Another Pride month just wrapped, and plenty of brands celebrated along with the LGBTQ+ community. Many of those brands have already officially gone back to business as usual.
However, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community is more than just showing up for them during one month of the year. Doing that is like celebrating someone’s birthday with them and then ghosting them for the rest of the year.
To make the LGBTQ+ community really feel like they belong with your company, it’s important to build an inclusive brand that makes them feel seen and supported every time they interact with your brand.
Let’s walk through how to do that.
Move Beyond Being LGBTQ+ Friendly
Most brands that have customers who are LGBTQ+ would consider themselves to be friendly to the community. However, ‘friendly’ isn’t the marker brands should strive for. Hank Paul is a non-binary Queer Inclusion Strategist whom I chatted with on the Inclusion & Marketing podcast.
Paul says that “To be LGBTQ+ friendly is to say, ‘You are welcome here. You can come here, that’s fine. We’ll put up with you; we’ll take your money, we’ll take your business, we’re not going to make things hard for you.’ It’s a level of acceptance, but it doesn’t really extend much further beyond that.”
Paul further defines LGBTQ+ inclusive businesses as those that take a “proactive approach to creating safe spaces and safe environments” for people who are part of the community for every touchpoint throughout the customer experience your brand delivers.
Examples of what creating safe spaces look like in practice include things like:
- Ensuring that everyone places their pronouns in their screen names for virtual meetings or on name tags for staff in physical stores
- Being a representative of the community in your marketing and visual imagery
- Getting involved in and or/supporting organizations that do work to uplift and tackle important issues the community is facing
Once you’ve made this mindset shift, it will be easier for you to take the next step, which will support you in becoming an LGBTQ+ inclusive brand.
Lean Into Allyship
Being inclusive isn’t just getting people from a specific marginalized community to buy more of your stuff. There’s a lot more involved in winning the loyalty of consumers that are already skeptical of brands after having been excluded and ignored by them for so long.
Taking the time to care about the communities you serve beyond just your product offering will demonstrate that your brand is one they can be loyal to. According to Hank Paul, there are three steps to embracing your brand’s role as an ally.
This is about educating yourself, your team, and even in some instances, your existing customers about the LGBTQ+ community. This could be as simple as understanding the various identities within the community, learning terminology, and, most importantly, developing a deep degree of empathy for the community and its plight.
Don’t think of awareness as something you can check off with simple training. It is an ongoing learning process, much like you continue to learn and grow with the friends in your life.
This component is all about lifting up the voices, experiences, and perspectives of people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. You can do this by sharing your platform with others.
Some brands do this by featuring experts in areas that are relevant to your customers, such as in a podcast or conference. Others do it by co-creating with people within the community on relevant projects and products. And other brands do it by sharing the content and work of those who are part of the community you want to elevate.
This is where your brand is making adjustments within your business that will demonstrate that you support the LGBTQ+ community. That could mean incorporating policies that prove the community belongs with you.
For instance, since 2002, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has used its Corporate Equality Index (CEI) as a benchmarking tool to track and evaluate how well employers do with policies, practices, and benefits for LGBTQ+ employees.
As of their 2022 benchmarking, they’ve identified 662 major businesses that have adopted transition guidelines, and 91 percent of CEI-rated companies offer at least one transgender-inclusive healthcare plan option.
Other actions brands are taking include adding gender-neutral restrooms, hiring people in the community, degendering their language, and focusing on being more representative of LGBTQ+ people in their marketing.
Paul also recommends that brands re-evaluate how they’ve defined who their ideal customer is. Their advice is to “Go back and evaluate your ideal market or you know, your ideal customer avatar…however, you've kind of structured that and defined that in your brand. And how much are you relying on someone being a default gender or sexuality? Are you assuming, or have you made it explicit?”
Once you’ve clarified your ideal customer to be specifically inclusive of people who identify as LGBTQ+, then you will be better equipped to engage in the next phase that demonstrates to the community that they do belong with you.
Incorporate Gender Neutrality
There are specific tactics you can take that support being a gender-inclusive brand. However, moving beyond just tactics to having the right mindset and policies around this approach will enable you to have the biggest impact. As a result, you’ll be equipped to infuse this philosophy into how your organization thinks and, ultimately, into the products, services, and experiences you deliver.
Gender creeps into brand experiences in many ways, including in bathrooms, language, surveys and questionnaires, clothing labels, and more.
I’ll bet that if you were to even look at how you’ve defined your customer base, one of the ways the data is broken down is by gender. Paul suggests that brands take the time to think specifically about why data capture is needed at the gender level.
They say, “I think it‘s really important to know why you’re asking that question and whether that piece of segmentation is relevant…if someone is capturing my email address to put onto a list and to, you know, do some email marketing to me and they ask me my gender and the option is male or female, well, I‘m assigned male at birth. And if I’m given that binary choice, which is an uncomfortable question for me to get asked a lot of the time, I‘ll select male. ‘Cause I’ve only been given one choice. That's not my gender, but that is the sex that I was assigned at birth.”
Asking gendered questions can put some of the customers you serve in an uncomfortable position that makes them not feel like they belong with you. Paul adds that a better way is to ask questions that will better help you serve the customers who’ve entered your ecosystem.
In addition, Paul explains that asking gendered questions in a marketing context often means the brand has chosen from a segmentation standpoint that there are certain items they market to men and others to women, which is limiting and not always the best experience.
Paul offers up a better option for brands, “I would rather you ask me much more intentional questions that are more relevant to the thing you‘re trying to sell me. Are you interested in dresses? Are you interested in suits? Are you interested in skirts? Are you interested in handbags? Ask me those sorts of questions. They are not gendered, they’re gender-neutral questions, but you get more insightful information that can then help you segment to send me email marketing that is relevant to things that I might actually buy.”
Start Here to Build an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Brand
By following these recommendations, you will build a brand where the LGBTQ+ community, along with those who love and support them, feel like they belong with you. As a result, they will reward you with both their attention and their loyalty.
There is one additional simple yet powerful step Paul recommends every brand who wants to attract LGBTQ+ consumers. They also suggest it is the first thing brands should do when embarking on the journey to make consumers from the LGBTQ+ community feel like they belong with you. Find out what that simple first step is in this Inclusion & Marketing podcast episode.