What Do Lesbians Want?
I recently returned from a board meeting for an organization focused on promoting an inclusive community for LGBT youth. After the meeting, a few friends and I discussed our coming out experience into this “new” world. As we stood out in the blistering cold, I remembered my first impression of the lesbian community. Staring out into the crowded bar, I said to myself — “This is what I need to wear, this is how I need to wear my hair, this is where I need to shop, and these are the television shows I need to watch.” Stressed, confused, and somewhat disappointed, I began to ponder what it means to be visible, who is visible, and how these images are perpetuated throughout media and marketing.
According to the Community Marketing Lesbian Consumer Index, this very question of visibility is on the minds of many LGBT men and women under 30. Marketing strategies targeting ideal images of the gay, wealthy, savvy, trendsetting consumer may not apply to the lesbian segment. Gay marketing does not equate to lesbian marketing. And therein lies the problem — what is the lesbian market and what do we want?
According to a November article in BrandWeek, entitled “Girl Meets Ploy,” this lack of lesbian-specific marketing is brought to light. The article features a 24-year-old Texas-native, New York dwelling, media consuming, technologically savvy consumer. She is what many marketers consider the ideal consumer. As a matter of fact, many lesbians would be considered the ideal consumer. Ninety-seven percent of lesbians dine out at least once a week (with a median of three times per week), read People and Curve, regularly check our MySpace pages, and spend an average of $500 a year on clothing (median spent by under 30 lesbian consumers). But who is targeting us? As I sip my coffee and flip through this month’s Curve, I see ads for Dinah Shore Weekend, The L Word, Damron travel, and random t-shirt companies. Are these the only things that are to be of interest to me — parties, West Hollywood lesbians, and casual attire?
In Katherine Sender’s Business Not Politics, she theorizes that the lack of lesbian marketing is rooted in historical gay male-focused strategies. “Part of the lack of interest in lesbian consumers reflects the gender distributions among gay marketing professionals. Gay men have been instrumental in the formation of the gay market by encouraging, educating, and offering their gay subcultural expertise to national, corporate marketers … there has not been an equivalent group of lesbian professionals to champion the cause of a lesbian market.”
Here resides an untapped opportunity for communication professionals. According the Community Marketing Lesbian Consumer Index, “the lesbian market is an emerging market segment, 10 years behind the gay male market, and presents a unique opportunity for earning loyalty and market share.”
As we look forward to 2008, we have discussed shades of grey or gay-vague LGBT marketing. Some companies, like Orbitz.com, have chosen to indirectly appeal to lesbian consumers. “We don’t treat the lesbian segment differently than we treat any other consumer,” says Randy Susan Wagner, CMO. “The thinking is that, if you’re a smart traveler, there are certain needs or things that are important to you regardless of your race, gender, or sexuality.”
To me, the perfect fusion is increasing the visibility of the lesbian community with equal weight to her male counterparts, understanding this diverse community, and treating her with respect.
So what do we want? Inclusiveness, diversity, and integration.