The transparency demanded of brands by social media today means that attentive consumers can keep tabs on a brand’s values and behavior year round.
Brands that fail to acknowledge this run the risk of their messaging – for Pride Month, for example – being seen as insincere or strictly performative, particularly by younger demographics.
Gen Z’s Unflinching Support for LGBTQ+ Rights
Horowitz Research recently conducted research on Gen Z – born roughly between 1997 and 2012 – a generation that many brands are finding it hard to connect with, due to the breakdown of the media ecosystem. The agency discovered that 28% of Gen Zers surveyed self-identified as LGBTQIA.
“That’s a substantial proportion,” noted Waterston. “The story of Gen Z,” she said, “is one of allies and being inclusive. The big message from our data is that for brands to really engage with Gen Z audiences, the tokenism of Black History Month or Pride Month or Asian and Pacific Islander [Heritage Month] – that kind of pandering engagement during these marketing months just really falls short.”
The younger generation especially, she added, is concerned with the brand’s voice, values, and social responsibility all year round. “If you’re keeping your company headquarters in a place that’s going after LGBTQ+ rights and trans rights, and yet you come out with fancy statements during Pride Month, it’s going to come off as disingenuous,” Waterston asserted.
There may be even greater cynicism among older audiences, she stated. “Marketing works one way, business and politics work another. These young people – maybe it’s a real cultural shift, I’m not sure. Are these young people going to support brands they align with politically when they’re a little older and have other considerations? I don’t have a crystal ball.”
A New Cultural Consciousness
Despite a common perception – right or wrong – that the LGBTQ+ audience is a coveted demographic for brands, with ample disposable income, the community has still been somewhat marginalized over time. Why is that?
“I think it has a lot to do with the way brands think about marketing and how they spend their marketing dollars,” explained Waterston. “It’s not just LGBTQ+, it’s multicultural and diverse in general. Brands would look at numbers like, less than 5% of the U.S. audience is LGBTQ+ and think, this is not a sizable enough audience for us to market to year round – forgetting that it’s also about the allies, about the families, about tapping into the zeitgeist – a cultural sensibility of inclusiveness and progressiveness.”
With regard to Gen Z, the matter becomes even more intricate, suggested Waterston. “There’s so much fluidity. Older generations are just now learning that gender is perhaps not just binary. Young people today were born into this sensibility, and that makes it complicated for brands. People don’t feel they have to hide their preferences.”
Essentially, whether the Horowitz Research study points to an actual upsurge in LGBTQ+ numbers in the Gen Z demographic is open to debate; what it does show is a greater inclination for individuals to openly identify with that segment of the population.
Here, a correlation between the LGBTQ+ community and the Black Lives Matter movement can be drawn. The more willing people are to be outspoken on an issue – even as allies – the more liable they are to call for consistent commitment from the companies they purchase from.
Three Practical Insights
First, as already attested, brands must be mindful of diverse audiences not only at specific times of the year, but all year long.
Second, having diverse viewpoints in the room when marketing decisions are made creates opportunities for authentic engagement.
Third, “brands need to start thinking more creatively about engaging with audiences beyond traditional advertising. For example, with these young people, we saw how powerful something like TikTok is,” added Waterston.
“It is about rethinking all of your marketing approaches,” Waterston said, “and it’s part of the whole conversation that’s happening in this country. It’s not just about LGBTQ+; it’s about diversity overall. The marketing world has, for way too long, been very binary, meaning that white and straight is called the general market, and everything else is not. The reality is that what is white and straight is not only not the general market, but is actually a much smaller portion of the market than you would have thought.”
Diversity, argued Waterston, needs to be the norm. And if truth be told, she added, “a lot of brands realized that what happened in 2020 was a wake-up call. We’ve been busier than ever, because brands have started to figure out that they don’t know what they don’t know.”
An earlier version of this article appeared at martech.org.