It’s the job of big companies to connect with consumers in ways that will encourage them to buy products. But Brent Miller, P&G’s global LGBTQ+ equality program leader, says companies also need to be aware of their role in helping to shape society and public perceptions of certain groups — by others and to themselves. Their influence is clear: A joint P&G/GLAAD study this year found that when non-LGBTQ people were exposed favorably to LGBTQ people in the media, 80% of them are likely to become more supportive of equal rights for them. P&G and GLAAD also partnered this year on a film, “They Will See You,” to raise awareness around the importance of LGBTQ people in media and advertising.

Recently, Miller spoke with Signal 360 about how companies should think about LGBTQ consumers, areas for improvement, and how the conversation around LGBTQ advertising is changing. Below is an edited transcript.

Many companies have done a lot to improve diversity and inclusion inside their organizations, but there are other ways to think about equity, too. Can you talk a little about the lens you bring to diversity?

There’s a host of people in our company that focus on our employee policies, what we’re doing inside P&G. What we’re doing outside the company with the LGBTQ community is a newer place for people to focus. More companies are starting to do more and more of this, particularly in the LGBTQ space. Being able to make those connections, you not only see new opportunities for business, you see the impact that it has on the lives of people. We get notes and letters and messages all the time from people, both young and old, who see what we do. They may see an advertisement, they may see a program that we do. And oftentimes, the message demonstrates that they don’t expect to see themselves reflected in the world. It surprises them to see a company or a brand, reflecting who they are and the impact of them seeing themselves is really incredible. 

It sounds like an activist role that you’re describing. How does that synch with the advertising that they do?

Companies have a voice, and with that voice comes privilege. That voice has an incredible amount of impact in the way people see the world. It’s important for companies like P&G to use that voice to accurately and authentically portray the world around them. 

We often think about advertising as a tool to connect people with products and connect people to brands. But we need to recognize that advertising connects people to culture and connects people to humanity and worlds that people may not have experienced before. That may be the first time or the only time someone may see an LGBTQ person. If that representation is stereotyped or marginalized in some way, nd you’re taking away the opportunity for them to see who that community really is and you’re fueling something that might be negative or you may be reinforcing a negative stereotype that could be unintended.

What’s the impact when companies make a choice to embrace or sit out inclusion of the LGBTQ community?

More and more consumers are looking for brands that take a stand, to have a point of view that goes beyond just what their products do or what services they provide, to where they stand on cultural and societal issues and what good they’re providing in the community. When people see companies and brands embracing traditionally marginalized communities, it says something about the work that they do both inside and the outcome is to make everyone feel welcome. That becomes a factor for people as they are making their investment in purchase decisions. 

What are some areas where brands can improve their marketing to the LGBTQ community?

The LGBTQ market is an interesting one because it’s so diverse within itself. It’s made up of every race, of every age, of every gender identity, of every sexual orientation, of every income level. It is a microcosm, really, of the entire world. And so to represent the community itself is an incredible challenge. Also, because sexual orientation and gender expression are considered to be secondary diversity traits, meaning oftentimes someone needs to self identify or disclose that they may be a member of the LGBTQ community, it makes that representation even more challenging to an advertiser. 

I think it can seem daunting to find a way in, but it’s important for brands not to see a group like the LGBTQ population as a number on a page, but a real group of people with real needs and real challenges with real insights, real community dynamics, that impact the way that they interact with these brands and the services that companies provide. So they need to make sure that they are fulfilling those needs and not just “rainbow-washing” their communication and their offerings, just to make a half-hearted appeal to a community. We need to make sure that the experience from packaging, all the way through merchandising, all the way through the creative elements, speak accurately to the community and treat them with a specialness that we would treat all of our other consumer groups.