Should You Trust Adult Industry Market Research Reports?

Should You Trust Adult Industry Market Research Reports?

If like me, you have Google Alerts set up for things like lingerie, sex toys, fetishwear and the like, you’ll often see web links for sex toy or lingerie global market reports. They’ll feature some of the top brands, have some industry and regional content, plus some other bells and whistles before putting their proverbial necks on the line by offering compound some annual growth rate (CAGR) percentage forecasts for the next five years.

Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a marketer of many years, I’d be heartily endorsing such things, as they’d be no doubt filled with juicy numbers, graphs, and other stats and pearls of wisdom. Shouldn’t that be the stuff I’d be urging you to get your credit cards out for at the earliest opportunity?

Your guess is as good as mine vis-à-vis real market size and subsequent market worth. Get used to it.

Not really, no.

In fact, I’m very hesitant for a few good reasons. Firstly, there’s the price. Of the couple of like-titled reports I spied, you’re talking about parting company with a few thousand dollars. This might be fine for a wealthy entrepreneur who is thinking of entering the industry for the first time and has a global outlook on where they might be based or whether they should have a global customer base or focus on specific territories. But how is such a report going to help a brick-and-mortar store in the average town or city whose walk-in customers are going to be locally based?

Secondly, what background do the analysts have? Are they passionate sector specialists, or are they doing a report on sex toys one month then semiconductors the next? Are they wet-behind-the-ears newbies or seasoned pros? In the interests of well, research, I should have offered the report pedlars my name and email address and accessed the sample pages for a more detailed glimpse. But given how utterly annoying the relentless pop-up “chat” window was appearing every minute I remained on the page of one such report company, there was not a snowball’s chance in hell I was going to be surrendering anything further, on principle.

Thirdly, just in case anyone didn’t notice, there’s a whole bunch of companies scrapping it out in this industry. The big boys and girls are but only a few of the firms slugging it out. My eyes roll sardonically when I hear media or even industry trade publications try to reckon the size of the industry and its worth. Invariably the methodology isn’t sound as unfortunately there isn’t really one to speak of. It’s “back of a napkin” stuff.

Also, how do you count the number of companies in the industry on any given day? There are trade magazine subscribers for sure. But there are several such publications, and not every company is subscribed to one or all of them. Of course, Google, Twitter and Instagram can all be employed to effect. But anyone who’s tried to use Twitter as a lead generation tool already knows that the platform has a pretty sizable cyber graveyard of dormant erotic trade accounts that haven’t seen action for a while. Good luck wading through them all to identify who is actively trading and who are metaphorically pushing up the daisies.

Oh, did I forget the plethora of individual Etsy and Ebay sellers all around the world selling lingerie, sex toys, erotic jewellery, artwork and fetishwear? Yep, they’re in this industry too so don’t forget to be totting up all those hardly, entrepreneurial souls.

And remember, with next to no entry and exit barriers, the true exact number of firms competing in the industry will be changing on a near daily basis. And of course, with so many sole traders in the industry there’s no knowing what their contribution is to the industry, never mind GDP or GNP, as (at least here in the U.K.) their financial performance doesn’t need to be publically disclosed to anyone.

Consequently, anyone relying merely on limited or incorporated companies, or PLCs has to accept from the start that their numbers will be inaccurate as sole traders will be excluded from the calculations. As nobody knows the exact number of firms this applies to, there’s obviously no hope of estimating how wide off the mark any subsequent calculation and reporting will be. Your guess is as good as mine vis-à-vis real market size and subsequent market worth. Get used to it.

Then there are the actual categories to consider. For a report solely focusing on sex toys, the product categories are not likely to be disputed, give or take a few ancillary items. But I also come across report offers from various sources on areas like “erotic lingerie.” Who decides what constitutes “erotic?” Does some sort of Magi-not Lingerie Line exist?

This is the key fear I have with industry reports: what methodology is being used and what baseline assumptions they’re working from. And I feel this even when a single sector is being examined. You can imagine my trepidation (“Grab the crucifix and the Holy Water!”) when either individual companies or trade publications try to assess market size and worth of the “adult industry” as a whole.

The business of love and lust and everything in between covers a gamut of sectors: there’s everything from dating services, lapdances, prostitution, boudoir photography, sex and relationship counselling, adult media, parties and events and a whole bunch more, to the more familiar categories covered in this magazine.

When key sectors are omitted and/or no accurate data exists due to some of the factors already outlined, it becomes an exercise in futility. Actually, no: it’s worse than that. It’s sheer farce. For any publication or company or institution attempting this, do everyone a favor and stop right now … unless you have the proper resources — financial and headcount — to do it properly. Your readers deserve that much.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get tougher, let’s add another ingredient to the mix. And it’s by far the most important. It’s the one that determines whether your bills get paid at the end of each month. Any guesses? Yes, it’s your customers.

Naturally, they’re the ones directly affecting the true market worth (whatever that is), but they’re also the ones determining who actually constitutes a player in the sector. Purchase rationale is the key variable that should be considered but is often ignored. Think of the serious medical roleplay enthusiast who perhaps buys some medical furniture. He or she can purchase some serious kit from a BDSM specialist such as Fetters but then for the finishing touches buys some medical scrubs or the clichéd white lab coat from a legitimate medical supplier. Whether they like it or not, this company has become a de facto part of the business of love and lust and everything in between, and even if just fleetingly so on the basis of a few transactions.

Or what about the woman who likes to indulge in some naughty schoolgirl roleplay and for authenticity purchases her clothing from a major high street family clothes retailer? The purchase rationale is completely carnal, yet the products themselves are most definitely not. What about food purchased for sploshing? Again, the purchase may well be made with naughtiness in mind, but to the food manufacturers the thought never enters their head.

But arguably the real reason for not wholeheartedly advising erotic retailers and the like to reach out for a credit card to pay for one of these reports is that there’s a whole other set of very real and practical factors and statistics that I think are far more important for a brick-and-mortar erotic retail business to be thinking about when it comes to market size and targeting, and which I suspect (although happy to be corrected) are missing from these type of reports. And in true cliff-hanger style, these will be discussed in next month’s column!

Brian Gray is the founder and head consultant at Lascivious Marketing, based in Glasgow, U.K. With two decades of marketing experience in a variety of roles and industry sectors, Gray helps manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the erotic industry improve their marketing performance through strong brand creation, better customer understanding and insight, tailored marketing planning and communications through focused effort. He was also the founder of the XBIZ.net London Gathering networking events back in 2010. Gray can be contacted at lasciviousmarketing.com, found on Twitter @LasciviousMktng and XBIZ.net or phoned on +44 (0)141 255 0769.