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The brands that connect best with LGBT consumers

The brands that connect best with LGBT consumers Hector Pages

With 64 percent of the U.S. population currently living in jurisdictions with marriage equality, and Tiffany's latest ad campaign incorporating a same sex couple for the first time, brands are actively re-evaluating long-held assumptions about marketing and the LGBT people.

Tiffany & Co.'s 2015 ad campaign celebrating gay marriage.

Once upon a time, brands segregated LGBT audiences with token marketing efforts relegated to LGBT-specific channels for fear of alienating straight customers. What a difference a few years make.  With the question of marriage equality headed to the Supreme Court later this year and support of same sex marriage at an all-time high, particularly among Millennials, brands are increasingly inclusive in their efforts to engage LGBT consumers -- and their estimated $830 billion in buying power.

Here's a closer look into the various industries and fearless brands forging the way.

Travel, tourism, hospitality

LGBT adults spend more on leisure, travel, restaurants, and related products and services, with 23 percent higher median household income compared to straight households and higher discretionary incomes. So it's no surprise that the travel industry has historically taken a more inclusive approach. Hotels, cruise lines, airlines, and booking engines have all directly engaged LGBT audiences to varying degrees for many years. Orbitz, for example, has a perfect Corporate Equality Index Score from the Human Rights Campaign and two GLAAD media awards. The travel site filters hotel reviews by LGBT travelers, provides tips and advice on leading gay travel destinations around the world, and features gay-friendly properties in its booking engine. Another example -- Airbnb advertises directly on the geo-location-based app Grindr, which reaches more than 5 million gay and bi-sexual males in 192 countries. In fact, with 65 percent of LGBT Millennials booking travel via mobile, this channel creates ever-increasing opportunities for travel marketers, in particular, to build relationships with their LGBT customers.


Kimpton: "Life is Suite" 
In the hospitality sector, both boutique and mainstream hotel brands have built loyal followings with an inclusive approach that speaks to LGBT audiences both directly and indirectly. Kimpton hotels, for example, which was recently acquired by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), is widely known for its stylish properties, and surprise and delight loyalty program, Karma Rewards. It has been actively marketing to the LGBT community for years, and like Orbitz, Kimpton has a 100 percent rating from the HRC Corporate Equality Index. It's also been recognized by Out Traveler as Best Hotel Chain (2013), maintains a dedicated section of its website for LGBT guests, and even sponsors promotions targeting same-sex couples and newlyweds.


Marriott: #Lovetravels
Marriott's recent #Lovetravels social campaign organically integrates diverse lifestyles in a wider context that "illustrate how people live their individual truths and bring their passions with them when they travel." The campaign, which ended in November 2014, featured a microsite, a shareable portrait gallery, and curated video content. It, too, reflects a wider trend among marketers that take LGBT people out of the "gayborhood" and into the mainstream featuring singles, couples, and families from different walks of life sharing their passion for travel.


Consumer packaged goods brands (CPGs)

Consumer packaged goods brands are not generally the first ones that come to mind when thinking about LGBT audiences. But with same-sex partnered households spending $2,045 more per year on packaged goods and making 16 percent more shopping trips than the average U.S. household, brands including Cheerios and Honey Maid have recently featured real life modern families in their marketing campaigns -- and not without controversy.

"Cheerios Effect"
In Canada, General Mills' "Cheerios Effect" campaign from October 2014 included a dozen videos on the internet and TV, ranging from 15-second to three-minute mini-documentaries that linked the cereal brand with "true stories of human connection." The Cheerios campaign included two gay dads and their adoptive daughter and was designed to encourage social pickup. Marketing Mag reports that "the 'Cheerios Effect' is the colloquial name some have given to the phenomenon that anyone who's eaten a bowl of the cereal knows: when two Cheerios float in milk, they tend to attract one another thanks to surface tension." The approach has generated results. A similar campaign for Lucky Charms reportedly lifted category share by 0.5 percent during Gay Pride, which was "amazing for a 50-year-old brand."

Honey Maid: "This is Wholesome"
Mondelez International, meanwhile, unapologetically defended its recent "This is Wholesome" spot for Honey Maid graham crackers from backlash for its depiction of families of all types -- including gay ones, and the "changing American family dynamic." Haters are gonna hate, and anti-gay groups predictably took issue with the campaign, bombarding the brand with negative comments on social media. Not only did Honey Maid shake it off, but it turned the 10:1 positive to negative sentiments into a follow up campaign showing how the love-mail conquered hate-mail.

Financial services

Insurance companies and banks, with their conservative reputations, might also seem like unlikely champions of LGBT rights, but Allstate, Prudential, Wells Fargo, and others are actively engaging the community. Prudential's 2012/2013 study on LGBT financial experience reported that a majority of LGBTs perceive their financial planning needs to be different from those of the general population and feel underserved by financial services companies. Core concerns among LGBT people include legislation that negatively affects LGBT financial rights, tax treatment of same-sex couples, retirement, and same sex survivor benefits.

Allstate: "Safe In My Hands"  
In June 2014, Allstate launched "Safe In My Hands," a fully integrated campaign that spoke directly to the insecurity many LGBTs feel. The campaign included an animated ad that played on the well-known "Good Hands" slogan with a score by singer-songwriter Eli Lieb, free song downloads, nationwide events at Gay Pride events.

The campaign included a photo sharing gallery (#OutHoldingHands), encouraging real LGBT people to tag photos on Twitter or Instagram, showing affection in public. In addition, Allstate's dedicated web portal connects to agents and provides LGBT-specific tips regarding same-sex marriage/domestic partnerships, home and renters insurance, car insurance, life insurance, and retirement.


Relationship building with LGBT consumers is clearly evolving from hyper targeting and niche channels to a wider, more inclusive approach that reflects shifts in the broader society at large and makes financial sense for brands in these industries highlighted here, and many others.

Hector Pages is VP of client solutions at Response Media.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Rainbow flag on small visiting card" image via Shuttertock.  


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