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Marketing Healthcare to LGBTs in the Age of Marriage Equality

August 15, 2015 by Andy Bagnall0

As a gay man and a supporter of LGBT equality, 2015 has been a momentous year because of the Supreme Court’s decision to extend marriage equality to the entire nation. On the evening of the decision, my husband and I made our way to The Stonewall Inn in New York City – the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement – to celebrate this historic event. As a healthcare advertising professional, I wondered how this watershed moment would impact the way health and wellness is marketed in the United States. As I reflected on this, several key issues and opportunities rose to the top.

LGBTs are becoming increasingly more accepted by mainstream US culture, and brands are taking note. Over time, as LGBT visibility has increased both in the mainstream media and in people’s personal lives through the coming out of friends and loved ones, acceptance of LGBTs and LGBT relationships has grown. We are now at a point in our history where the majority of Americans support LGBTs. According to Gallup, 58% of Americans say that same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as heterosexual marriages. This increased acceptance has not gone unnoticed by brands looking to attract a customer segment they haven’t specifically targeted in the past. In 2012, Oreos – the epitome of Americana – posted a rainbow-filled Oreo on its Facebook page. In 2014, CVS Health included LGBT characters in its rebranding TV ad as one of the many diverse customers that the company serves (or wants to serve). And this year, Dove included a gay couple as a part of a Father’s Day ad celebrating all kinds of Dads. Marketshare is not easy to win, and more and more brands are adding LGBTs to their target segments.

ThinkstockPhotos-482485194-webTaking an inclusive stance toward LGBT consumers can influence non-LGBTs, especially Millennials. Most of us are aware of the fact that Millennials are the most diverse consumer segment we’ve ever seen. And Millennial culture includes respect for and appreciation of diversity, including LGBT. According to Pew, 70% of Millennials support LGBT marriage equality – the highest of any generation. Brands today are taking note of this cultural value and using it as a way to gain sales and share among Millennials. This works particularly well for established brands that are trying to shed an image of being “dated” or not relevant to today’s consumer. Two brands using this approach are Coca Cola, who ran an ad during the Olympics that was a celebration of diversity, including LGBT, and Honey Maid’s This is Wholesome campaign featuring tattooed, interracial, and gay parents in their modern take on the American family. Healthcare could benefit from this more modern image, courtesy of a supportive take on LGBTs.

The definitions of relationships, parents, and families are changing. Are your communications keeping up? Providing culturally competent care is an important objective for hospitals, health plans, and other healthcare providers. Patients seeking healthcare are often in a vulnerable state as they grapple with the myriad issues that come with dealing with a health condition. Having care delivered in a way that is sensitive to one’s culture helps to reduce emotional anxiety and increase outcomes for patients. If all of your communications speak to “husband” and “wife,” then you are completely missing LGBT couples who may be seeking a healthcare solution that you can provide.

Gay marriage will also likely lead to more children in LGBT households. As LGBT couples take the traditional relationship path to marriage, children are the next logical step. This means that your target may not be just “Mom”; it may be “Dad” or “Mom and Mom” or “Dad and Papa.” We are at the point in marketing where acknowledging and celebrating LGBT families is differentiating. Now is an ideal time to jump in and capture this opportunity. At some point, most brands will be speaking directly to LGBT families; those that do not will stand out… for all the wrong reasons.

The LGBT segment has been an opportunity for brand influence and growth for decades. Healthcare marketers – along with travel, financial services, consumer packaged goods, and many others – have been successfully reaching and influencing this segment. The shift in societal attitudes toward LGBTs has now opened up this opportunity to “mainstream” brands and not just those on the “cutting edge.” In addition, the state of the American healthcare consumer has changed forever. Individuals, couples, and families represent a diversity that includes LGBTs. Therefore, our communications must keep up with this new reality if we are to remain relevant in today’s consumer/patient landscape. The upside: this is one of those moments where doing the right thing socially is also the right thing for business. Let’s get started!

Andy Bagnall will delve further into this topic as he moderates a panel discussion, Taste the Rainbow: Best Practices in LGBT Healthcare Marketing, at the MCH National Conference. He will lead a panel of LGBT experts, sharing trade secrets and tips on how to tap into LGBT media and culture to drive business results. Learn from Andy, as well as the rest of our esteemed speaking faculty, at the 2015 MCH National Conference, held Oct 12-13 at The Westin in Fort Lauderdale. Register today!

Andy Bagnall

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