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I find that much of the world defines my queerness primarily by attraction to men. Fellow gay men know the stereotypical assumptions well: “My friend is gay, too. And he’s single!” “Moving to Austin, eh? You must have met a cowboy!” “You’ll love this ad. The guy is so hot.”
Gayness, to me, is not centered around men so much as the ability to love whomever I want. When I say that, some will want to throw another label on it: “OK, then you’re pansexual!” And there’s ease and sometimes connection in labels. But listen to me and I’ll tell you that I will increasingly decide what being gay means to me, and your opinion will matter gradually less. And brands need to hear this too.
What I’m really telling you is: The best marketing campaigns are not about how marketers see people but about how people see themselves. And the LGBTQ+ community can be a glittery North Star you follow in understanding the reality of how people see, define, express themselves and connect with the world. Because that world includes your products.
Many LGBTQ+ people and their allies bemoan the status quo in which many brands don’t design campaigns for lesbians or people in polyamorous relationships but rather for Pride Month. This is in stark contrast to campaigns I’ve seen my colleagues create to target single moms, first-time motorcycle buyers and normcore bloggers.
Pride is a month, and I am a person; if you want to reach me as a person, why do you keep focusing on what you can do for Pride? Ultimately I don’t care what you do for Pride. As a consumer, I care what you do for me.
And that’s my assertion as a 44-year-old. The next-generation consumer is going to amplify this distinction far further. The new demo numbers are live—while we’ve still got a steady 7.2% LGBTQ+ U.S. populace, we’ve also got a nearly 20% LGBTQ+ Gen Z. Consider the macro-level social shifts and rifts arising by societal reaction to a generation who won’t be anyone but themselves: “These are my pronouns” has led to massive legal contention and language examination. “Won’t accept me? I’ll quiet quit” has turned the labor market upside down.
Strategic thinkers should certainly respect our community’s sexual orientation and gender identities and work to understand our evolving culture in order to rightfully connect with the people who generate a large amount of your revenue. But next-level marketers will go further and see that a community largely defined by love on their own terms speaks to a new consumer who will simply live, in all ways, on their own terms.
Queer or not, the new consumer will not let you tell them who they are—they are screaming their truth from the rooftops.
This means every single concept you’ve ever shared, debated and unpacked around “personalized experience,” “bespoke solutions” and “data-driven customization” will explode exponentially. Truly creative minds will welcome the pyrotechnics, and the demolition of old models, to enjoy the show and help build what’s next.
Creating on their terms, rooted in self-identification, opens up opportunities in a variety of literal and figurative spaces, and queer audiences could be the community that lights the way for hyper-bespoke experience. Let’s examine the possibilities.
Retail and product
Jobs ago, I helped publicize an inventive Momentum Worldwide campaign wherein Bentley owners wanted their sizable, gorgeous automotive investment to reflect their personality. Too many Bentley owners choose the same default paint and fabric colors, so an NYC retail pop-up with a digital angle was built to unlock individualized aesthetics with a personality test, then apply the visual applications of those personalities to custom car designs people could, and I believe did, buy on the spot.
If you consider that wealthy folks needed their automotive product to reflect their identity—and I genuinely see why they would—you can be damn well sure we’ll see more clothes a nonbinary person needs to express their gender, the insurance coverage a queer person will need to reflect their specific needs, the tennis racket an LGBTQ+ athlete will need to define their identity. (And we will eventually want the cars; some of us can finally get the license plates.)
Think about how LGBTQ+ people must choose their retail experiences and how they’ll uniquely interact with products in those spaces. Where can they comfortably try on and sample items? How can they customize fit and visual semiotics that defy gender conventions? On-site, how can we get financial support in making important financial decisions where we’ve previously lacked guidance?
Nobody said a safe space couldn’t or shouldn’t be retail.
DTC and ecommerce
Consider the circumstances in which IRL retail is simply not the answer. Ecommerce opportunities abound for those willing to reconsider product and CX fundamentals to root the brand experience in consumer identity. In digital settings, how can you greet us differently? How can you make stronger product recommendations? How can you change elements of the brand experience to show us we are seen as we truly are?
Here’s a fun one: Where can consumers volunteer more data to specialize our experience? You’ve seen Spotify Wrapped; you know we will supply data willingly when it showcases our distinct culture and identity. I genuinely love how the numbers prove I’m not just a gay, I’m a “top 5% of Dua Lipa listeners” gay.
Further, URL spaces can expand accessibility, accounting for financial and housing hardships faced by many in our community who have essential needs not being met. Maybe couponing and financial relief can facilitate these experiences and create equity. (If it feels weird to show this sympathy to LGBTQ+ people, remember: There’s been no problem doing it for AARP members.)
The DTC brands who were born and thrive in digital spaces reveal the most important, overarching possibility marketers must explore in the ecommerce environment: specifically, the potential to innovate and charm by creating very niche brand experiences. Many eschew market mass for market depth, and they’re rewarded for it. If we don’t love the retail experience of a right-wing craft supply store, there’s a potential market for an LGBTQ+-focused online craft store experience.
Powerful brand strategy and integrity are rooted in understanding what the brand is and what the brand isn’t. Ecommerce and DTC experiences provide unlimited possibilities in terms of expressing what the brand is. But the brand’s value must be positioned based on who the individual consumer is—from the moment they “walk in” to the moment they check out. Rethink consumer journeys based on consumer identity. Map path-to-purchase using their compass.
UX and experience design
For all of the above, how do you determine direction? The foundations of this inclusive creativity live in principles of UX design. A relevant example: Binary data gathering does not lead to an experience inclusive of the nonbinary. How is your data infrastructure equipped to explore and bridge the new expanse of human identification, rather than divide along the boundaries of the labels we’ve traditionally relied upon? You must rebuild around the way people simply identify themselves.
Yes, this can and must be initially as foundational as pronoun and gender options in your brand interface. It is disconcerting that we are starting to access passport identification outside the binary while we have airlines that don’t. Of course, some are getting to the proper gender inclusion destination faster than others—but regardless of product category, expand your data set. Embrace its complexity before you refine the simpler insights. Then start from scratch.
Examine and explore the limits you’ve put on yourselves. In your data gathering, you’ve always been OK asking people which state they live in and having them choose 50 options; you’ve enjoyed that granularity of geographic insight and targeting. So certainly you see the lost opportunity of only offering two genders and building experience around limited data. You know how to create data architectures that empower smart design—take off your own training wheels so you can speed forward.
For skeptical brands and supposedly bold innovators saying, “Why would I do all this for LGBTQ+ people?” I have a very simple response that should turn your eyes into cartoon dollar signs: Doing these things for LGBTQ+ people also does them for cisgender, heterosexual people as well. And in more future-thinking terms: Providing this value for the LGBTQ+ community places you in the lead in the race toward truly personalized experiences on the terms of the emerging, consciously changing consumer.
I’ve seen many effective Pride campaigns; I’ve never seen a Pride campaign for me. I’ve never seen a campaign for the gay nerd. I’ve never seen a campaign for the willfully single gay person. I’ve never seen an ad touting solutions for someone seeking a Golden Girls-style retirement among chosen family. (Yes, including cheesecake. Imagine the massively profitable DTC for cohabiting, senior singles.)
I don’t need to wish for this amount of brand connection and representation for the next generation, because they’ll demand it. Your task is to earn their love, on their terms.
This story is part of Adweek’s New Consumer digital package, which focuses on diversity in all the ways it manifests for consumers—including gender, race, age and ability—and how marketers need to reach people where they are and meet their unique needs.