As Our Society Becomes Gender-Fluid, Marketing Must Catch Up

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Transgender adults make up nearly one million people in the United States, and the number of trans models on runways and in mainstream entertainment programming is increasing.
As our culture becomes more gender-fluid, consumers expect companies to publicly engage with the LGBTQ community as we move toward a more tolerant, inclusive culture. Needless to say, companies that fail to do so are risking irrevocable damage to their brand and customer base.

For instance, Target’s removal of gender-based signage and addition of gender-neutral bathrooms was led by consumers, showcasing the power of public opinion. On the contrary, brands who fail to drop gender stereotypes risk backlash, as the chief marketing officer of L Brands learned after saying that transgender individuals should not walk the runway during the Victoria Secret fashion show.

The key for companies to create and execute an inclusion-based marketing strategy is to speak honestly to the LGBTQ market while creating campaigns that resonate with their lives.



Consider All Points of View

While the business case for reaching non-binary individuals is clear, creating authentic campaigns can be tricky. Misusing pronouns, or not providing enough visibility to the LGBTQ community in an ad can make a company appear insensitive. Brands like Absolute Vodka have made this mistake, when their ad increased the understanding of the transgender community, but received criticism because trans actress Carol Marr was silent during the entire commercial.

Here are five areas to guide you when developing gender fluid campaigns:

1. Develop a Diverse Team
Gather input from people who understand transgender issues and test your ideas with them. Learn the rules and use your campaigns to support this group’s unique challenges. For example, after learning that model Tracey Norman’s career ended after her transgender secret came out, Clairol’s marketing team wisely brought her back to represent Nice ‘n Easy.

2. Drop Product Stereotypes
As gender stereotypes lose favor, companies are free to market gender-specific products to all genders. For example, Sephora now offers free transgender makeup classes, and Céline Dion is creating a gender-neutral clothing line for children.

3. Micro Target
The LGBTQ community consists of a multitude of races, ages, religions, sexualities, and interests. Conduct original, tailored research to guide your strategy. Secret’s #StressTest is a strong example that highlights the fear transgender women have of violence with a message that builds support.

4. Back Campaigns with Company Culture
From social media to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, if inclusivity is not part of your company culture, your secret will come out. Marriott’s #LoveTravels campaign, featuring transgender model Geena Rocero, is a strong example because it was backed by Marriott’s policy to support transgender employees and LGBTQ legal issues.



5. Be Genuine
Back up your transgender marketing campaigns with action. Budweiser created a no-label bottle design for the LGBTQ community but faced considerable repercussions when the company chose to sponsor the World Cup in Russia, where members of the transgender community were cautioned to expect attacks. Your company should be consistent when taking a stand on LGBTQ issues, otherwise your brand will lose its authenticity.

Marketers today have the opportunity to influence society’s gender expectations from flat portrayals of men and women to create a more tolerant, inclusive culture. In addition to the financial rewards, your campaigns can be part of society’s holistic efforts to develop a culture of inclusion that targets people of all genders authentically.

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