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Fussy much? The challenge of marketing to gays and lesbians

The pink pound? Early adopters? Fickle and flighty? What is the truth about marketing to the LGBT community?
New research confirms that gays and lesbians remain an attractive marketing segment.

My swimming club is organizing a pool party. It doesn’t sound like a big deal when you say it quickly, but we haven’t done it before and, when you’re relying on London to turn on some decent weather in June, there’s every chance things could go horribly wrong.

‘Sponsorship!’ said Jonathan, one of our members working on the event. ‘Sponsorship,’ he said again firmly. Jonathan is an investment banker - small, punchy and Irish, we were all inspired by his confidence. What we needed, to make this pool party really rock, was sponsorship.

But what sort of sponsors would potentially be attracted to what we had to offer (ie a captive audience of 500 gays and lesbians at a pool in South London)? What makes gay men and lesbians an attractive segment to market to? And how do companies and advertisers specifically target gay men and lesbians?

Research by Bob Witeck, of US-based Witeck-Combs Communications, confirms the widely held perception of LGBT consumers as early-adopters and a high-value marketing segment to target.

According to the Witeck-Combs research, 24% of LGBT adults 'often or always like to keep up with the latest styles and trends' versus 17% of heterosexual adults. How does that translate into action and consumer behavior? Simple things such as whether or not you are likely to ask for brand names when ordering alcoholic drinks: 18% of heterosexual adults do; 27% of LGBT adults do.

Darren Cooper from Out Now Consulting - marketing, communications, training and research advisors that specialize in the LGBT market - has been working on the LGBT 2020 global research project.

The study covers a range of topics and areas including travel, consumer data, demographics, workplace issues, relationships, discrimination and harassment. What makes the LGBT 2020 research unique is that it has been collected in 12 languages and has developed data sets for over 20 countries around the world.

According to Cooper: 'This is the first time that comparative data has been collected on an international scale, and so it provides valuable insight into the similarities and differences of LGBT communities all over the world.

‘Most previous research has focused primarily on the US and UK's LGBT markets, and therefore the information that previously existed related only to these two countries. While these were obvious places to start learning about LGBT communities, they are not the only places where viable LGBT markets exist.

‘To think that the LGBT populations of India, Japan or Brazil will respond and behave the same as those in the US or Germany for example is of course not the case, and research is the best way to understand these differences - which can be profound.’

Cooper is keen to point out that (even within a particular geography) there is also a lot of diversity within the LGBT market itself.

‘The perception is that LGBT people earn more, travel more frequently and have higher levels of education than average,' he told me. 'This is true, but only in a very general sense.

'LGBT people come from all parts of every community, and so a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works when it comes to marketing to the “LGBT market”.’

Witeck-Combs’ research confirms the traditional 'pink pound' perceptions with some interesting trends for the travel industry - that, on average (for the summer of 2011), LGBT consumers planned to spend US$1,300 on their holiday as compared to the overall average of US$1,058.

According to Witeck: ‘Gay households, like all others, are experiencing real changes and some hardships in their household budgets, plans and travel expectations, however they continue to show a higher propensity to travel and dedicate a greater share of their wallet and appetite to their travel habits and needs.’

Out Now’s research also confirms that there are a higher proportion of LGBT households with two incomes, and without children, who travel more frequently than the average. This makes the LGBT market an ideal target for advertising for discretionary items and travel.

However, according to Cooper: ‘There are also plenty of LGBT people who are single, in full-time education and also those who do have children too, and this sector of LGBT parents and families has been growing fast in recent times.’

While we are seeing an increasing number of brands featuring LGBT people in their advertising (some more successfully than others), according to Cooper, a key driver is the social context of the market in which the brand is operating.

‘A brand in the USA could make a big splash with a gay marriage ad right now, and also show their support of equality,' he said. 'That would be a pretty strong message to send out, and not just to LGBT people - around 50% of all Americans support gay marriage according to recent polls.

‘Brands that can show authenticity and credibility and that they take this market seriously - that's what LGBT consumers want now. Having equality policies is also good, making sure they are implemented and taken seriously is even better.’

It’s a clearly a fascinating area of research and the insights into the LGBT communities of emerging economies such as Brazil, India and Mexico are going to be of great interest to major brands as they look to target these growing economies. Next stop for Out Now’s data collection is South Korea - another major world economy.

Meanwhile, I’m still selling tickets for a pool party in London and crossing my fingers for a sunny day.

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