Big Idea: How to engage LGBT audiences

Tom Whitman, SVP and director at Flip, discusses best practices on how brands can engage LGBT audiences.

Tom Whitman
Tom Whitman

Changing attitudes toward LGBT people are powering arguably the fastest-moving cultural shift in our country.

In 2003, 58% of Americans were opposed to same-sex marriage. Ten years later, the numbers have flipped the opposite way. For Millennials, the numbers are overwhelming, with 71%-80% supporting marriage equality.

Brands that get behind this shift are going to be supported, not only by LGBT consumers, but also by their Millennial allies.

Culturally, the sports industry is one of the last bastions of institutionalized homophobia. But is it sometimes the front offices of major teams that are keeping the sports world in the cultural hinterland? Is their fear of backlash unwarranted?

Making a stand
Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers launched their first concerted outreach to the LGBT community. The team engaged the LGBT market visibly and vocally, with a game at a sold-out stadium featuring LGBT-authentic programming, such as first pitches from gay athletes Jason Collins and Billy Bean, the national anthem sung by Glee’s Amber Riley and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, as well as a fireworks display, and more.

Did some fans express contempt for the team’s LGBT support? Yes, but less than you might think. The vast majority showed support or shrugged their shoulders. And a flood of positive press coverage ensued.

Lead, don’t follow
If your brand wants to be a part of this shift, then lead. The Dodgers got press because they were one of the first teams to speak out. Your consumers, especially Millennials who are active on social, will notice when you take a stand. One way to engage Millennials authentically is to communicate how your brand values align with their beliefs. Inclusion and equality are two of those beliefs.

Also, do your homework. Make sure you have solid corporate policies around LGBT issues, including workplace protections and partner benefits.

Finally, engage LGBT employees. Every major brand has them. The Dodgers engaged staffers and reached out to fans, such as the local LGBT softball league. These people will have insights on how to organically communicate the brand message and will become ambassadors for you.    

Today’s consumers recognize brands that share their beliefs and support them through loyal spending and word of mouth. Once you are riding this inevitable wave of inclusion, no matter how conservative your industry is, you will begin to attract some of the most brand-loyal consumers in the marketplace.

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