Senior LGBTs require inclusive outreach

Connecting with this unique audience requires a specialized approach.

Connecting with this unique audience requires a specialized approach.

Both mainstream and gay media have increased coverage of the senior LGBT market, and it's a niche worth cultivating relationships with for many companies. Seniors in this community are diverse, but have many needs in common with mainstream seniors, such as healthcare. To build successful relationships with this LGBT community, marketers need to think and act inclusively.

"The key is getting to know the audience," says Cathy Renna, managing partner of Renna Communications. "Don't assume that issues affecting the general senior population don't also affect gay people."

Karen Taylor, director of advocacy and training at Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE), says LGBT seniors are loyal consumers. An August 2007 survey of the general LGBT population conducted by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications found that 75% would remain loyal to gay-friendly brands, and 66% would stay loyal to an LGBT-supportive brand, even if offered lower prices elsewhere.

"After a lifetime of being overlooked and marginalized at best, older gays are keen to connect with companies that speak to them personally and directly," says Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs. "Their brand loyalty probably surpasses [younger] generations."

"They want companies that are engaged with the community, issues, and advocacy, and that have diverse employment policies," adds Steve Kauffman, SVP at Fleishman-Hillard and co-chair of FH Out Front, the firm's LGBT communications practice.

Healthcare, retirement, travel, finance, real estate, and legal services are all sectors that could do well targeting LGBT seniors. Taylor says men are more likely to read gay-specific or market-specific publications, while lesbians are more inclined to read mainstream outlets.

"This audience isn't apt to change media habits over time," Witeck says. "Older gay people mirror straight counterparts, but they do favor gay print. They're probably more online than straight counterparts because they're looking for information that's relevant."

Renna agrees that LGBT seniors are online, and the Web is a great way to reach them. She also notices an increase in calls from gay outlets wanting to cover an older LGBT demographic.

"There are more... publications both online and in print that are catering to a 40-plus audience," she adds. "Jane and Jane is new magazine geared toward lesbians over 40. It includes a section called 'Over Fifty-Five.'"

When communicating with LGBT seniors, make sure messages are respectful.

"Messaging starts with visual clues," Taylor says. "If a company promotes information and products solely by showing heterosexual relationships, there's not a way for LGBT people to identify."

A financial services client that wants to reach the senior LGBT market recently asked Witeck to help make sure collateral images were appropriate. "You need images of people that look like they're really partners," he says.

Witeck advises using the word "partner," or the phrase "a life together with your partner." Taylor says the terms "friend" or "special friend" might be better for a 65-plus demographic, and that older lesbians actually identify with the term "gay women," as opposed to "lesbians."

Aligning with organizations or groups that are pertinent to this market is a wise move for
companies hoping to reach this community.

"Reach out to advocacy organizations like SAGE that deal with seniors, and community centers and living communities like Triangle Square in Los Angeles," Kauffman says.

He explains that one of the biggest marketing mistakes is assuming all gay and lesbian people are the same. "There's really no typical gay/lesbian senior," Kauffman notes. "Make sure you have people who know the community."

Show support for the LGBT community

Reach out via mainstream, gay media

Connect through pertinent organizations

Patronize or generalize LGBTs

Use exclusive language or images

Overlook the use of online outreach

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