Feature: Brand loyalty – why the name on the box is as important as what’s inside

Posted: May 10, 2019

How loyal are you to the industry’s leading brands? Dale Bradford argues that it’s in a retailer’s best interests to support those companies that are taking the pleasure products sector forward…

If, like me, your email address can be easily found, there is a good chance you will regularly receive communications from Chinese factories offering you generic-looking vibes at too-good-to-be-true prices. And if you’re a retailer you might be tempted to look a little closer at these offers, because everything’s made in China anyway, isn’t it?

You could, theoretically, make your money back several times over if you place an order, assuming that shipping costs and import duties and taxes are not too onerous. And that the product you receive is what you were offered, and that it complies with all relevant EU legislation.

The trouble is, if you’re selling online, you’re competing with goodness knows how many other resellers of these products. And if you’re selling in-store, will you ever move enough units to make it worth your while reaching the minimum order quantity?

Either way, no-brand offerings can cheapen your entire portfolio, which is why I believe that investing in the industry’s leading brands is the best way forward for retailers of pleasure products.

Consumer goods are sold to us less and less these days. We buy them instead. Even major purchases, such as cars, are bought by us rather than sold to us. Before we even encounter a salesperson, sites like Autotrader allow us consumers to filter for the exact specification vehicle we want: from body style to engine size, from 0-60mph time to fuel consumption, from how many doors to how many seats, right down to the colour of those seats and what material they are made from. Once we have narrowed our focus down to a realistic number, taking into consideration geographical location and asking price, we just have to negotiate our way through our shortlist. The test drive is the last thing we do prior to purchase, rather than the first.

Fortunately, there is no such online equivalent for pleasure products, which is why retailers with good staff will always thrive. I have visited many of the UK’s leading independent stores over the last 16 years, and the successful ones always credit their staff as being a key contributor to their prosperity. Even in national and regional chains, I’ve been told that the quality of the staff can mean the difference between a good store and an underperforming one.

Brand awareness

Regardless of the size of your operation, investing in brands will help your staff. Not just to sell more product, though that’s obviously important, but also to match the product to the customer. Good staff will be able to reel off the differences between a Fleshlight or a Tenga, outlining each brand’s benefits and features, but a nondescript lump of pink silicone with a hole in it is just that, even if it’s half the price of the branded product.

When consumer magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping feature pleasure products, they will tend to opt for a branded product over a generic one (not least because it gives them a certain amount of protection). So consumers, especially if they are new to sex toys, will expect branded products if they venture through the doors of your business. Brands help to pre-sell products for you.

And the more sex toy savvy your customers are, the more familiar they will be with industry brands, to the extent that experts will associate product categories with the leading names. If they’re looking for a couples’ product, they will expect to see a We-Vibe, for instance, and playing word association with other terms will probably result in LELO, Jimmyjane, Nexus, Doxy, Rocks-Off, and Fifty Shades of Grey being the respective answers to ‘luxury’, ‘upmarket’, ‘prostate massager’, ‘wand massager’, ‘bullet vibe’, and ‘soft fetish gear’ prompts.

Even the US megabrands, which offer thousands of SKUs across every category, have sub-brands that either dominate or aggressively compete in certain sectors. Doc Johnson is renowned for its dongs and Kink collections, for instance, while Pipedream’s Fetish Fantasy Series, King Cock, and Extreme ranges have become as well known as the parent brand, and CalExotics has been designing ever more imaginative variations on the rabbit theme for decades.

Of course, a good salesperson can usually convert a customer from the brand she wants to an alternative, but there are other reasons why retailers of adult products should support the industry’s leading brands.

Brand designs

Why do I always buy Heinz beans? Because I know what I’m getting. Yes, Sainsbury’s own-brand offering may be just as good, and cost less, but at this stage of my life I’m not willing to risk ruining my breakfast by introducing an unknown element to the plate.

Similarly, the leading industry brands provide retailers with reassurance that every product will be made of the same material, to the same standard, as an example bought last week or last year. Brands also offer a level of protection: you know nothing nasty is going to happen to your customers who buy branded items. The products have been thoroughly tested, prior to production, so they meet all existing safety standards and – should they ever need to – the brand will be able to trace an individual product’s provenance all the way back to a specific factory.

Consumers also love brands. For some, the brands they choose make a statement about who they are to the outside world. Which suits aspirational brands, like Apple and BMW, just fine. And their followers are not just loyal, they can become as fanatical as football supporters. You don’t have to visit many online forums to find zealots taking pride in ‘their’ brand’s achievements and technical prowess, and badmouthing products which don’t carry their favourite logo.

Building brand loyalty is a slow process but pleasure products purveyors are on the case. Why did Satisfyer put a copy of Cosmopolitan in its ETO Show goodie bags? To demonstrate to retailers, in the simplest way possible, that consumers will be encountering the Satisfyer brand in internationally renowned consumer magazines, I would imagine.

The leading brands are promoting their products more than ever before. They can’t all afford to take out regular full-page ads in the world’s highest circulation publications but they’re running social media campaigns, feeding influential reviewers of all types with their latest launches, appointing brand ambassadors, and creating innovative PR stunts for the media to cover. One of the leading exponents of the latter is Hot Octopuss: some of its more memorable headline grabbers include the pop-up orgasm shop in New York for the launch of Queen Bee; its ‘Calling all wankers, your country needs you’ response to the news that the National Sperm Bank was in danger of running dry; and its valiant attempt to raise the morale of England’s national football team, following a disappointing loss to Italy in the World Cup, by sending each player a sample of its Pulse ‘guybrator’.

On a more serious note, it’s only the industry’s leading brands (shining examples being Fleshlight and Bathmate, and I know there are others) that can and do take legal action against suppliers who are trying to hoodwink retailers into buying counterfeit products. And it’s those same leading brands that are funding research and development programmes that will result in even more advanced products arriving on your shelves next year and every year after.

Of course, they are doing it for their own reasons, but their actions are also helping you maintain a profitable business. And they deserve your support, unless you’re happy competing with Poundland and its £5 Bonkin’ Bunny in a race to the bottom?