Social stigma pertaining to pleasure, particularly that of females, continue to be the primary roadblocks for Sextech startups. In Part 1 of this article, I focused on social stigma pertaining to pleasure, particularly that of females, and gave an overview of recent events that characterised the primary challenges which hinder companies’ abilities to deliver their products. (Haven’t checked out Part 1 yet? Read from here). Building on the cases we discussed in Part 1, Part 2 (this post) offers seven branding strategies for early-stage Sextech startups.
1. Be inclusive.
This does not suggest that every product appeals to unisex. Instead, design your products with an eye for aesthetics so that they fit in their bedroom neatly. Some consumers prefer more sexual visuals and sensual colours, but if you wish to win a broader social acceptance, use gender-neutral colour and packaging. More importantly, communicate your products without implying a specific ethnicity nor body shape. If handled wrongly, apologize and show a gesture of improvement with concrete steps. Recognise what you did wrong and be an evangelist for the positive change in the industry.
2. Be educational. Go political on some occasions.
Go above the revenue line and show your dedication to educating the crowd. Democratizing and normalizing pleasure is essential in enhancing its appeal and acceptance, and ultimately financial success. Lora DiCarlo’s incident with CES/CTA created a buzz around their product as they shared an open letter with the public. When the company announced its pre-sale, it hit its annual sales goal in just five hours and generated $1.5 million in the first 36 hours of launch. Likewise, Dame Products redefined pleasure and combatted negative stigma together with customers through a lawsuit against OUTFRONT/MTA and social media campaigns. Such efforts provide the intangible values beyond products’ functional values and give rise to the brand’s economic value to the customers.
3. Avoid objectification, if possible.
This one is more controversial, as some say males are more sexually aroused with anatomically correct products and services. The bottom line for pornography, including VR/AR contents would be embracing sexuality rather than objectifying men/women. Given that people often wrongly attempt to apply the “knowledge” they acquired through pornographic materials to sexual interactions in real life, companies need to clarify that their contents fantasise sexual engagements and demonstrate their commitment into educational programs which promote scientifically accurate information about male/female pleasure as well as tips for transparent communication with partners. It’s harder to draw a line for sex dolls/robots, but Orient Industry has advocated for humanising the dolls by focusing on developing a bond instead of seeing them as a sole means to fulfil a sexual desire. They refer to product shipping as “marriage” and product disposal (when customers ship the product back to the company as they enter their life stage in which they no longer need dolls) as “going home”.
4. Target the right audience, at the right place, with the right words.
If you plan to promote your brand as a luxury, lifestyle brand, it’s worth reconsidering what associative images you want to (and you don’t want to) create. Elevating a taboo topic to life-style or self-care requires a significant mental model change. In building an associative network to your brand concept in a new direction (e.g., self-pleasure → self-care), you might want to disassociate any connection to concepts that could evoke negative perception (e.g., self-pleasure → “adult” → “obscene”). For instance, Wow Tech chooses wellness events over adult trade shows to target affluent consumers. Maude explains its vibrator (named “vibe”) as “personal massager” in an effort to promote itself as a modern lifestyle brand that sells everyday essentials. On the other hand, when asked whether her brand likes the term “sex toy”, Janet Lieberman (the Co-Founder of Dame Product) answered, “[t]hey’re about increasing pleasure, so “toys” seems accurate”. There is no binary answer; instead, it’s important to focus on your target audience and align every aspect of your brand accordingly.
5. Establish your own channel.
If you completely rely on Google Ads or social media, the success of your campaign will be swayed by questionable algorithms and frequent updates on the policy. The same goes for offline campaigns, as illustrated by the example of the OUTFRONT/MTA ghosting Dame Products. Leveraging on existing channels could boost your reach to a much bigger size of the audience, but make sure to also have your own channel that doesn’t have an external dependency. The most successful brands have their own community in which they provide incentives to engage with the product users for a seasonal survey and product testing. There’s no solution that fits all, especially when it comes to pleasure, and this is precisely why it’s crucial to test your products with actual consumers. Your owned-channel will not only give you access to the up-to-date information about the state of consumer behaviour and a pool of real consumers who are willing to cooperate in product development but also induce a sense of attachment to the brand in the process of co-creation.
6. Increase the pie size with your competitors.
It might be true that one person doesn’t have enough money to buy multiple vibrators every month, or subscribe for multiple streaming services simultaneously. However, note that the Sextech industry is a growing market. It would be more sustainable to create the market need together with your competitors rather than fighting with each other for a smaller share. Other Sextech players can also be your good allies, who’d be willing to share relevant resources, collaborate in cross-brand promotion, and most importantly, fight with you for the same cause. To name a few, Women of Sex Tech, FemTech Collective, and Women of Wearables have been home to similarly minded individuals in the femme-identifying Sextech scene.
7. Last but not least: Keep making money.
Enough said. Let them know what they are missing out.
While there are many drivers of challenges faced by Sextech startups, these strategies were developed based on the branding practices by successful startups in an attempt to broaden social acceptance of pleasure. If a particular startup does not aim to appeal to a broader audience, only a few of these strategies might be applicable.
Over the course of the next year, I plan to develop a more comprehensive set of branding strategies for Sextech startups based on market research, stakeholder interviews, case studies, and empirical studies in behavioural science. Stay tuned for more contents!