With Pride festivals and parades all around the world, June is a time for LGBTQ and allied people to celebrate community.   For savvy marketers, June is also peak time to reach the LGBTQ consumer segment.  As the executive director of imre’s LGBT Practice, I often get asked for my take on the history of the segment.   So, in honor of Pride, let’s take a look back.

Brent Almond and Nicholas Pirulli with their son, Jon, at the DC Pride celebration, 2018.

The LGBTQ segment has come a long way in recent years.   With advances in equality on a number of fronts, increased visibility in the media and a changing mindset of the younger generations, the LGBTQ segment has evolved into a highly sought-after market for brands.

We celebrate the community with parades and festivals in June, noted as Pride Month, in commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York City nearly fifty years ago.  While today, the month is ground zero for brands and major corporations across all verticals looking to connect with the segment, that hasn’t always been the case.

Looking back to the late 80’s, only a handful of brands saw the value in attracting what was referred to as “the pink dollar.”  Mostly representing the alcohol and travel industries, these brave brands were generally targeting gay men (as others in the segment were not recognized then), through gay events in gay neighborhoods, and/or through the local gay magazine.   I call this the “pink bubble.”  Everything about a brand’s effort was contained within the pink bubble. Never would a press release or wider public amplification of these efforts make its way out for fear of a million moms organizing a boycott of your brand.

Fast forward a bit to what I call the “G.B.F.” era, that is the gay best friend.   Largely attributed to greater visibility in the media with shows like “Will & Grace” in the late 90’s, this was the first real straight adjacency to the gay market.  There was a novelty—a cool factor—to knowing gay people, and the general population started to better understand what being gay was really about.  In 2003, the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered on NBC’s Bravo network.  I don’t think anyone could have predicted that a show starring five gay men in all of their glory would have such an impact on brands through product integration.  So the story goes, when a product was featured on the show as part of the “fab five’s” makeover, it would fly off the shelves after the air date.  This new-found visibility opened the doors for more brands to market to and show support for gay and lesbian communities.

If we look at the segment today, we find an ever-expanding population of people that represent not only those who identify as lesbian or gay, but also bisexual, transgender, queer and straight allies.  Straight allies are those individuals who do not identify as LGBTQ, but do consider themselves to be a good friend to LGBTQ people and part of the community on some level.  The allies pay attention to how inclusive brands are, what they represent and which are supportive.  This is the massive group of consumers who are driving the current trend of values-based purchasing, the concept of specifically supporting companies and brands that mirror one’s own values.  I call this current stage in the evolution the “Equality Audience.”  With LGBTQ at the core, this larger audience of inclusive-minded people opens the door to a much wider opportunity.  It’s as much about a brand targeting me and my husband as it is my nieces and nephews seeing the same campaign and thinking that it is the coolest product around for being inclusive.  This trend will continue to grow as Gen Z starts to make their mark on the economy.

Recently, the LGBT practice at imre worked with long-standing client, T. Rowe Price to mine insights from their research to identify the immense opportunity within the wide LGBTQ and allied audience, then developed tools for financial advisors to best meet the segment needs. Imre also led the strategy for Taubman Properties’ re-engagement of the LGBTQ and allied segment with the re-imagining of their flagship Beverly Center in Los Angeles. To launch this initiative, we set out to own “the National Launch of Pride Month,” which included the inaugural lighting of the building’s exterior – in rainbow – to show alignment with the LGBTQ community, with the goal of reaching the vast population of allies in the area as well.  Our role as agency partner is to provide the insights needed to fuel a brand’s journey in the space, ultimately leading to full campaign deployment.

The LGBTQ and allied segment is as diverse as the general market, representing all ages and life stages with families, couples and single people alike.  It represents an enormous buying power across all verticals and, with an authentic cultural competency, a tremendous opportunity for your brand.

For more information on imre’s LGBT Practice visit www.imre.com.  Joe Keenan is Executive Director, LGBTQ and Entertainment at imre.

(Feature Photo: Laverne Cox celebrates at Beverly Center and The Advocate’s Champions of PRIDE Event in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Beverly Center)

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