Strap yourself in. For the ride of your life?

In his monthly column, Brian Gray from Glasgow-based erotic marketing agency Lascivious Marketing offers his thoughts on all things marketing. As a new year often provides the catalyst for lofty ambitions Brian provides his top tips for new erotic retailers about to enter the industry.

New burning the candle Year, new plans, resolutions, desires and all that jazz. If you’re an existing, established retailer, you’ve no doubt been at both ends for quite a while over the past few months, and with a particular February day still to come. So good news: you get to bunk off class for this month and attend to more pressing matters.

If however you want to start your own erotic retailing business, get to your desk quickly, it’s time for your first lesson. Why? Because assuming you’re coming to class with a blank notebook with nothing set in stone, there’s a whole lot of things you need to know about. There’s also a whole lot of cock-ups to be avoided. So with this in mind, here’s my top eight bits of sage advice for naughty newbies about to embark upon their erotic entrepreneurial adventures. Strap yourself in.

1. Be crystal clear about yourself, your motivations, and your strengths

First of all, be absolutely crystal clear about why you’re doing this. Is it solely for the filthy lucre? How much of it is to thrill your friends by saying ‘I sell sex toys’ at the next party you’re attending? How much effort are you willing and able to dedicate to this enterprise? How committed are you to this?

You’ll have seen Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice and think that running a business is sexy: sexier still that you’re selling pleasure products and not double glazing. But starting and running your own business is a bloody hard thing to do. What do you want to achieve from this? Is there a bigger reason or a personal crusade? Is it something that’s going to keep you going when you’re doing all the mundane back-office stuff? How much of your personal and social life are you willing to sacrifice in order to succeed?

Have the answers to all these questions and a good few pertinent other ones before going anywhere near a web domain registration site or drop-shipping company.

If you’re just wanting a bit of extra spending money, there are much easier ways. But if you’re wanting this to be a genuine revenue and profit stream for now and the years to come, get real. This isn’t going to happen overnight. You’ll be spending a shedload of time hunched over a computer being pulled in a number of directions and you’ll invariably want to pull your hair out at various times. You might want to be satisfying customers in the world of sex, pleasure and fantasy however it’s going to feel anything but pleasurable at 1am when choosing SEO keywords for your latest product range.

2. Identify your target audience.

Secondly, who in the sexual consumer marketplace do you have in your sights? If you say ‘anyone and everyone’ you get thrown out of class and sent to detention. You’ve been warned. Sure, you’ll see industry stalwarts such Ann Summers and Lovehoney and think ‘I fancy some of that’ but the harsh reality is that your chance of succeeding here left port and set sail a longgggg time ago.

Forget about the masses: identify particular segments you can provide value to. These segments may be emotionally- or community-based or perhaps addressing a physical need or specific fetish or pleasure source; possibly a combination of these. Maybe you yourself are part of a particular community who feels existing pleasure product retailers don’t recognise you or cater to shared needs. Perhaps their messaging or core values doesn’t resonate with you and your cohorts. Don’t forget to create buyer personas: the more detailed the better.

3. Have a damn good reason why someone should buy from you.

So you’ve identified your audience. But why should they buy their Fleshlights or butt plugs from you versus the hundreds of other places they can also be bought from? Give them a compelling reason. Create an emotional connection with your audience, one that really resonates with them. And one of the most effective ways of showing this and conveying it to your prospects? Great content: blog posts; social media captions and visuals; interviews in specialist publications; the whole shebang. Check out the Content Marketing Institute for a whole host of free tips and tools that will enable you to connect with your audience and help generate trust and reassurance between you both. Oh, and don’t for one minute consider competing on price: this never creates loyalty and will probably be your eventual undoing.

4. Conceive, create and manage a kick ass brand.

Brand building is a major activity. Get it right from the start. Its name, domain, visual identity, and all customer touchpoints. Everything needs to be distinctive, engaging, memorable and consistent across the board. With no exceptions. Or short cuts, for that matter.

I’ll recall a conversation I had with someone about to launch their sex toy website. The company name was generic beyond belief, their visual identity was the optical equivalent of taking a sedative, and when I questioned why their online store had high ticket items as well as seriously tacky products you’d see on a Blackpool hen night or stag party, the person said that they just wanted to appeal to the ‘average consumer’.  I’m not sure if Jesus wept when I put the phone down, but I certainly wanted to.

Don’t think for one minute that buying an off the shelf ‘logo’ from some online design store is going to cut it. Not one bit. If I catch one whiff of it, you’re off to the Headmaster. And please, please, spare us the pretentious virtue-signalling ‘brand purpose’ that has nothing to do with what you’re selling. Nuclear disarmament? No. Saving the rainforests? Ditch it. Let Sting and Peter Gabriel or some other celebrities worry about those things.

Put those Amazon Christmas gift cards you received to good use. Buy a copy of Alina Wheeler’s “Designing Brand Identity”. While it’s primarily designed for larger companies, I still always recommend it for small businesses, so a real understanding of, and structure for the brand creation process is available. Plus it has absolute shedloads of examples of brands to see for yourself. If you’re a bit cash-strapped, go online and get a cheaper earlier used edition. It’s well worth it. Also get your hands on “Build a Brand in 30 Days” by Simon Templeton which has lots of exercises to get your mind working and really boil down what your brand and proposition is all about. And if you do have the money, call me instead (sorry Randolph, couldn’t resist!).

Conceiving and creating a good, distinctive brand is something not to be rushed. The name has to be a cracker and there’s a bunch of other considerations (see my June 2018 column on the EAN website) to be mindful of. And get it right first time: changing your name further down the road is a real pain. Percolation is a must here (see my recent column on this) too.

5. Have a marketing plan.

I’m betting this is when you start to panic. You possibly thought that all that was needed was a website and a logo, and that was it: you were off to the proverbial races. Nope: sit right back down. You need to know where you are now, where you want to be, how to get there and how to know when you’ve arrived. That’s where your marketing plan comes into play. It forces you to think, to get real, to distinguish yourself from the ‘erotic wannabes’ and Walter Mitty’s by having a path to follow. Don’t be overly intimidated though: a lot of what’s featured in a marketing plan is actually common sense, as a result of taking a little time to think about a few things. Furthermore, your marketing plan doesn’t have to be a huge affair: they can be quite concise, as long as the key components are in there and there’s sufficient detail to guide you. Also, be realistic about things: you’re not Coca Cola or Unilever. Big corporate behemoths with multiple SBU’s have strategic marketing plans covering three or so years, with a one year tactical plan extrapolated from it. I’d instead strongly advise you create your overall plan that covers the next twelve months, with a more detailed tactical action plan covering the next three months. Quarterly tactical plans provide a realistic balance when you’re starting from scratch and having to be agile and responsive as you figure things out.

6.  Make your website the centre of your universe.

If you reckon you’ll be raking it in with a bland web presence, think again. With Facebook and Instagram putting on the pressure regarding what can be posted (don’t even bother thinking about advertising there), your website must – for several reasons – become the nerve centre of your operations. Be producing great content that will have web visitors staying on your website as much as possible. Content that really, truly resonates with your target audience. Obviously this isn’t content for the masses: it’s sniper shooting rather than machine gun spraying. And make sure that once you’re providing value with great content, start building your subscriber database for even more permission-based targeted communications which are safely immune from purges by the social media giants.  

7. Have a marketing budget.

Sir Richard Branson is often quoted as saying that to become a millionaire in the airline business it’s best to start off a billionaire. The principle – if not the amounts – probably stands up in the erotic retailing industry too. You’ll have to spend some money at some point on your fledgling enterprise. Whether it’s for marketers, designers, IT, accountants, advertising, PR, or marketing collateral expenses, or any number of other things, you’re going to have to pay for it. Where’s the money coming from?

Don’t jack in the boring and depressing day job just yet. Ensure you have enough money saved for not only your marketing war chest but to live off as you launch your business. You’ll need to be a canny bootstrapper.  

8. Use your time wisely. Very wisely indeed.

And lastly, and nicely dovetailing from the previous point, you’ll find yourself constantly having to juggle time and money. While it may save you money especially in the medium-longer term learning how to use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop yourself to design your marketing collateral and visual content, what else could you be doing with that time? It’s a prime example of the economic principle of opportunity cost. And it’s one which only you can really determine. Just remember: you can lose money one day then win it back – and more – the next. But time? That’s gone and never coming back. Judge accordingly. And obviously make each moment count!

So there you go, your first lesson in marketing your upcoming erotic retailing enterprise. I wish you the best of success with it, and look forward to seeing you make your mark in your own inimitable fashion before too long!

Brian can be contacted at, found on Instagram @lasciviousmarketing or phoned on +44 (0)141 255 0769.