To become more inclusive and LGBTQ+-friendly, brands need to lead with actions rather than just words. Making statements isn't enough anymore. Instead, culture needs to change from within a brand, not just within its creative copy.
How can this happen?
Internally, hiring and retaining talent that identifies as LGBTQ+ is the first step to truly aligning a brand's mission, product, and consumers with a more inclusive message that is authentic and comes from people who have the lived experience — versus a "well-positioned" and "woke" marketing campaign.
A recent Adobe study found that nearly one-third of all consumers were more likely to purchase from companies with more diversity in campaigns and marketing materials; more than 50 percent of people among underrepresented groups such as African-Americans and people in the LGBTQ+ community believe in only supporting brands that prioritize diversity.
As a queer person myself, I can't agree more. I implore brands to interrogate their motives, question their hiring practices, and create actionable plans that celebrate diverse perspectives in marketing campaigns and create inclusive hiring and retention practices. Brands influence culture and cultural norms; because of this, it's the corporate responsibility of a brand to promote messages of inclusivity and equality. Younger generations expect brands, as they yield immense power, to do this internally and externally.
As Stacey Terrien, director of global advertising at Microsoft, stated aptly during an ANA Multicultural Marketing and Diversity committee meeting in 2020, "Not every product should have to 'make money,' but because it's right. 'Solve for one, extend to many' is the solution. When it came to distribution, preorders helped solve a potential problem that distribution might have been delayed. We should never let barriers [like distribution] keep us from innovating in inclusive ways."
In 2019, approximately nine million Americans identified as LGBTQ+, according to research by the Williams Institute. Even now, many LGBTQ+ people still feel isolated and excluded or have been the victims of hate crimes. Forty-two percent of LGBTQ+ youth say their community is not accepting of LGBTQ+ people, and 73 percent say they are more honest about themselves online than offline for fear of abuse, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Companies that have created internal, positive, and productive changes in their work cultures, initiating a movement forward to a better future, are setting a precedence. For example, the American Express "I Am" campaign included a variety of people from different backgrounds and lifestyles. American Express prioritized internal change with its employees and created an inclusive culture within the company.
To establish consistency and frequency, the company created global colleague events including panel discussions that were live streamed and recorded, encouraging participation. For the local market, it created activations that engaged colleagues through local communications, office décor and swag, as well as colleague networking receptions.
In addition, American Express developed a toolkit for activating global campaigns and local offices and establishing consistency, which includes a local activation playbook, digital toolkit for creative assets, leader toolkit, and a colleague social toolkit. American Express employees were encouraged to share their own posts as a way to foster connection within the office.
Most importantly, however, is giving voice to real people. This is crucial to highlighting queer perspectives and normalizing these voices. In 2018, P&G released an emotional documentary designed to increase awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. The film, titled The Words Matter, explained how in the mid-1980s amidst the AIDS epidemic, one man at P&G fought to get sexual orientation added to the company's equal opportunity statement.
When asked about how to attract diversity talent in the marketing industry, Simona Rabsatt Butler, director of procurement-marketing and supplier diversity at Quicken Loans, stated that it's a brand's responsibility to hire diverse talent during ANA 's 2019 Advertising Financial Management Conference: "The challenge is, are you thinking about it? Is it a passion point or concern for you when you're looking for the next hire? If not, then it will never change. It takes each one of us. If you say you don't know where to look, that's not an acceptable answer. Are you going to supply chain classes and seeking out talent? It's our responsibility."
Change happens when all of us, whether consumers, brands, or marketers, come together to prioritize it in the first place. After all, actions speak louder than words.
"Brands, Actions Speak Louder Than Words," Joanna Valente, Senior Manager of Content Creation and Strategy at ANA, 2020.