Marketing to Asia's LGBT community: The power of diversity

IBM Global Leader Tony Tenicela says understanding is key for brands to embrace community

According to IBM Global Leader Tony Tenicela, the business case for diversity is simple: It’s better to understand all kinds of customers and customize one’s marketing approach.

But the benefits are not just external. "Brands need to attract the right talent," said Tenicela. "You want to position your company as an employer of choice, and if you don’t have initiatives in place, what happens is that you lose out to competitors."  

By addressing specific needs, brands can become beacons that engage the desired candidates or customers. The challenge in Asia, however, continues to be a lack of education about diversity, which includes understanding the LGBT community.

"We’re actively trying to change perceptions and address the lack of understanding about what LGBT face in the community," Tenicela said. "There needs to be more visibility because in many parts of Asia there’s still that culture that considers it taboo."

IBM is seeing greater openess to LGBT people and issues in China, Tenicela said, but in countries such as Indonesia the climate is "invisibility," which is "equally as bad" as outright discrimination. "In some regions LGBT has a criminal facet and is even illegal," Tenicela added.  

With 50 IBM LGBT chapters around the world, Tenicela’s job is to advise businesses and leaders on how to leverage diversity for business and brand building. In addition, Tenicela oversees research into these areas and connects with influencers in LGBT communities in order to reach communities within regions and countries.

The 2nd Asia LGBT Milestone Awards and Diversity Leadership Forum at Sofitel So Bangkok, April 2015.

For example, IBM partnered with Community Business Hong Kong and Goldman Sachs’ CSR division to co-launch a LGBT resource guide in 2011, a toolkit designed to share best practices and keep them updated. In addition, IBM sponsors LGBT forums across Asia, which bring together LGBT decision-makers.

"It’s our unique way of strengthening customer relationships and enhancing key accounts as well as helping businesses address diversity as part of their business strategy," said Tenicela.

For IBM, these programs are about making IBM more than just a tech company and empowering all "talent and skills." Other than LGBT, IBM is also engaged with key initiatives such as diversity and equal opportunity for disability groups, women and workers from all generations.

"In Asia and especially emerging markets, customers often just see us as a tech vender," Tenicela said. "But through cultural adaptability, supplier diversity and diversity of thought in the marketplace we’ve been able to change that."

Ultimately, brands may lose important marketing and recruitment opportunities if they dismiss diverse groups of people.

"There’s little room for creativity if you just look through one lens,"  Tenicela said. 

This article first appeared on

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