It’s a basic principle in marketing – create content that lets your audience know that your brand sees and hears them.
Optimizing your content conversations to be inclusive of transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming consumers will help you have a better chance of capturing their attention, deepening their engagement, and earning their loyalty. You also will gain respect from their supporters.
At Content Marketing World 2021, Ruth Carter – author, lawyer, and principal/“evil genius” at Carter Law Firm – spoke on the inclusion of nonbinary consumers in your content conversations. You can watch this follow-up interview with Ruth, then read on for additional insights, examples, and ideas from them to help you get started.
A small but influential community
Recent research shows than estimated 1.2 million adults in the U.S. are nonbinary – meaning they do not identify as strictly male or female. Given the nature of gender diversity and the linguistic, cultural, and societal norms associated with the topic, this is likely an underestimation.
Though other studies indicate their numbers may be on the rise – particularly as younger generations reach adulthood – they are a small minority of the estimated 334 million people in the U.S. While a small percent of the population, the nonbinary-inclusive audience also encompasses a large community of allies who support them and stand up for their rights.
A Public Religion Research Institute study found 76% of people support a law that says someone can’t discriminate against a person because of their gender, sexual orientation, or both. “Your company or your client may not care about [this tiny little group], but I bet they care about 76% of the audience they are trying to cater to. That’s what you’re risking by inadvertently or blatantly being discriminatory,” Ruth says.
Consider the experience of Confections, a Texas-based bakery Confections, and its Facebook post wishing their LGBTQ friends a happy Pride Month:
The post resulted in a wave of unfollows and a last-minute cancellation of a large cookie order, which the owner detailed in a follow-up post: “I never thought a post that literally said more love, less hate would result in this kind of backlash to a very small business that is struggling to stay afloat and spread a little cheer through baked goods.”
The local community of LGBTQ+ supporters took it as a call to action – and answered it in droves. A day later, Confections shared a new post to give thanks for all the love and support – and announce they sold out their cookie inventory:
5 steps to evolve your content beyond binary boundaries
Trans and nonbinary people want to see their full, authentic selves represented in a brand’s experiences. While gender identity is a complex, personal, and evolving topic, making your content feel more welcoming and accepting of the nonbinary experience isn’t nearly as complicated.
In their presentation, Ruth suggests simple changes brands can make to acknowledge their unique experiences and ensure equal consideration.
1. Explore your brand experience through a nonbinary lens
If your content focuses on the male-female gender experience (Ruth describes this as “that 1950s stereotype of what a man is and what a woman is”), you exclude the perspectives of people who don’t fit those constructs.
To communicate more inclusively, put yourself in the shoes of somebody who doesn’t identify as male or female and walk through their customer journey. “Think about how they might experience [a brand] differently than a cisgendered audience and see if there are opportunities to shift to a [different] perspective,” Ruth says.
For example, clothing brand Levi’s announcement of its “genderless” Unlabeled Collection shifts the conversation by defining gender as being really confident in who you are and feeling free to identify yourself by name, not by a label of male or female.
2. Update your style bible, registration forms, and greetings
When you reference an individual in the third person, do you only use he/him, she/her pronouns? “What this phrasing communicates to me is that I don’t exist. I don’t deserve to be part of this community,” says Ruth, who recommends replacing these exclusionary terms with they/them pronouns. Incorporate the use of pronouns in your style guide and ensure your content team is aware of the change.
Gender bias often lurks in how speakers address audiences in group settings, such as an event or livestreaming video. Ruth says instead of starting with “Ladies and gentlemen,” go with a greeting like, “Welcome, everyone.” Brands can take this to the next level by creating a custom, gender-neutral term for your audience like the Green Bay Packers do with Cheeseheads to refer to its fans.
Similarly, the use of traditional honorifics like Mr., Mrs., or Ms. excludes trans and nonbinary people. If you use drop-down menus or checkboxes on your registration forms to collect gender demographics, make sure you include MX (pronounced “mix”) as a gender-neutral honorific option.
New Zealand telecommunications company Spark addresses this issue by changing how businesses collect gender data. Its Beyond Binary Code campaign (below) introduces a single piece of code that enables standard website forms to be updated to a more gender-inclusive alternative. They co-created it with OutLine Aotearoa, a mental health organization, and nonbinary communities.
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3. Make it easy to access and update their personal data
Speaking of data collection, Ruth points out that trans and nonbinary consumers may have used their birth-assigned name and gender when they created their original account with your business. Empower those who have later updated their name to affirm their authentic identity in your records. Be clear about any documentation required for validation purposes – i.e., if there are legal, financial, or other regulatory requirements involved.
Mastercard took a different approach to address the binary data dilemma: In 2020, the brand launched its True Name feature, which enables financial institutions to issue credit cards that display the customer’s first name – without requiring documentation to prove it was a legal name change. According to the company’s news release, their director of consumer marketing Anthony DeRojas conceived the initiative as a meaningful way to commemorate World Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. “We wanted to go beyond being just a logo in a sea of other Pride sponsors,” says DeRojas. “We wanted to do something that was impactful for the community.”
It may seem like a small gesture, but it makes a big difference to customers like Asher: “Seeing a name you connect with feels like acceptance … being seen and acknowledged as the person you are … It will change lives.” As a bonus, the spot’s tagline Start Something Priceless fits in with the brand’s signature #Priceless hashtag.
Remember, creating content that reflects consumers’ authentic selves sends a powerful message. But to earn the full trust of this audience, that message needs to be consistently executed and affirmed through your brand’s words and deeds. Make sure the updated information they provide gets integrated into all the marketing automation or CRM systems your business uses to communicate with them so consumers aren’t misgendered in future messaging or direct conversations.
4. Consider whether gender is contextually relevant to the story
Ruth advises marketers to refer to interview subjects and other sources by their preferred pronouns. (If you aren’t sure, ask them.) However, it’s not always necessary – or appropriate – to incorporate their gender identity in your storytelling. “I was on NPR, talking about how Arizona now issues nonbinary driver’s licenses. It made sense that my gender would be identified. But if it was me talking about trademark law, my gender would be pretty irrelevant,” Ruth says.
You also can incorporate gender inclusivity by featuring a wider range of personal experiences in your content or amplifying inclusivity on your media channels. It’s an approach that Pantene used in this emotionally powerful video celebrating LGBTQ+ pride in all its forms.
Your audience often tells you what they need and want to see – you just need to pay attention.
As I mentioned earlier, transgender and nonbinary people often change their birth name to one that better suits who they are. Starbucks picked up on a discussion on social media about whether they’ve selected the right name. It responded with a way to try out their chosen name and see how it feels:
Just how much does it mean for this community to see a brand like Starbucks acknowledge the importance of this major life milestone? Ruth says it gave them goosebumps, and research psychologist and influential YouTuber Jammidodger treated his 900,000-plus audience to a heartfelt review of all the happy feels it gave him:
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Small step for your brand can be a giant leap for inclusion
To communicate more inclusively and forge stronger customer connections, eliminating gender bias from your brand’s conversations is a critical first step. For nonbinary people who have often felt ignored or invisible to brands, even making small adjustments to the language, syntax, and substance of your content conversations can be affirming and validating. As Ruth points out, your business doesn’t have to become an authority on the complicated subject of gender – it just takes an authentic desire to be part of the conversation.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
The B2B customer journey can be a long one, especially when the purchase of expensive software subscriptions is under consideration.
“The average B2B customer journey takes 192 days from anonymous first touch to won,” according to Dreamdata in their 2022 B2B Go-to-Market Benchmarks — a statistic described by co-founder and CMO Steffen Hedebrandt as “alarming.”
But the report also indicates that this journey can be significantly sped up — by as much as 63% — if accounts begin their research at software review sites, gathering information and opinions from their peers. Journeys that originate at a review site often lead to deals of higher value too.
Fragmented data on the customer journey. Dreamdata is a B2B go-to-market platform. In any B2B company, explained Hedebrandt, there are typically 10 or even 20 data silos that contain fragments of the customer journey. Website visits, white paper downloads, social media interactions, webinar or meeting attendance, demos, and of course intent data from review site visits — this data doesn’t typically sit in one place within an organization.
“We built an account-based data model because we believe that there’s such a thing as an account journey and not an individual journey,” said Hedebrandt. “So if there are two, three or five people representing an account, which is typically what you see in B2B, all of these touches get mapped into the same timeline.”
Among those many touches is the intent data sourced from software review site G2. Dreamdata has an integration with G2 and a G2 dashboard allowing visualization of G2-generated intent data. This includes filtering prospects who are early in their journey, who have not yet discovered the customer’s product, or who have discovered it but are still searching. This creates a basis for attributing pipelines, conversions and revenue to the activity.
“Strategically, our ideal customer profile is a B2B software-as-a-service company,” said Hedenbrandt. “B2B SaaS companies are particularly ripe for understanding this digital customer journey; their main investment is in digital marketing, they have a salesforce that use software tools to do this inside sales model; and they also deliver their product digitally as well.” What’s more, it takes twice as long to close SaaS deal as it does to close deals with B2B commercial and professional services companies.
The Benchmarks findings. The conclusions of the 2022 Benchmarks report is based on aggregated, anonymized data from more than 400 Dreamdata user accounts. Focusing on first-touch attribution (from their multi-touch model), Dreamdata found that customer journeys where a review site is the first touch are 63% shorter than the average. In contrast, where the first touch channel is social, the journey is much longer than average (217%); it’s the same when paid media is the first touch (155%).
As the Benchmarks report suggests, this may well mean that social is targeting prospects that are just not in-market. It makes sense that activity on a review site is a better predictor of intent.
Hedenbrandt underlines the importance of treating the specific figures with caution. “It’s not complete science what we’ve done,” he admits, “but it’s real data from 400 accounts, so it’s not going to be completely off. You can only spend your time once, and at least from what we can see here it’s better to spend your time collecting reviews than writing another Facebook update.”
While Dreamdata highlights use of G2, Hedenbrandt readily concedes that competitor software review sites might reasonably be expected to show similar effects. “Definitely I would expect it to be similar.”
Why we care. It’s not news that B2B buyers researching software purchases use review sites and that those sites gather and trade in the intent data generated. Software vendors encourage users to post reviews. There has been a general assumption that a large number of hopefully positive reviews is a good thing to have.
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What Dreamdata’s findings indicate is that the effect of review sites on the buyer journey — especially as the first-touch channel — can be quantified and a value placed on it. “None of us questioned the value of reviews, but during this process you can actually map it into a customer journey where you can see the journey started from G2, then flowed into sales meetings, website visits, ads, etc. Then we can also join the deal value to the intent that started from G2.”
Likely, this is also another example of B2B learning from B2C. People looking at high consideration B2C purchases are now accustomed to seeking advice both from friends and from online reviews. The same goes for SaaS purchases, Hedenbrandt suggests: “More people are turning to sites like G2 to understand whether this is a trustworthy vendor or not. The more expensive it is, the more validation you want to see.”
About The Author
Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.
He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.
Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.