Burning Your Mark in the Minds of Customers

I had the pleasure of speaking on a seminar panel about branding at the recent 2016 XBIZ Show conference in Los Angeles in January. I was not originally slated to be on this panel and ironically, my being asked to participate last minute was a direct result of a branding related decision of my own to pass on participating in a different seminar.

It truly was a great lineup of people that included Colin Rowntree of Wasteland, marketing powerhouse Kristen Kaye, Jo Merlone of KiwiSourcing and XBIZ’s own Leah Mahi. The seminar was sure to draw a crowd even without me being there, despite the fact that I won the XBIZ Exec Award for Tech Leadership the night before.

A lot of paysite owners don’t believe they can create a brand because all they think of are big name companies, but it’s not true. Even individual people can be branded. Look at spokespeople, porn stars and cam models for instance.

Few people know it but prior to my start in this industry 15 years ago most of what I did was marketing related, either for venture-funding backed .coms or huge corporate brands. That experience has helped me tremendously in both establishing Elevated X as a true adult industry tech brand and in my own marketing efforts.

I was originally scheduled to be headlining my own one-hour workshop a day earlier but had to be a party pooper and bow out not to maintain my own brand strength, but to curtail the branding efforts of another tech company.

In a nutshell, rather than speak alongside another company owner and encourage the perception that we and our companies are equals, I opted to be absent and allow them to stand alone rather than piggyback the strength of my brand and my reputation to boost theirs.

Branding is a funny thing. It’s a responsibility. A brand is something that most legitimate businesses strive to attain yet very few ever do. And only once you have one do you realize how hard it is to create one and you will do everything you can do maintain its strength.

The branding seminar covered a lot of ground in an hour. One of the key points made was that you can pay for name recognition but you can’t pay to create a brand. A brand isn’t just a company name that people come to remember, it’s an entity all of itself. In the adult space, the best example of this would be one of the biggest brands of modern times, a conglomeration of websites known as Brazzers.

The parent company (in any of its iterations e.g. Manwin, Mindgeek, etc.) may be widely known name in the adult industry but those names are simply companies. Brazzers is a legitimate brand.

What a lot of people think of when the word “branding” comes up is plastering your name all over the place on banner ads, magazine ads, trade show signage and booths, and so on. That’s “advertising,” not branding.

For example, a company having a bunch of staff walking around trade shows with brightly colored logo T-shirts, having a gigantic logo all over a hotel and having web and print ads is advertising, not branding in its truest sense.

Branding is a bit different. To create a brand, you need to have the same kind of name recognition that comes with advertising, but you also need for that recognition to be associated with something other than your name.

There needs to be strict cohesion between the name, the company’s products and services and the people behind them and that must remain cohesive and repetitive at all times, even years after the brand has been formed.

In adult entertainment very few companies will ever achieve the status of a “brand icon.” With the exception of maybe Playboy and Hustler no such companies exist. Brazzers, YouPorn and PornHub (sadly) are probably the closest thing we will see to iconic brands in modern day.

As a reference point, the iconic brands most people are familiar with are names like Apple,Mercedes, McDonalds Disney, and Coca-Cola. Disney, Coke and McDonalds are among the best brand examples because for most of us they elicit a feeling.

Who doesn’t remember seeing a Disney movie as a kid or a trip to a theme park or being somewhere as a kid (or as an adult) and going to McDonalds and sharing a Coke with a parent, grandparent, sibling or love interest? Those names alone can elicit a feeling in a great many people. Their brand strength is tremendous.

It’s fun to think about but even if we can’t ever achieve iconic brand status or even (close-to) household name status like a Brazzers or PornHub, branding efforts can still help even the smallest of adult businesses — primarily paysites whose content is out there in both paid and free formats whether they like it or not.

Colin Rowntree spoke a bit about his use of tube sites in promoting Wasteland purely from a branding perspective and that he knows that having his logo watermark on his videos and his banner ad below them leads to membership sales even if not instantly and not directly.

Someone who has seen a bunch of free videos here and there and wants to see more or is in the mood to explore them with a husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend will recall the high quality, the settings, the production value and the trust conveyed by Wasteland content and its branding and recalling the name, they will go to Wasteland.com.

Similarly, someone who is serious about running high-level paysites and needs software will do a bit of research and see the 10-year track record of Elevated X. They will see lots of positive, public, real user testimonials from those ranging from small startups and solo models to the biggest brands in adult, perhaps read a couple of my articles, see a few adult message board posts where people talk about how good our customer service is, etc. and conclude that they can trust Elevated X with their business needs. The name Elevated X means nothing. It’s the synergy of all those components that makes my brand.

The reason most businesses fail with branding is that it’s tough to create in the first place but maintaining it is even more difficult. If either Colin or I relax too much, get tired, bored or lazy and let quality slide or diminish our offering or the perfection of our product in any way, our brand is weakened. People will no longer associate all the important things with our names and we will just become familiar names, not strong brands.

A lot of paysite owners don’t believe they can create a brand because all they think of are big name companies, but it’s not true. Even individual people can be branded. Look at spokespeople, porn stars and cam models for instance.

The best way to brand a paysite is through consistency of your content and your message. Start with a high quality site that doesn’t look like it was built by a high school kid or a bunch of cheap overseas coders. Add in content that’s well shot, well edited and is consistent from shoot to shoot. Then add in a message. The message can be anything that resonates with you and your customers.

Maybe it’s that all the content is produced based on site member fantasy submissions. Maybe the video features real people not actors, maybe each one features a certain type of setting, a meme, a specific sex act, etc. Over time as your site design elements, content watermarking and online advertising reinforce these things, you will establish a brand.

A few great recent examples of this are Sssh.com, Babes.com and Blacked.com. Sssh.com has used long-term consistency and a strong message (porn created by women for women) to build a brand that’s gotten a good amount of mainstream coverage. The Babes and Blacked sites are building brands not through having awesome domain names but through consistency of their content and synergy between the content quality, site quality and reliability of the product.

You can achieve brand success at any level by paying close attention to how your product offering is positioned and how it’s perceived. You always want to be seen as the best choice for whatever it is you’re doing and do whatever it takes to drive that home in the mind of consumers so that when they see your name, they associate it with whatever you do best. Consistency is the key.

From there, you just have to be patient and keep doing it and before you know it you’ll be among the strongest brands in your market, whatever it might be.

AJ Hall is a 15-year adult industry veteran, winner of the 2016 XBIZ Tech Leadership Award and CEO of Elevated X Inc., a provider of popular adult site CMS software. Hall has spoken at industry trade shows and written for several trade publications. Elevated X software powers more than 2,000 leading adult sites, has been nominated for more than a dozen industry awards and won the 2012, 2014 and 2015 XBIZ Award for Software Company of the Year.