How to Help Your Brand Connect to LGBT Audiences

Now that the majority of Americans (if not the majority of American states) have accepted same-sex marriage and effectively welcomed the LGBT community into mainstream culture, brand strategists are brainstorming over how to make the most of a large and passionate demographic. Why? Well, gay men and women do “have the largest amount of disposable income of any niche market,” so…money.

That’s according to Community Marketing Inc., a gay-centric research organization that just released its 7th annual LGBT community survey of more than 30,000 consumers in 100 different countries. Their findings should help marketing/PR pros better understand the community.

The fact that LGBT individuals “keep up with online media” isn’t much of a revelation, but here are some more interesting conclusions:

  • “LGBT” is the preferred term for gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals, though gay men are equally receptive to the phrase “gay and lesbian”. Words like “queer”, “rainbow” and “gay-welcoming” are less effective (probably because they’re condescending).
  • Consumers prefer that corporate communications refer to their legal relationships with the terms “spouse” or “husband/wife”, though “partner” also works. Dated terms like “significant other” and “gay couple” don’t test so well.
  • While gay men and lesbians are more likely to purchase tickets for performing arts events than members of the general public, their other top purchase categories are vacations, smartphones, salon services and furniture. (Gay men are particularly active in the vacation sector while smartphones and salons rank higher among lesbian/bisexual women)
  • In the beverage sector, gay men—especially those over 30—are more likely than any other demographic to choose liquors and cocktails over beer.
  • The top five brands that consumers support because of their pro-LGBT policies were the same for men and women, though the rankings were slightly different: Starbucks, J.C. Penney, Target, Apple and Amazon. Macy’s, American Airlines, Home Depot and Absolut Vodka also appear on both lists.
  • Chick Fil-A easily wins the “most boycotted” category, with Exxon-Mobil and Walmart coming in distant second and third. (It’s worth noting that Walmart’s negatives have dropped nearly 50% over the past year.)
  • A near-majority of gay and lesbian donate to nonprofit groups; transgender individuals are considerably more likely to volunteer for these groups.
  • A majority of gay individuals say their close, non-gay friends are more likely to support gay campaigns and causes.
  • The LGBT community is very active on Facebook and “check-in” services like Foursquare (they might even click on your ads!).
  • LGBT websites and blogs remain the top sources of news and promotions for gay men and women, with 34% reporting that they’ve increased the time they spend on related sites over the past year. But the vast majority also watch network and cable news programs, and many also read local LGBT publications and email newsletters (which would be great places for promos).
  • Gay men watch awards shows like the Oscars at higher rates than other demographics.
  • Sporting events are less popular among LGBT consumers, a finding that applies to men and women. Still, 40% of gay men and 56% of lesbians watched an NFL game last year despite the fact that only 15% see the league as “supportive” of their community.
  • If sports leagues want to attract a greater number of LGBT viewers, participants say they should spread supportive messages on social media and promote openly gay players.

The takeaway here is that, while gay-themed media sources remain major destinations for members of the LGBT community, brands should no longer fear running campaigns targeting them in other “mainstream” publications. Yes, there are some obvious exceptions, and a little research should clarify that fact—but moving forward, PR pros should be less hesitant about pitching clients who cater to the gay community. And that’s a very good thing.