In The Current


Marketing to People with Disabilities, 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 advisecompanies 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 articleon 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.

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