A Win-Win With WinMark? What a Concept!
Posted: 03/19/2010 - 13:44
• Bala Cynwyd native helps others find gay market
By Rachel Levy Lesser, Jewish Exponent Feature
Twenty years ago, Andrew Isen knew he was on to something. A self-described "successful gay man," he thought that there had to be others like him out there. He believed that there was buying power in his demographic, and that companies would want to reach him.
Isen, a Jewish native of Bala Cynwyd who was graduated from Cheltenham High School, left the Philadelphia area to attend George Washington University, where he earned his undergraduate degree and MBA. After working in marketing for Girl Scouts of America and the Navy League, he took a leap and launched a business based on his belief.
WinMark Concepts Inc. began at Isen's kitchen table.
He first compiled a list of 100,000 names through good old-fashioned detective work. At that time, said Isen, "there was no formal way to reach gay men."
He developed one on his own by cross-referencing zip codes of neighborhoods he knew had large gay populations with households of men who subscribed to publications that he believed skewed to the gay population. These guerrilla-marketing efforts were based on anecdotal information, as he said that he had no real market research at the time.
With the list (named "Direct Male") in hand, Isen went out and pitched the companies.
"It was brutal to sell to the businesses in the beginning," he noted.
He made big promises offering the firms 50,000 households that wanted the goods and services they were selling. Isen's efforts paid off, and his first signed client was Phillip Morris, which, at the time, was conducting a survey on the smoking habits of gay men.
Today, WinMark is a full-service marketing and communications firm that has represented more than 500 companies in 60 metropolitan areas of the U.S. Clients include Beam Global Spirits & Wine; Coors Brewing Co.; Time Warner; the British Tourist Authority; Hansen's Natural Beverages; United Airlines; British Airways; Glaxo SmithKline; Fannie Mae; and the aforementioned Philip Morris.
The firm is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and employs six staff members -- both gay and straight. Although WinMark started off as a vehicle for companies to reach gay consumers, it now also serves the needs of the mainstream market.
Isen recalled how times have changed in the last 20 years, and that "companies now seek us out."
The entrepreneur said that he believes corporate America began to take notice with a Simmons research study conducted in 1995, which showed the sheer power of the gay consumer.
According to current statistics on marketresearch.com, the buying power of U.S. gays and lesbians is expected to exceed $835 billion by 2011. It also shows that twice as many gay and lesbian Americans will be graduated from college by then, and will twice as likely have an individual income exceeding $60,000 and a household income of $250,000 or more.
Additional market research shows that gay and lesbian Americans are more likely to seek out companies that advertise to them, and are willing to pay higher prices for premium products and services.
While these trends have contributed to the success of WinMark, the firm still faces obstacles.
"Homophobia does not exist in the workplace as it did when WinMark launched," said Isen, but "there are some companies that still don't get it."
But, he added, "as members of Generation X and Y take over leadership roles in corporate America, marketing to the gay community is becoming a non-issue" -- a part of day-to-day business.
At the same time, he said, "the assimilation of the gay consumer into mainstream culture poses additional challenges" since it's no longer so clear-cut as to how to reach this demographic, and the marketing messages have had to effectively become more complex.
Looking ahead, Isen said that he keeps a close eye on emerging technologies, noticing new ways to reach consumers. In addition to the traditional advertising, strategic planning and public-relations efforts, WinMark has been at the forefront of the blogosphere, social networking and experiential marketing; at the same time, the company has been looking into proprietary technologies.
They have to, said Isen, because "the gay consumer has always been a trendsetter."
Isen recalled that everything he has achieved at WinMark all goes back to his original hunch. He had thought there were others out there like him, he said, "and it turned out that there were millions."
MORE INFORMATION: www.WinMarkConcepts.com
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