For generations, much of the population has tried to neatly divide the world into male and female. That binary method of gendering people, things, practices, and ideas always left some feeling left out, and forced others into a way of living that didn’t match their thoughts and feelings.
Now more people are pushing back, particularly younger people. This year, The Trevor Project found that 25% of LGBTQ youth use pronouns that fall outside of the binary construction of gender. And Pew Research found that over one-third of Gen Z know someone that uses gender neutral pronouns.
Yet a lot of marketing still reflects the gender binary. You’ve got extreme examples—products that are needlessly gendered like the (very pink) “Jenga Girl Talk” or “mansize” tissues. But you also have the much more common and seemingly banal experience of landing on a clothing website and finding it divided into men’s and women’s sections.
Gen Z is not only at the forefront of moving our cultural conversations on gender forward, but they also have higher expectations for wanting to see brands reflect their values. By moving beyond the binary in how you market your products, you’ll appeal more to the young. But you’ll also make people of all ages that never closely aligned with traditional gender roles feel more welcome.
4 Examples of Nonbinary Marketing
Making your marketing more gender inclusive doesn’t have to mean leaving cis (cisgender, or non-transgender) men and women out of it completely. But it does mean thinking differently about the language you use, how you categorize your products, and how people are visually represented on your site.
A few brands are pulling this off better than most.
1. Milk Makeup
Milk Makeup sells a product that’s traditionally been viewed as feminine in our culture. But the brand knows their audience isn’t only cis girls and women, and has embraced highlighting a range of gender presentations in the way they promote their products.
Across their social media profiles, they share examples of people using their products to create unique and personal looks that convey a range of gender expressions.
Their marketing is never pushing a specific way people are supposed to use their products. By showing variety, the brand’s positioning makes clear their products are a tool to match your visual presentation to who you are, not a way to fit into traditional social norms.
Aisle sells products for people who get periods. When it comes to gender, this is a topic area many people—from doctors to sex ed teachers to marketers—still tend to get wrong. It’s much too common in our culture for people to talk about periods as something that women deal with. But Aisle corrects that error from the jump.
Their tagline “period products for everybody” clarifies their commitment to inclusivity. And they stick with it across their marketing materials, making it clear to any potential trans men or nonbinary people that experience periods that the brand sees them.
On most clothing sites, the first options you see on the main menu are men’s and women’s. That’s the most common way brands assume customers want to see their clothes categorized. TomboyX, a brand that specializes in underwear, skips those categories and instead focuses on more descriptive terms in their main menu like underwear and bras. And their messaging across the site consistently emphasizes that all their products are for all bodies.
Sometimes the choices a brand makes to be more gender inclusive can seem subtle at first glance, but they’re meaningful. Birchbox has two versions of its website, but they’re not for women and men. They’re for Beauty and Grooming.
While there’s definite overlap in the type of products each version of the site and subscription box offers, they demonstrate an understanding that customers have different priorities. Some will be more interested in makeup products, and others in beard and shaving items (both include hair and skin products).
By using descriptive language rather than gendered categories, they make it easy for visitors to self-select based on the types of products they’re interested in.
4 Ways to Embrace Nonbinary Marketing
Examples are nice, but if you still feel out of your depth on this stuff, here are a few steps you can take to make your marketing less binary.
1. Increase the gender diversity of your marketing team.
Marketers are most at risk of committing hurtful missteps and leaving people out when the marketing team is too homogenous. Ideally when working on a campaign, you’d want to have multiple people in the room that can speak to different types of experience with gender—not just cis men and cis women.
That’s not always plausible If your team’s particularly small or you’re not in a position to hire anyone new right now, bringing more diversity to your ranks won’t be easy. But you can still start looking for ways to expand the gender diversity of those weighing in moving forward. That could mean hiring a consultant that provides training in LGBTQ issues, or thinking about how to make sure you get a wider range of applicants for future positions you hire for.
If you can work on making sure your business is a good place to work for people of all genders, you’ll be more likely to attract (and keep) trans and nonbinary applicants that can bring an important perspective to your marketing. And don’t just do this when it comes to gender diversity; also think about how to make sure your marketing team includes the perspectives of other marginalized communities, like racial minorities and people living with disabilities.
2. Change your language to be descriptive rather than gendered.
This is something we see in a lot of the examples above. Instead of dividing your products into men’s and women’s, think about what makes your products different from each other. If you currently sell two types of t-shirts using gendered categorizations, could you say “fitted” and “loose” instead?
This leads to descriptions that are more clear and useful to your visitors, while also signaling to people in your audience that don’t identify with binary labels that your products are just as much for them as anyone else.
3. Look for models and influencers that show a diversity of gender representations.
When deciding who to work with to represent your brand—whether that’s models you hire for photo shoots, influencers you partner with, as well as any stock photography you use—think about what their images communicate to your audience. If they’re all conventionally attractive and neatly fit into traditional gender roles, how many of your potential customers won’t see themselves represented?
This is an issue that goes far beyond gender representation, and your choices should also take into account whether you’re including representations of various races, different body types, and people with disabilities. By ensuring there’s diversity in the people you show in your marketing, you signal to different portions of your audience that you see them and consider them a part of your community.
4. Be thoughtful when creating forms and surveys.
Form fields may seem like a small thing. But in a piece about inclusivity, Bachul Koul brings up how alienating it is to continually be forced to choose between options like Mr. and Mrs. or male and female when filling out forms. Those forms communicate to them that their identity doesn’t count to that brand. And they’re forced to either choose something that doesn’t match who they are, or leave the brand behind completely.
These are the kinds of things that people with gender privilege miss. You may just think it’s a form, but that potential member of your community sees it as a symbol of their exclusion. Make sure you’re thinking about all of your audience when creating forms and surveys, so you’re not carelessly leaving anyone out.
Build a More Inclusive Brand
The conversations around gender and the language people use is continually evolving. It’s easy to get things wrong. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Be willing to learn, and ready to listen to feedback you get about ways you can do better. By moving beyond traditional categories that leave people out, you can make your brand more welcoming to everybody.