The Newest of New Mainstream: How to Market to the LGBT Community

04/30/2015 09:53 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

I spend a lot of time providing marketers with guidance on what strategies and tactics they should leverage in order to better appeal to the New Mainstream, which many consider synonymous with multicultural. Despite spending most of my career helping brands target the multicultural community, I disagree with that definition.

Instead, I define the New Mainstream as the population segments that are challenging the way we see the world, have significant buying power and are impacting the way that business is conducted. Those are not only emerging ethnicities: This group consists of millennials, women and last, but certainly not least, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.

While many argue that these populations segments are not exactly new to America, there's no denying that in recent years the groups have become increasingly vocal about their personal preferences, and marketers have been tasked to respond accordingly. The LGBT population in particular is one of the more vocal populations that have developed a corporate equality index, rating companies' friendliness to the LGBT community.

At Geoscape's New Mainstream Business Summit this March, we had the honor of hosting Jenn T. Grace, LGBT marketing expert, who provided incredible insights into why and how marketers can better target this influential group of consumers.

Jenn explained that the buying power of the LGBT community currently stands around $830 billion dollars annually, placing them just behind the African-American and Hispanic markets. Because the size of the LGBT population is smaller than the other groups, each dollar spent is even more impactful. However, the population remains a mystery to marketers, who leverage a broad-strokes approach and fail to understand that there is no single definition of LGBT.

Based on my conversation with Jenn, I drew three lessons that marketers must embrace in order to better understand and target the LGBT community:

Understand complexity.

Jenn noted that the biggest mistake made when targeting the LGBT community is that marketers often treat the entire community as a monolithic group of people. More often than not, they stereotype the entire community as being affluent white men -- which is incredibly off base. She explained that the LGBT community is one that crosses all other diversities and each individual requires a personalized approach. Similar to the Hispanic community, that is far more complex than marketers realize; sexuality falls on a spectrum and is seen across socio-economic level, gender, ethnicity and religion.

Be inclusive.

With a population that is so broad and complex, it's hard to believe that any single company is truly "doing it right." When I asked Jenn to provide an example of an organization that she believes is marketing successfully to LGBT, she explained that there are several and that the key to their success is that they "understand the concept of inclusion, and the art of intentionally including LGBT people in their mainstream marketing."

She explained that smart brands know that, "A good campaign begins and ends with a total market approach." Rather than isolating LGBT consumers, it's important that they take an inclusive approach and feature LGBT couples throughout their advertising efforts. "Looking through the lens of diversity and inclusion -- diversity really groups people together based on their different characteristics, while inclusion is the act of ensuring all people are feeling included."

Commit to your message.

Finally, Jenn explained the importance of embodying a message. She provided the example of Nabisco's "This is Wholesome" campaign, that featured a 30-second spot focused on diverse families, including one that was gay. Unfortunately the campaign drew criticism from anti-gay protesters. However, rather than buckling to the criticism the company responded with a video featuring two artists rolling up all of the negative hate-filled comments and creating a mosaic that read, "Love." In doing so, the company received 10 times as many supportive comments.

While the LGBT community is incredibly complex, they are an important emerging voice that shouldn't be oversimplified or neglected. LGBT audiences belong in the New Mainstream discussion, in a category alongside Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. More broadly, these groups have a collective value that deserves an appropriate share of resources and attention. LGBT is the new mainstream, and should and should be better represented and understood within our collective marketing efforts.