March 29, 2019 12:07 PM
by Meg C. Hall
Build rapport with the LGBTQ community by being authentic and consistently engaged and by taking an honest look at your own internal policies. (Photo: BlindSpots/Shutterstock)
Is your small business reaching all the customers it possibly can? To grow your customer base, you must find ways of exposing your brand to a variety of audiences and broadening awareness of the goods and services you provide.
Each June, the LGBTQ community globally celebrates Pride Month, so if you’re looking for a new group to focus some of your marketing efforts on this summer, consider if this segment makes sense for your business.
According to Nielsen research, LGBTQ households spend 7 percent more on average than non-LGBTQ households and make 10 percent more shopping trips each year. Another study, from Witeck Communications, estimated LGBTQ adults held $917 billion of buying power in the U.S. in 2015.
To learn more about how small business owners can build rapport with this community, NCR Silver spoke with Jenn T. Grace, LGBTQ business strategiest and author of “Beyond The Rainbow: Personal Stories and Practical Strategies to Help your Business & Workplace Connect with the LGBTQ Market.” Here is her advice for businesses interested in participating in Pride Month festivities.
Just as you would with any other market segment, it’s first important to determine if pursuing an LGBTQ audience makes sense for your individual business. Consider how prevalent the LGBTQ community is in your local area. If so, ask yourself if showing your support could help you gain a competitive advantage.
While focusing in on this group has the potential to bring in more business, Grace said, it’s also critical that your participation in Pride and marketing efforts come from an authentic desire to serve the LGBTQ community.
“When it comes to deciding if you should participate or not, you have to really ask yourself what your comfort level with this audience is. If you’re comfort level is minimal, then it may not be the right fit for you,” she said. “You’re better off not doing it until you can really wrap your head around that comfort. It might delay your Pride effort until the following year, but at least you’re going to show up in a way that’s actually going to attract new business.”
Grace said the LGBTQ community, in particular, is very keen to support businesses whose values align with their own — who are “walking the talk.” She advised businesses of all sizes to evaluate their internal policies for consistency with the messages their marketing campaigns push out to the public.
“When I work with a company or organization, people will often say, ‘I want to market to the community.’ That’s all well and good, but what do your policies look like on the inside? Do you have sexual orientation and gender included within your equal-employment opportunity policies?” she asked. “Your policies have to be in alignment before you can really go full force in marketing to the community.”
One tool many LGBTQ persons use when deciding where to spend their money is the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. While this annual report focuses on evaluating large companies, Grace said exploring the rankings and criteria can help small business owners better understand business practices and policies that shape buying behavior within the LGBTQ community.
Just like you can’t pigeonhole all women aged 34 to 50 as mothers, you also can’t make assumptions that every person within the LGBTQ community is the same, said Grace.
“Make sure that you’re not lumping the entire community together as one monolithic mass, because that’s something that I see people get wrong routinely. They approach the community as just one big, homogeneous group of people, and it’s not.”
Instead of viewing LGBTQ people as a single, generalized audience, consider which segments within the community you wish to target.
“Are you marketing to men? Are you marketing to women? Is gender not relevant, but age is? Really think through who that target market is and how you’re going to reach them at Pride and year round,” she said.
Your participation in Pride Month and related marketing efforts should come from an authentic desire to serve the LGBTQ community. (Photo: WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock)
Another way to build rapport with the community is to partner with well-known LGBTQ organizations.
“Have a philanthropic side to what you’re doing,” suggested Grace, such as contributing to a college scholarship, donating a portion of your store’s profits during Pride or volunteering time as a team.
Whatever it happens to be, think through how you can align your small business’s brand with the organization and their mission, so you’re not just marketing to the community, you’re also giving back to the community, she said.
“And giving back to the community is really, really important.”
Finally, consistent engagement with the community is important if you want to appeal to the LGBTQ crowd.
“You can’t just have your activity around the LGBTQ community only happening during Pride Month itself. That’s where I think a lot of business owners go wrong. They will put together a marketing campaign or some kind of advertising or get a booth at the local Pride … but after June 30, that business disappears.”
Pride month can be a great kickoff activity that will lay the foundation and help build momentum for your LGBTQ marketing efforts, she said, but you’ve got to maintain that momentum. Be sure you have a follow-up strategy and continue to interact within the community after Pride is over.
“Don’t treat Pride as the only LGBTQ event. Make sure that Pride is part of your LGBTQ outreach strategy, but it’s not the only thing you do,” she explained. “For a small business owner to really appeal to the community, they really have to be doing it year round.”