LGBT Community Targeted as Savvy, Loyal Consumers

29 February 2012

How do you sell stuff to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population — an affluent, hip group whose tenacious brand loyalty is coveted by some of the largest businesses in America?

A trio of experts gave Darden students their best insights on that question at the Love Is Love marketing panel held Thursday (23 February) at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Johnson & Johnson and the student club Gays, Lesbians and Allies at Darden (GLAD) sponsored the panel.

The event is held annually to promote the inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community both at Darden and in America’s workplaces. Many of the students who attended the conference wore red t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Love Is Love.”

Corporate America is trying to understand who we are,” said Bob Witeck (U.Va. ’74), the co-author of Business Inside Out: Capturing Millions of Brand Loyal Gay Consumers, a book on how to best market to the LGBT community. “They’ve also operated in the dark, not knowing how many we are.”

Witeck said that based on market research tracking projections, LGBT adults make up about 6 to 7 percent of the population, or more than 16 million people in America. Their buying power was estimated to be over $769 billion in 2011.

Witeck said many businesses understand that gays are good for businesses, both as employees and consumers. Of church, political, educational and business leaders, it was business leaders who “got it first. It was business leaders who got it fastest. Business has made the most progress — ahead of all others — to try and get it right … The future is inclusion.”

R. Scott Creighton (U.Va. ’78, MBA ’82), global vice president of marketing excellence at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Companies, said the LGBT community is getting “a lot more attention and focus” from America and business in general. He noted the rise of Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman for mainstream companies such as J.C. Penney & Co. “Business is responding, and the why is a pretty obvious answer,” Creighton said.

Creighton said gays are affluent, tuned in, trendy and trend setters. “It’s a great audience to go after,” he says.

Jeffrey Marsh (U.Va. ’89) is the director of LGBT marketing at Orbitz, the online travel company. He was responsible for launching Orbitz’s gay travel microsite in 2002.

He said Orbitz built brand loyalty among the LGBT community by making its workplace welcoming, using inclusive ads in mainstream media and by its significant, long-term support of LGBT organizations and events.

If you discriminate in the workplace, “don’t market to gays and lesbians,” Marsh said. “Any company with a budget can advertise to the gay community … But you also need to invest in the community. Ten plus years of our consistent, dedicated marketing has resulted in brand loyalty. As an organization, I think we get it.”

In fact, Marsh said Orbitz has a “significant brand preference” in the LGBT community compared to rivals such as Expedia or Travelocity. That brand preference is eagerly sought after by companies.

All three panelists noted the dramatic changes in attitude toward the hiring of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered in many of the boardrooms of corporate America.

“You won’t have to decide which part of your identity to leave at home,” Witeck told the students, many of them members of the student club Gays, Lesbians and Allies at Darden. “You don’t have to leave any part of your identity at home.”

Other Love Is Love events included Safe Space Training, a GLAD-sponsored First Coffee and a case discussion led by Professor Peter Rodriguez, which focused on coming out in the workplace.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia