Beyond Pride: Brands must balance public support with meaningful actions

The LGBTQ+ community can discern the distinction between “pride-washing” and real action, and allies notice, too.

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale.
Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale.

Pride month witnessed an explosion of brand activity, from logos wrapped in rainbows to limited-edition merchandise. But a vast gulf separates genuine LGBTQ+ support and opportunistic virtue signaling.

The LGBTQ+ community can discern the distinction, and allies notice, too.

The global population of LGBTQ+ consumers has a combined purchasing power of $3.9 trillion. Brands are aware of this financial and cultural capital. But they must authentically reflect the tastes and attitudes of such consumers, while supporting marketing with meaningful, sustained actions.

I recently hosted a global panel with five LGBTQ+ marketing leaders, and here are excerpts from our conversation:

“Deploying the rainbow flag or creating special-edition merchandise is a lovely compliment if—and if is a big if—the values of the company match the artifice of painting an experience or a page with rainbow colors.”
Bradford Shellhammer, VP of buyer experience and eBay for charity at eBay

“Speak to your employees about what they want you to do as a brand around Pride. Use your employee relations and your employee insights to make sure you get it right. Ask your employees what kind of charities they might want to donate to.”
Mark Harrop, head of communications, U.K. Cabinet Office

“Pride should not just exist in the month of June; it should be an everyday occurrence. Customer segmentation is going to have to be seen so differently. It's very hard to target online for people who identify under the pronoun ‘they.’ The entire infrastructure is really going to need to evolve in terms of how you drive customer acquisition and customer retention.”
Rachel Tipograph, CEO and founder of MikMak

“Have a history and a consistency of authentically demonstrating with actions, not just words, not just posts, with year-round storytelling, not just in one month. With every activation we do, we're always thinking about how it can be complemented with the right backing action. That's going to have impact with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Walter Frye, VP of global brand engagement and design at American Express

“In order to not be performative, you've got to root it in actions. It's got to be how you leverage the heft—the might—of the resources of your company. That’s from your employee base, products, services and resources you give to the community.”
Thomas Ranese, VP of global marketing at Uber

As marketers, we frequently live a tremendous irony. We would never launch a product without promoting its differentiation. Yet, in our ads, messages and teams, we spend a great deal of time presenting sameness. We must get curious about differences to create the conditions where everyone can be successful.

By engaging in marketing that celebrates the LGBTQ+ experience, brands will elevate visibility, ignite conversations and change perceptions. The supreme purpose is to profitably build brands that reflect and shape a more inclusive society.

The complete Pride 2021 with CMOs conversation is available on my "How CMOs Commit” podcast.

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. 

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