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Marketing to People With Disabilities

Posted by: Colleen DeBaise on April 17, 2009

This week I attended the Disability Matters Conference, the brainchild of Nadine Vogel, a former executive at MetLife who started her own company, Springboard Consulting, to advise companies on how to market to people with disabilities and their families. Many companies ignore this growing demographic in their promotional events or ad campaigns, often because they’re worried they’ll do it wrong and offend someone in the process.

That’s a mistake, Vogel says, as people with disabilities – and especially parents of special-needs kids – would appreciate the attention. Vogel, who has two special-needs children herself, told a story to an audience of about 100 (in a banquet space provided by KPMG in New York) that her 17-year-old daughter once left a department store in tears after trying to buy make-up for her prom. The sales people, Vogel explained, weren’t trained about how to talk to or help a customer with disabilities. (Her daughter has a condition that causes facial deformities.)

That was Vogel’s intro to a panel on marketing to the disabled. On the panel: Gianna Locasto, director of store marketing for Sephora, the beauty retailer, and Patricia Purdy, assistant vice president of market development at The Hartford insurance company.

Locasto talked about Sephora’s events last Mother’s Day at stores in New Jersey, Georgia and Illinois for children with special needs and their moms. The goal was to make customers look and feel good in a safe environment, with a staff trained and ready for the event. (Sephora is one of Vogel’s clients; read an article on the store’s events here). Locasto wouldn’t disclose sales from the events, but said exit surveys showed a slew of happy customers or future customers — Vogel’s daughter is one of them — who planned to tell friends with disabilities about their experience. “This is a very viral community,” she said.

Purdy talked about The Hartford’s sponsorship of the U.S. Paralympics and ski events for disabled athletes, a logical fit as the company sells group long-term disability insurance. Read a recent BusinessWeek story about businesses serving special-needs families here.

Vogel estimates that people with disabilities have a combined income of nearly $800 billion. Tapping into this often-ignored market is a tremendous business opportunity, and can help any company – big or small – win loyal customers. Her daughter, for instance, recently had the opportunity to buy make-up elsewhere but told her mother, “I’ll wait until I go to Sephora. I only buy my make-up there.”

Check out’s interview with Vogel here.

Reader Comments

Nadine Vogel

April 17, 2009 02:10 PM

I am so proud of Sephora and The Hartford, just two of the nine honorees of this years Disability Matters Awards Banquet and Conference. Marketing to people with disabilities and their families can no longer be considered a niche stratetgic advantage but rather a revenue generation business imperative.

Rene Snuggs Francis

April 27, 2009 12:35 AM

Ramp Up, Inc. was incorporated June 2004 to retrofit real estate to be barrier free accommodating wheelchairs with needed ramps,automatically operated doors, faucets, and toilets.
Ultimately we're investing in establishing a barrier free airline traveling to barrier free hotels emulated worldwide.
We would love to advocate for something to be mandated by law protecing the rights of disabled citizens.
We wish to Learn more about the Disability Matters Awards Banquet and Conference. We are requesting more information Thankyou.
Rene Snuggs Francis

Craig Kennedy

May 12, 2009 03:08 PM

Glad to see there are others out there pushing for inclusive marketing to people with disabilities.

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