Why companies should understand you and your community

Why companies need to be better at understanding the LGBTQ+ community before developing their marketing campaigns

This content was paid for by Gluckstein Lawyers, separate from Xtra’s editorial staff.

For decades, the LGBTQ+ community has understood the value of the old saying: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

If a business supported bigoted policies or personalities, withholding community purchasing power could have a significant effect on their bottom line. Let’s be honest, a successful boycott against the Florida Citrus Commission (and their spokesperson Anita Bryant) tasted sweeter than orange juice ever could.

The flip side of the coin, of course, is when a commercial interest fosters a positive relationship with LGBTQ+ people to demonstrate that they want our business. At times this has also meant the community taking action to counter boycotts against businesses that proudly employed LGBTQ+ people and/or represented us in their promotional activities and services.

Seeing that early business allies not only survived but also profited from community support, other mainstream businesses realized they too wanted some of the rainbow’s gold.

But if a business markets to a community without understanding its members’ individual and collective wants and needs, it creates an unbalanced and potentially harmful relationship.

At a minimum, a business marketing to the LGBTQ+ community needs to do market research to get a better sense of this group. We are an incredibly diverse community – unity in diversity is one of our strengths – so it is important to know that one-size does not fit all.

Credit: Gluckstein Lawyers

Next, a business or professional services company must have employee buy-in. If you market to the LGBTQ+ community but they are met by frontline employees who are either ignorant of their needs or behave in an unwelcoming or bigoted manner, it’s counterproductive.

Not every employee can be expected to know everything about people a business attempts to draw in, but an appropriate level of diversity/sensitivity training is important. This training should stress strategies to use inclusive language and why making common-yet-ignorant assumptions are a disservice to both the business and its customers. Training should also not be a one-and-done proposition. Refreshers, reevaluations based on evolving understandings, and lessons integrating teachable moments are all necessary.

In some cases, if a business fails to follow through with what it promises in its sales pitch, it’s merely disappointing to consumers who were fooled. But in other cases, it can be damaging. This is especially true for marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community who are at greater risk of experiencing verbal, emotional, or even physical harm when they venture out of safe spaces created and defended by our community.

For example, in my work as a civil sexual abuse and sexual assault lawyer at Gluckstein Lawyers, I encounter many potential clients who have been severely traumatized by what happened to them. Empathy for all survivors is essential, of course, but recognizing the specific types of concerns an LGBTQ+ person may have when confiding sensitive information to someone can make a real difference. Listening to someone is only the first step to developing a relationship. To be heard is to be understood.

Credit: Gluckstein Lawyers

Therefore, when making first contact with clients, my colleagues and I are sensitive to some potential fears. These include: whether making a civil claim or police report will mean coming out before they are ready; how allegations of intimate partner violence could become known within a small community; whether they will be treated fairly by their lawyer and other segments of the justice system if they participate in less conventional or kinky consensual sexual activities; whether uncontrollable physiological reactions in their bodies (for example, having an erection when abuse or an assault occurred) will be used to dismiss their experience.

In my line of work, anticipating these fears and, if appropriate, preemptively mentioning them as legitimate concerns, can substantially ease what can already be a tense moment for a survivor.

Hearing from a company or professional that they want your business is certainly better than messages explicitly or implicitly indicating that it’s not wanted; but, deserving your business means doing more than offering empty gestures. When a business demonstrates that they understand you and your community, it suggests they want you – not just your cheque book.