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Stu's Talk at SxTech.eu

On a balmy Berlin Friday night in June, The Afterglow Agency's founder Stu Nugent headed over to Spiced Academy to talk about the dos and don'ts of sextech marketing.

Here's his account.

Stu:


I thought I'd share the talk I did at SxTech.eu on Friday because, first, the information might be useful to someone out there, and second, because I think the slides I made are pretty.

My talk wasn't fully scripted so the below is based on my notes rather than what I actually said. I can't remember what I actually said, beyond accidentally revealing I'd been to prison in Kazakhstan and that I gushed about the Vagina Museum's "See You Next Tuesday" billboard campaign at length. I may also have dumped on AI content creation for a while. Who knows.


It's useful for context to understand that this is absolutely not the extent of the knowledge required to be a good sextech marketer, nor do I claim to be one. I'm just a person who has done it successfully sometimes, so this talk offered a glimpse into some of the insights I've earned in the process. It's all a bit... conceptual.


Let's get into it.


I think, at a sextech talk, there’s a certain expectation that I’m going to talk about very specific algorithmic nuances or metric-based marketing strategies and I can do that, but I won’t be doing that tonight.


Because in an age of growing automation and artificial intelligence, there are two things I think need to be amplified in our work in sextech, and these things underpin everything else I’m going to say. These two things form the spine of my entire marketing manifesto, they are crucially important.


One is intuition.


The other, is the importance of conceptual thinking.


So let’s look at those two things.


1: THINK CONCEPTUALLY

As a species, our ability to think conceptually, to think in abstract terms, is absolutely what defines us. That is what makes us unique.


It’s not maths, it’s not science, it’s not religion, it’s not art, it's not complex language. All of those things are a product of this thing: of conceptual thinking. There is nothing that we do, nothing that we see or feel or react to that is not passed through some conceptual filter of one kind or another.


It’s what makes us different from everything else.


Conceptual thinking is not so much something we do, but something we are.


That’s an unusually powerful piece of knowledge for us in the sextech industry. For me at least. The idea that we are conceptual animals, and we think in abstractions, that's a precious insight and I guard it jealously. We’re not selling washing machines here, we’re selling products with which our customers have an incredibly intimate and personal relationship. We make things that people will put into their bodies.


As a marketer it’s your job to create a relationship between your product and your customer, and to get them to see the value in that relationship.


For sextech marketers, that conceptual relationship already exists, by definition. The relationship is a sexual one, and there’s nothing more conceptual I can think of in our human experience than sex, and sexuality.


"Ah," I hear you say. "Sex is a physical act, not a conceptual one." "Ah," I reply "the very idea of something being physical is a conceptual one." Check mate.


I won’t dwell on this too much because I risk talking about nothing else and I'm writing a book about it at the moment. But a marketer needs to get comfortable talking in conceptual, holistic, intangible, and emotional terms above and beyond functions and specifications.


2: DON'T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR INTUITION

Listen to your intuition.


That's a coded way to say: beware of metrics. Demographic and metric-based marketing, otherwise known as performance marketing, is very fashionable right now. There are a lot of people who know performance marketing and therefore think they also know adult marketing. That’s not necessarily the case.


To be an effective marketer in the sextech space your expertise should be in sex before marketing. People interface differently with sextech - we're not selling washing machines and a simple digital marketing strategy that might work for another consumer electronics brand might not work for us. There’s an assumption that, because other tech is sold on the basis of its specifications – number of functions, state of the art materials etc – that that would be true of sex tech too.


It’s not true. People shop by sensation over specification, and by emotion rather than features. You can’t sell a good sex toy the same way you sell a smartphone, as much as we think that’s a natural thing to do.


Because sextech is a sensory buying journey, it requires you to have good intuition, good human judgement. Know sex, know how people interface with sex, don't be afraid to use that knowledge to counter arguments from SEO when those arguments guidance go counter to your sexual intuition.


It would be stupid for me to tell you to dismiss performance marketing entirely. It does work, and there are legitimate experts. Every marketer should be using marketing metrics all the time.


If we were in virtually any other industry, that would not be an issue. But again, we’re not selling washing machines. Sex is so intrinsically personal that no dataset can possibly do it justice.


You are sexual people. All of you. You experience desire, lust, pleasure, in ways no algorithm can possibly can, no matter how complex, and that makes you a more useful tool than any data.


Desire, lust, these are algorithms of a sort: data in, behaviour out. Intuition too. Use that. All of you are already excellent marketers in one way or another, you just have to give yourself permission to trust your intuition sometimes, and to be skeptical of experts who want to sell you things. Agencies, basically.


The reason why I’ve frontloaded this little talk by talking at length about conceptual thinking and intuition is because in sex tech, and in tech in general, there is a growing sense of momentum, almost a pressure, to be having conversations about machine learning, artificial intelligence, and convolutional neural networks, virtual and augmented reality, et cetera et cetera.


When it comes to ‘marketing sextech’, which is just a trendy way of saying ‘when we talk about sex,’ it is important for the success of your business that you remember, no matter how sophisticated your product, your customer is always going to be a human.


As soon as you remove the humanity from your marketing communications, you alienate your customer. The more automated your processes, the harder it is for your customer to put value in their connection with you. And therefore, the less you’ll sell.


3: DON'T ASSUME SEX SELLS


Since the sextech industry has come of age over the last ten years or so, there has suddenly been a lot of serious researchers rushing to study whether or not the old maxim ‘sex sells’ is true or not. The answer, in general, is no, sex doesn’t really sell, and where it does, you might not want to be attracting that kind of customer anyway.


Forgive the heteronormative gender definitions I’m about to quote, we can only work with what we’re given. But a relatively large scientific study in 2021 found that women were less attracted to, and less likely to purchase products presented with sexualised female models than nonsexual ads, and men where not influenced one way or another.


The only group that said increased their purchase intent was a category of men with attitudes the researchers referred to as “hostile sexism.” You don't want them as your customers, or you'll ONLY have them as your customers.


Here's the conclusion of the researchers:



Since the sextech industry is generally steered towards women and female-bodied people, your marketing will be stronger if it’s less overtly sexual.


I can this report with you if you want it, it is reputable, and it’s not alone. Sex doesn’t sell itself, you have to be good at it.


The idea that just assuming sex will sell itself based on the merit that it is sex, that assumption is holding back your marketing. People who come into our industry because they believe that selling sex is easy don’t tend to hang around very long.


4. DO THE HOMEWORK


Study other, previous sextech marketing. Learn everything that went before you. Learn what worked, and what failed. Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, said Winston Churchill, plagiarising the Spanish philosopher George Santayana. History is context, and context is the clay with which a marketer makes bricks.


Studying the history of sex toy marketing is just straight up, honest-to-god fun. There's a metric ton of resources and museums out there, and all of it is useful. Collect good examples, relish bad examples, aggregate it all into your own processes.


Knowledge is power.


5. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER

When you are heavily investing in performance marketing, your customers become data points, and it’s tempting to make big sweeping statements about them.


50% are women, 45% are men, 5% are non-conforming or non-binary, for example. Sure you can make a few business decisions based on that, but it really you next to nothing about them.


Once again, we’re not selling washing machines. I feel like that could have been the title of tonight’s talk: how not to sell washing machines. Point is, sextech is intrinsically connected with our sense of identity. Your marketing statistics will lead you make large assumptions about big groups of people, at a time when those people are actively fighting for their identity, their individuality.


Instead, look at your market, identify one specific customer, a real person, and speak directly to them. In issues as personal as sex, if you try to appeal to everyone, you end up attracting no one.


Speak with authenticity to one single person in your comms, and others like them will gravitate to your brand.


In the words of Aristotle: a friend to all is a friend to none. Put into a marketing context, it means, when you try to appeal to everyone, you attract no one.


6. SELL THE SIZZLE, NOT THE SAUSAGE

This is a truly old-school piece of marketing advice. But it has a special kind of resonance in the sextech industry - probably because of the waord sausage. It relates to an earlier point about specifications vs sensations.


If you’re selling a smartphone, it might be important to know how much ram it’s got, and which processor it’s using, and the screen resolution. That’s how smartphone manufacturers compete with each other.


Sextech, though, is designed to facilitate sex. Or to improve sexual health and sexual wellness. Sex is a sensory experience.


Therefore, in general and with exceptions, sextech needs to appeal to the senses. The features of the product, and to an extent the product itself, that’s the sausage. But what people are interested in is the experience. That’s the sizzle.


In sextech, people want to be seduced. They want to be taken on a journey. For us, narrative marketing works. This isn’t always necessary, if you’re writing SEO meta descriptions or something, you don’t need to be a poet. But anywhere a customer might interact with your messaging, be creative.


One of the most effective things I ever did was take all the information off of some designer lingerie packaging and replaced it with erotic stories. That’s how I ended up reading filth I’d written to the fashion designer Giles Deacon, very weird.


Anyway the goal of my work is not to dictate to the customer’s desires to them, but to create a kind of narrative framework into which they can project their own desires, and imagine themselves with the product.


7. RELY ON PRODUCT-LED GROWTH


You have a product, congratulations. That’s difficult. You made it.


But it doesn’t stop there.


Unless it’s truly a gamechanger, you can’t depend on it selling itself. You need to be building scalability and customer retention into your plans right now. Planning follow-up products, and limited edition versions. Anything you can shout about in your PR and marketing.


I’m working with a client right now who is facing exactly this issue: they have a really cool and really innovative product, but after an initial flurry of interest from a viral social media post, nothing has really happened for them. So they hired me, and the Afterglow, to build out a strategy for them.


For the sake of the growth of your business, you need to be looking beyond the launch, at building customer retention into your growth strategy from the start. Blog posts, newsletters, community building, putting that effort in at the start is going to help you scale up later.


Just don’t count on your product driving growth alone. You need to be thinking about variations and follow ups now.


8. AIM SMALL

Ah, a controversial one for my final entry: aim small. This is an idea that people either 100% understand, or don’t understand at all, there’s no middle ground at all, and in the start-up climate, this is going to sound like weird advice.


Hear me out, it doesn’t mean what you think it does.


It’s literally about targeting, specifically in marketing.


Hard to explain this one, a bit conceptual. Let me try to figure this out with you. Here’s what it means. This is going to get a little masculiney, tesosteroney for a moment. Indulge me, the point is valid and valuable for everyone despite my framing of it.


For a while, I did a lot of martial arts, and counter-terrorism training. Part of my firearms training, conducted by a shadowy former-IDF guy, was marksmanship. The thing that they drilled into me, which has become the most useful piece of marketing advice I’ve got to offer, was "aim small, miss small."


The instructor told me that if you look at a target and shoot at the whole thing, there’s a good chance you could miss entirely. But if you focus in on one small detail of that target, a speck of colour or something, you might miss that detail, but you’re more likely to be close. To still hit the overall target.


Aim small, miss small.


Now, instead of something like a gun, consider your product. And instead of a target, consider the market. And instead of a bullet, it is your message.


Find a tiny part of the market, focus in, and deliver that message. Narrow your vision. Because then even if you miss, you’re going to be close.




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