As Pride Month approaches, brands across all industries strive to connect with and support the LGBTQIA+ community in an authentic way.
Without the right knowledge, approach, and action, however, Pride Month campaigns can be seen as “rainbow washing,” a type of performance activism. For example, some brands adding rainbow designs to their logos each year may not be driving real, positive change to support the LGBTQIA+ community.
Currently working on the social team at Webflow, experienced marketer and thought leader Pat Timmons holds expertise in a variety of fields, including copywriting, entrepreneurship, and music. In 2021, Pat also published Feel Something, a book encouraging marketers to embrace empathy and cultivate trust within their brand communities.
We sat down with Pat to discuss the ways in which brands can navigate Pride Month marketing and authentically support their LGBTQIA+ community members, in June and year-round.
How do you celebrate Pride Month, and what significance does it hold for you?
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a past leader of Webflow’s affinity group, Queerflow, celebrating Pride Month is a year-round focus for me. While there is a lot more emphasis in June, Pride’s essence and purpose is to educate people about the importance of Queer history, representation, struggles, and more.
Do you feel that marketing (social media, eCommerce, etc.) is typically inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community?
I think we are making slow progress here. I don’t think representation in media and marketing is fully authentic to the LGBTQIA+ community quite yet. The best way you can be sure that your marketing efforts are inclusive is to create a clear voice and tone guide that your company uses. In this guide, your team should update the terms regularly with a section on inclusive language.
How do you believe “rainbow washing” and performance activism impact the way brands are perceived by consumers (especially those identifying as LGBTQ+)?
It is perceived negatively, and, honestly, should not be a focus for brands. If you want to support the community, show up for them in authentic ways. Take action against laws that are actively restricting the freedom of members of the community. We don’t need another rainbow coffee mug. We need allyship.
How should brands avoid looking like they’re rainbow washing but still celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community?
Show up for our community. Do not just create merchandise and sell it. Have a clear mission as a brand, and a clear why behind it. And stay true to that mission. If you want to raise money for a certain cause, find an organization that is reputable and trustworthy. Make sure the donation is meaningful and comes from a place of authenticity.
How do you define “empathy marketing,” and where does it fit into Pride Month marketing?
Marketing with empathy starts from culturally relevant, customer-first, emotion-based content. Understanding customer needs on an emotional and logical level is critical. During Pride Month this year, this could be a challenge. I don’t think every company has to do something for Pride this year unless they are taking action and really making a difference.
What brands or individuals have you specifically noticed meaningfully supporting the LGBTQ+ community — in past Pride Months and/or year-round?
She is not a brand, but Lizzo. Lizzo has brought incredible queer artists along with her for her tour currently to celebrate them while also speaking out for Trans rights during her performances. This is how you show up as an ally.
Bio: Pat Timmons is a social media and brand marketer with a background in SaaS, music, and advertising. Pat graduated from Emerson with a B.S. in Marketing Communications and Entrepreneurial Studies and graduated from Berklee College of Music with an M.A. in Music Business.
For more insights on how to actively embrace and support your LGBTQIA+ community as a brand or marketer, check out these resources:
Brands & Pride Month
LGBTQ+ Advocacy and Support Organizations