche Marketing & Public Relations, does an extensive reputation and product audit with clients in order to direct how the PR and marketing campaign will go. He adds that this provides an effective barometer of how the community will respond.

Witeck-Combs Communications, one of the first PR and marketing firms with a specialty GLBT practice when founded in 1993, goes a step further. Through a partnership with Harris Interactive, the firm is able to leverage the latest data about GLBT individuals, as well as their opinions about brands and their consumer behavior.

"We use data as a foundation to say, 'This audience has unique attributes that your company should approach,'" says Wesley Combs, firm president.

How to go about promoting a product or service differs from client to client.

But experts agree that it is imperative that, when creating a campaign, there be a mix of advertising, marketing, and PR; that clients be committed long term to reaching the GLBT community; and that companies get involved in the community, such as through event sponsorships.

Michael Kaminer, head of Michael Kaminer Public Relations, points out that knowing the vernacular of the GLBT community is also important because gays and lesbians are sophisticated consumers and they "can smell a fake from a mile away."

"You can't just take a mainstream program and shoehorn it into the gay and lesbian community," adds Howard Bragman, head of PR firm Fifteen Minutes and a longtime GLBT advocate.

However, Witeck-Combs CEO Bob Witeck cautions against "exceptionalizing" the gay market.

"A campaign for the gay and lesbian community can't be so separate and off-message from the general market," he advises. "It has to reinforce what's been seen elsewhere."

Dawn Meifert, president and CEO of Merge Media Group, a marketing communications agency specializing in the GLBT market, says it's crucial that the campaign reflect the community and that the company understand the GLBT market.

"Gays and lesbians want to have advertisers speak directly to them," she says. "They want to see themselves in today's advertising. Companies that show acceptance of the gay and lesbian community will reap rewards in the future."

Last year, Merge Media became the AOR for Coors Brewing Co., which in the late 1970s became the target of a boycott from the GLBT community over internal practices. One of its recent campaigns, "More Straight Talk from Coors," aimed to dispel concerns about its position on GLBT issues, while another campaign featured gays and lesbians drinking Coors.

Doug Sanborn, manager of corporate relations at Coors, said that although the company has advertised to the GLBT market for many years, it had traditionally used a general agency with little expertise in the market. He added Coors recently signed a three-year contract with Merge.

Coors has an internal GLBT resource group and also routinely sponsors GLBT events, such as gay pride festivals, AIDS walks, and clinics, which Sanborn says demonstrates that the company is committed to the community.

Some clients might express fears that targeting the GLBT market might alienate other consumers, or even lead to boycotts, but recent research conducted by FH Out Front found that a vast majority of consumers don't care if a company is going after this market.

"It doesn't affect sales at the end of the day," says Travis Pagel, MD of GLBT-focused marketing firm Osmosis Medialab. "But appealing to the gay and lesbian community will yield positive results at the end of the day."

Tumminello adds, "They shouldn't be afraid of the market. The water's just fine."

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Technique tips

Do research your product, company, and the GLBT community thoroughly

Do have visual representations in campaigns that accurately reflect the community

Do include community outreach and sponsorships as part of the overall strategy

Don't take a mainstream campaign and try to make it fit for the GLBT market

Don't be afraid of alienating other customers - research shows that few care if a company targets the GLBT community

Don't make a partial investment. Target the market long-term

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