Direct marketing to gay men and lesbians has come a long way. The roster of gay-specific catalogs has had a mixed record. Efforts to crack the gay catalog market have come from major and familiar industry names, like Hanover House's short-lived HIM catalog, to an array of smaller but professional entrepreneurial efforts like Shocking Gray, Just for Us, Christopher & Castro, Compound, Ten %, Greenwood-Cooper, Royal Palms, Company Q, Don't Panic, Pride Enterprises and others.
Some of these community-specific efforts have been successful, particularly those providing merchandise that is often unavailable outside of the gay “ghettos” in Greenwich Village, West Hollywood and San Francisco's Castro district. Gay men and lesbians are taught early on that they must seek their community, since it usually is not presented to them by traditional institutions: their families, schools and government and religious organizations. That's why gay people are such a great market for travel, theater, entertainment and identity merchandise.
To many gay people, their mailbox — and now their access to the Internet — is an important link to the broader gay community. Moreover, as an increasingly politicized minority, gay men and lesbians seek to support those who recognize and support the community. Slapping a rainbow on a product isn't enough; gay people are discerning and demanding consumers.
Learning to successfully direct market to gay people has been a complicated and ongoing process. There are enormous closet issues, and the fact that targeting someone as gay, who is actually deeply closeted, often has a counterproductive result. Not only does the prospect not buy, but they can respond with extreme anger and negative feelings toward your company. I would venture that many of the companies involved in marketing to the gay community are in the forefront of privacy protections and options for their customers. They have to be.
Gay lists present other unique challenges as well. They are more likely to have two last names residing within one household, complicating merge/purge. Householding by last name is almost impossible. Gay people are more mobile than the average citizen so addresses change more often. And beware of nongender specific names, ie: Terry, Chris, Randy, etc., are more common among gay people, which mess up genderization programs. Then there is the whole problem gay people using post office boxes or commercial mail drops.
But there also are enormous advantages: Greater affinity for certain types of purchases and a loyalty to companies that recognize the community. But gay lists also tend to be somewhat younger than other files. One company I know times their NCOA processing to catch students who move from home to school in September and school to home in May. Gay people are geographically concentrated to an extent that postal presort qualifications make mailing gay lists less costly.
For almost every mainstream direct marketing program I have been involved with, the average order from gay lists used in acquisition is 10 percent to 25 percent higher than the average of other acquisition lists. Because they must seek out their community, gay people tend to become direct mail responsive at an earlier time in their lives. They also are early-adapters of new technologies, which is why the Internet is especially huge. About 2/3 of subscribers to national gay magazines have home computers and online access.
There was a time when the gay list universe was so small and the market so starved for anything recognizing its unique needs, that almost everything worked. But today the market is much larger and growing daily. Nearly 2.5 million names are available, ranging from catalog buyers to magazine subscribers, donors, compiled files and others. But as the market has grown, so too must the sophistication of the marketers, both mainstream and gay-specific.
Sean Strub is the chairman and creative director of Metamorphics Media, LLC, a
list brokerage/management firm. Strub can be reached at [email protected]