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June is Pride month, and it seems like more companies this year are coming out in support of the LGBT community.

Unlike in previous decades, big companies are no longer afraid to associate with the LGBT community. YouTube is celebrating LGBT athletes and their supporters in a new campaign called #ProudToPlay. Lucky Charms is encouraging people to show "how you make our world colorful" in its #LuckyToBe campaign. Even Nike is trying to get in on the action.

It's no wonder companies want to show support for this community. The LGBT market is estimated to be worth $70 billion in the US alone. Plus, as the consumer population becomes more accepting of the LGBT community, companies realize that showing support for equality makes good business sense.

Releasing ads that feature or market to the LGBT community requires tact, not just because equality is still a polarizing issue in some communities, but also because characterizations of LGBT people have historically been stereotypical. In fact, marketing to this audience requires thoughtful planning even before you release your first ad. Here are four things to keep in mind.

1. Check your policies.

Before you even begin to think about marketing to LGBT customers, make sure that your policies are actually gay-friendly. It's important to LGBT customers that the companies they do business with have pro-LGBT policies. It doesn't do any good to spend time and money marketing to them if your own house isn't in order.

This means having an employment non-discrimination policy, but it also requires considering benefits for same-sex domestic partners, encouraging diversity in your employment efforts, and putting in place programs that encourage the mentoring, retention and support of LGBT employees. Also, make sure your corporate culture embraces "out" employees. Even your company's (or your executives') political contributions will be put under microscope. Companies have to "walk the walk" before they can "talk the talk."

Tweet this!Before you even begin to think about marketing to LGBT customers, make sure that your policies are actually gay-friendly. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Thankfully, many companies are already realizing the importance of having the right policies in place. This month, the hotel company Marriott launched #LoveTravels, a campaign that features out basketball player Jason Collins, transgender model Geena Rocero, and other members of the LGBT community. But long before the campaign was launched, Marriott already put in place policies that support LGBT staff.

"Marriott has had same-sex benefits since 1999," Kristine Friend, senior director of segment marketing for Marriott International, shared with Fast Company. And as GLAAD points out on its blog, Marriott International has consistently earned a 100% perfect score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index as one of the Best Employers for LGBT People. By first making sure that its internal policies are inclusive, Marriott's campaign doesn't feel forced and has so far been embraced by the community.

2. Show concrete support.

While having the right policies in place is a good start, it's equally critical to demonstrate your support for the larger LGBT community.

Today, it's not uncommon for big companies to have presence at major LGBT events. Companies should consider supporting these sponsorship opportunities - they're a great way to show your support, to put your brand in front of the leaders and tastemakers of that community, and to thoughtfully link your brand to a worthy cause.

Think about all the cause marketing opportunities available to support and reach this community. Otherwise, coming out with an ad targeting this audience might feel inauthentic and opportunistic.

3. Strike the right tone.

Once upon a time, ads that targeted the LGBT community were intentionally very subtle. Companies used ambiguously gay characters to get the attention of the LGBT audience without offending the general public. The mid-nineties Volkswagen ad with two guys picking up a couch in their Golf comes to mind.

And then there was a second wave of LGBT ads that did the exact opposite. These ads were very "out and proud," usually using the iconic Pride flag and colors.

Today, however, many people think that embracing equality is just the price of admission. Ads that prominently feature rainbow flags might seem cheesy and patronizing. The most successful campaigns today feature gay characters who just happened to be gay.

As part of a campaign, consider ads where it's a dad and a dad feeding their kids breakfast in the morningÛ_or two women planning their honeymoon trip to a beautiful destinationÛ_or two moms seeing their kids off to college and being able to pay for it because of their financial services company. Avoiding stereotypes and showing more complex characters will more likely resonate with your audience. These are the types of ads that are more likely to "go viral" and serve as brand-builders to the LGBT community. If you're not sure if you're hitting the right tone, engage with your community of customers to get their feedback and test your ad campaigns rigorously.

4. Keep it on-brand.

While it's important to cater to your audience, you shouldn't lose sight of your own business goals. After all, you want your ads to help build your brand and to eventually move the needle.

Allstate's 90-second spot released this month provides a great example. The animated short film remains "true to the spirit" of Pride Month by telling a story of two men who fell in love. The company's brand is reinforced in the concept and title. As Fast Company noted, the campaign hashtag, #outholdinghands, "ties in to Allstate's 'you're in good hands' branding - that's an impressive feat for a company making an authentic appeal to a worthy cause."

There's a fine balance between reinforcing your own brand and telling a good story, but ad testing with the help of your customers can help refine your campaigns before you give them a coming-out party to the world.

Tweet this!LGBT marketing should strike the right balance between telling a good story and reinforcing your own brand. (CLICK TO TWEET)

As acceptance of LGBT equality becomes the norm, expect to see more and more companies openly market to this audience, especially around Pride month. Do it right and you might earn the support of a loyal segment with tremendous spending power; do it wrong, however, and you might offend an influential consumer group and their supporters.

Photo taken from

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