Reaching out to Gay Consumers14 years, 10 months ago
Gays and lesbians are a powerful, loyal and often untapped audience. Ben Finzel reveals how to engage with this audience honestly and consistently.
In the U.S., and many countries around the world, gays and lesbians are increasingly being recognized as a viable, desirable audience for communications and outreach. Advertisers in industries such as finance, automotive, travel, and luxury and consumer goods recognize the power and potential of this audience and are spending millions to reach us in print, online and broadcast outlets.
And while advertising is in the vanguard now, it will eventually be eclipsed by public relations as the preferred method to reach what is one of the most powerful, loyal and untapped (by PR at least) audiences in today’s society.
Recent estimates put the annual spending power of gays and lesbians in the U.S. alone at $712 billion in 2008. That’s a larger number than any of the other multicultural audiences and represents a dynamic, and growing, marketplace that is looking for honest, open, genuine engagement from corporations, companies and marketers.
At Fleishman-Hillard, we recognize the power and potential of this community and are actively engaged in helping clients reach it. In 2004, we launched the first (and so far only) global gay and lesbian communications practice at a major global communications firm. In 2006, we launched the first (and still only) blog of its kind – the Out Front Blog (www.outfrontblog.com).
Understanding and respect
But it’s not enough to simply target this audience and expect gays and lesbians to respond. We are an increasingly skeptical community and the “price of admission” to reach us is growing ever higher.
It’s no longer enough to simply “tell us” you want us as customers by running an ad in a national gay magazine or buying a few spots in a local gay and lesbian community newspapers. Marketers have to demonstrate that they both respect and understand us by the way they engage in and with our community.
And that’s where communications comes in. Understanding this powerful, loyal and untapped marketplace is key. We offer three key lessons related to the challenge of knowing how and why to reach us.
When we set about developing the FH Out Front practice group, we knew that the issue of boycotts and public pressure on companies engaged in our community could be a real stumbling block to some potential market entrants. To address this challenge, we developed a set of national survey questions and then conducted a national poll of all consumers – not just in our community, but with the broader set of consumers who really set the pace for consideration of new initiatives by marketers. What we learned is that Boycotts Are Overrated.
Our survey, which was conducted in 2004 and again in 2006, found that boycotts draw twice as much opposition to the boycotters as they do the target. And the majority of the public would do nothing if a company whose products they use became the target of a boycott based on their support for gay and lesbian organizations or their outreach and/or advertising to our community.
Furthermore, we found that the public just isn’t that concerned about corporate outreach to our community. The consumers in our survey said they didn’t care if companies whose products they use reach out to our community specifically. We concluded that the American consumer is more sophisticated than many of us may realize and the opportunity for marketers to reach out to our community is huge.
It may be tempting to think that because you’re an expert in marketing or communications, you can just develop and execute a gay and lesbian communications program on your own. That’s not a good idea. Our advice: Don’t Try This At Home.
It’s important to understand that the gay and lesbian community is not one, two, three or even four distinct audiences: we are many audiences. African-American gay couples with two incomes. Hispanic lesbian moms in the suburbs. Asian transgender youth. Caucasian single bisexuals. And the list goes on.
We’re all different and marketers need varied approaches to reach us. In many cases, it may make sense to just try to reach some of us. In others, it may make sense to cast a wider net. My point is that the only way this really works is to partner with a professional communicator with experience in the marketplace to help determine the best, most effective way to genuinely reach our community.
And finally, recognize that Consistency Is Key. This means that if clients are challenged by an outside group for their engagement and/or involvement with our community, they should stick to their guns.
If clients truly believe in the importance of reaching gays and lesbians as an audience, then when they are challenged, they must continue to hold that position. The worst thing they can do is to appear to waffle, change their position or be weak in the face of threats to their reputation for a decision they made to treat our community with respect and dignity in their outreach.
Gays and lesbians are a fantastic audience for smart communications strategies. The challenge is understanding how best to reach us with genuine outreach that engages us honestly and consistently. It’s not easy, but it will pay off for your clients’ bottom line and corporate reputation now and in the long run.
Ben Finzel, Senior Vice President, Fleishman-Hillard and Founding Global Co-Chair, FH Out Frontmail the author
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