Is marketing to gay surfers really that different? Yes and no. Certainly, success in the gay market demands a lot of the same techniques you have used in the straight market — such as providing quality content and building traffic.
Consumers are consumers, regardless of their sexual preference. In any industry, the key to success is really knowing and understanding your audience. While both gay and straight consumers want a quality site, the gay market is often more discriminating.
Surfers are looking for sex, but they also demand a sense of familiarity and identification with community.
This is the first rule of gay marketing — don't try to be everything to everyone. Culturally and economically, the gay community is often misperceived as a niche. In size it may be smaller than the straight market, but its sensibilities, identities and predilections are as infinitely broad as its "straight" counterpart. Furthermore, gay consumers are more likely to find "niche" treatment on a larger adult site (or all-encompassing treatment on a smaller site) a signal that the webmaster doesn't understand or care. Gay consumers are distrustful of sites that promise everything.
A better way to reach the gay market is through niche marketing. This may mean concentrating on body type — hairy men or "bears," younger smooth men or "twinks," among others — media type and production type. Any attempt at marketing to these communities without understanding their needs, language and expectations is ultimately destined to fail.
Even within the adult online community, gay consumers are often at the forefront of consuming content. Chances are that your prospective consumer has already been burned by several bad sites or is expecting free content. As with most things in retail, presentation is everything. Or at least a good starting point.
But the identity politics of the 1990s don't necessarily apply in the wild world of cyberspace. Aly Drummond, host of webcast industry chat Aly TV, challenges the idea that only gay webmasters can market to and profit from the gay community.
"A good gay site isn't a site that only a gay man can build. I don't buy into that. A good gay site is built by an engineer who understands how to paint with a spreadsheet as their palette," said Drummond. "[One] individual's opinion on what looks appealing is irrelevant. If sales increase when I put a green picture on a pink background, I really don't care how good it looks." In other words, let the market dictate its needs to you. It's all a matter of paying attention. While Drummond's point may be extreme, it does underscore a major point: A well produced site inspires trust in an industry renowned for fly-by-night scams and empty promises. A well-designed, content-rich and easily navigable site is imperative in convincing the gay consumer that you can reliably deliver what they desire.
If you are unsure as to what you can provide the gay surfer, research it. Look at competitive sites. Learn the lingo. If the images and attitudes don't appeal to you, the resulting sales certainly will.
In designing a quality website for the gay consumer, you may want to work with a gay-owned or gay-friendly designer. Gay owned companies like Cubik Media and Bionic Pixels will not only give you a great-looking website, they can also spot gay-related discrepancies in your development plan.
Keeping It Legal
Be careful of the content you keep. There are a nearly limitless amount of producers of gay and gay-related content. However, in an increasingly conservative legal environment, it's best to stay away from companies that refuse to provide you with 2257 compliance information. You should also ascertain whether a particular content source holds the rights to the images and media that they are providing.
Often one will see the same model used on several different websites. This isn't necessarily an issue of copyright violation, but it does speak to the value of having original content. If you cannot or are not able to produce content yourself, there are many underutilized content sources that offer original content. Keep track of industry trends through Cybersocket, GayWideWebmasters and other resources.
Without original content, a site is doomed from the start. Morgan Summer, publisher and president of Cybersocket, doesn't mince words.
"Cookie-cutter gay websites do not make money," Summer said. "You need to make a distinct website that will stand out in a marketplace saturated with bad sites. Unless you are serious about investing time, money, thought and long-term marketing efforts into a unique gay website, I would advise you to not waste your time and money. It would be a better use of your resources to promote one of the established brands in the market as an affiliate."
Know Your Audience
Assuming you've researched, catalogued, critiqued competing sites and developed relationships with possible content providers, you should ask, "Now what?"
"The web is an endless pool of information, as well as a way to communicate with your surfers," said Reena Patel, director of marketing for NakedSword. "At NakedSword, we are constantly implementing ways for our customers to communicate with us about what they want using surveys, newsletter feedback and a comments forum. Ask your surfer what he thinks and wants and, for better or worse, he will tell you."
Time and again, we are asked how to build, market and populate websites that sell. If you can't respect the gay market, you won't be able to thrive. Do your research, review your commitment and partner with respectable, reliable content producers. Network. Talk. Listen. It seems as simple as any other customer based industry, yet adult webmasters often cover their eyes and ears when faced with the gay market.
As the adult Internet matures, we can no longer rely on the if you-build-it-they-will-come mentality.
NakedSword.com has been a leader in gay adult streaming video since 1997. For more information, visit www.naked sword.com and www.nakeddollars.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.