Last month marked Doc Johnson’s 35th anniversary in business as a leading sex toy manufacturer. As the North Hollywood, Calif.–based industry founder grew and evolved from a factory of just 1,500 square feet with nine employees to more than 500 people, occupying more than 250,000 square feet — with a catalog of almost 10,000 products — its efforts to appeal to clients and end users also progressed.
“The first few years Doc Johnson was basically an adult bookstore business,” said Victoria Bowman-Steinour, Doc Johnson’s director of marketing and public relations. “We’ve always done catalogs for the retailers — starting in 1976; but as the years went on and the market started to change, of course we evolved. For a very long time, all adult stores were primarily focused on magazines and 8mm films; novelties were such a small segment of the market.”
There is something to be said for living and breathing the job full-time. I think that really comes through in the marketing messages and certainly plays a huge role in identifying priorities.
In the early days, from the late ’70s through the late ’80s, when the industry was a lot smaller and consisted mostly of people who knew each other, it was common for Doc staff to simply call up a wholesale customer and let them know that new galleys were being sent out, Bowman-Steinour said.
“Most of the wholesale customers would just pick up everything we sold because the novelty market was such an afterthought that no one put real strategy into merchandising the adult bookstores for it,” she continued. “The end-consumers took what they could get and we, as a manufacturer, had a very hard time getting consumer feedback. Novelty manufacturers were really in the dark about what customers wanted. There wasn’t a lot of product on the market and the small volume that was being sold was all very basic items.”
Doc Johnson founder Ron Braverman recalls the evolution of the adult market’s focus.
“In the ’80s the market was changed by video — it was all the rage and the profits for video were huge,” he said. “Then came DVD in the ’90s — again, being the main focus of the adult world. It wasn’t until the end of the ’90s that sex toys really started to be considered as a viable focus for stores. In the last 10 years, the market for these products has just exploded; it’s been incredible to watch this transformation. The boom in creativity and innovative product design is most definitely the biggest indicator of consumer enthusiasm for our industry.”
The company’s marketing efforts have evolved with the industry, Bowman-Steinour said, Doc’s catalogs have become more visually stimulating and practical for buyers; and the company transitioned from sending out one-sheets, presentation folders and faxing announcements to now utilizing fully customized email blasts and online mainstream social platforms, in addition to a revamped website.
“Our campaigns went from just letting our fellow industry colleagues know that we had new products available to now devising fully formed launches of new products and lines — planning the message and the medium in order to get the most impact out of a product launch is becoming part of the routine here, now that we have staff in place to manage these campaigns.
“Getting the samples out there, talking about the ways we might work on special projects based around a product or a line, and creating support materials and online content are all ways that we approach a campaign. We work closely with distributors and retailers to create promotional vehicles, we do some advertising selectively, we support online retailers’ review programs, and we openly ask for feedback at every opportunity.”
Obtaining feedback is one of the reasons why Doc Johnson places a high value on social media interactions.
“Don’t take those Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers lightly — these are your fans, and they want real news and to feel that they have relationship with the company,” Bowman-Steinour said. “We honor that relationship through sharing new products, asking for feedback, or sharing photos from around the office, at events, or of staff. Showing the hardworking people behind the brand also creates a connection with consumers — we’re a big company, powered by people for the people.
“Online platforms are especially useful because of their immediacy and broad reach — we can get feedback on products so quickly, run contests and reward our fans, share stories, and really get a feel for what people are thinking — in a way that is comfortable for them,” she continued. “You have to respect this opportunity and honor these relationships, though — otherwise you’re just another spammer, screaming into the void. And really, there’s already enough noise online. You don’t learn anything about the market by broadcasting nonstop; engagement is essential.”
This year Doc Johnson increased its public relations focus to include a dedicated marketing department — tapping Bowman-Steinour, an industry vet, as director of marketing and public relations and bolstering the family business with the addition of Erica Braverman, a recent college grad, as marketing coordinator.
“She [Braverman] helps manage the loose ends of the many overlapping projects and tasks that involve marketing,” Bowman-Steinour said. “She’s also becoming quite the copywriter and learning the ropes of how to be a social media manager. Basically, Erica is my right hand.”
According to Bowman-Steinour, Doc reallocated its PR handling to strengthen the company’s foundation, focus and to better convey the manufacturer’s day-to-day operations.
“There is something to be said for living and breathing the job full-time. I think that really comes through in the marketing messages and certainly plays a huge role in identifying priorities.”
Doc’s new marketing team has already gotten down to business — kicking off new comprehensive projects that have more depth and intricate elements involved than past campaigns, Bowman-Steinour.
“Things are moving quickly and we’re able to juggle several big things in the pipeline. The sky is the limit for this company — we have the resources, the people who can make it happen,” she said. “Some things never change, though — our relationships with our customers are still our collective top priority. Consistently offering innovative and effective products with the expert support of our sales team will always be the primary focus of this company.”
Among the new projects in the works is a new promotional tool slated to be revealed early next year that “is likely to revolutionize the industry” — however, Bowman-Steinour remains hush on the details.
“We want to empower the entire chain of distribution; it begins with our manufacturing facility and ultimately results with the product in the end-consumer’s hands, but every step in between truly matters and makes or breaks a product’s market success,” Bowman-Steinour said. “Educating the distributors and retailers about our products, materials and brand helps them to better meet the desires of the consumers. We realize that one marketing medium does not fit all, and we’re working on diversifying our promotional tools with that in mind.”