Rainbow-colored merchandise is back adorning mannequins, store shelves, and websites, but retailers’ Pride Month tactics are increasingly coming under a wave of consumer criticism. Hollow celebrations are no longer enough. Consumers want brands and retailers to be active advocates of the LGBTQ community around the year and make a tangible difference through internal and external advocacy.

While actions such as celebrating Pride Month with themed products and decorated shopfronts are noticed, consumers want more than just passive support and they want it year-round. In an AlixPartners survey, 66% of LGBTQ-identifying consumers and 30% of non-LGBTQ identifying consumers said their shopping decisions were impacted by whether the brand donated to organizations advocating for LGBTQ rights (Figure 1). The survey made it clear that while retailers’ work in this area was important to the general consumer, it made a significant difference in building brand perception and affecting purchase decisions for the LGBTQ consumer. Globally the aggregated buying power of the LGBTQ consumer base is approximated at $4 trillion, while in the U.S. alone it is approximately $1 trillion.

figure 1 june 2021 retail viewpoint chart v02

On the flip side, anti-LGBTQ advocacy is likely to hurt business. The top two criteria that both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ respondents reported as negatively impacting their purchase decision was whether a brand was a strong anti-LGBTQ advocate and/or donated to organizations lobbying for anti-LGBTQ rights. What should retailers do?

Make LGBTQ marketing a seamless part of your overall strategy: Authenticity is key. Consumers will notice if you force LGBTQ themes into your marketing strategy without ensuring this lines up with your overall brand positioning. Consumers are also wary of stereotyping. And so, while the LGBTQ consumer wants to be represented in marketing material and advertisements, the focus should still be on how the product is relevant to the specific consumer group being shown. Almost half of LGBTQ respondents identified word of mouth as the most important source of information impacting their impression of a brand or retailer. 53% of LGBTQ respondents said seeing members of the community in TV ads positively impacts their impression of a brand. However, they want to see real LGBTQ individuals, such as openly gay celebrities or athletes, instead of actors.

Run focus groups to better understand your consumer: Leverage competitor and market data as well as internal insights to truly understand who your LGBTQ consumers are, how they use your product, and what features speak to them. Gillette’s first shave ad was celebrated for its authentic portrayal of a transgender’s man experience with a razor and what the product and its use meant for him. Bring the customer into the conversation to fill in any knowledge gaps. Representation may be the first step, but really examine whether your advertisement will inspire your LGBTQ consumers to buy the product.

Don’t settle for the short term: Once-in-the-year celebration doesn’t drive sustainable impact. Consumers want LGBTQ marketing to be part of brands’ year-round outreach instead of just during Pride Month. Consumers want to see retailers fight for their rights, support them publicly, appoint LGBTQ leaders, among other meaningful actions. Having openly LGBTQ employees in senior roles ranked among the top three actions that positively impact buying decisions for 62% of the respondents. More than 40% LGBTQ respondents said that it would negatively affect their buying decision if a retailer or brand only targeted marketing efforts during Pride Month and at no other point during the year.

Consumers increasingly want to shop at brands they can relate to and those that share their values. Not only are they demanding transparency in what companies stand for in areas of sustainability, responsible supply chain, and labor practices, among others, they want more than just lip service. Today’s aware, opinionated, and smart consumer will not fall for shallow marketing tactics.