ANME/XBIZ: Pleasure Product Execs Discuss Latest Trends, Developments in Design

ANME/XBIZ: Pleasure Product Execs Discuss Latest Trends, Developments in Design

LOS ANGELES — Years before the coronavirus pandemic forced individuals and companies to change the way they lived and worked, other forces were already shaping the pleasure product and sexual wellness worlds and influencing product design and functionality trends — the topic of last Tuesday’s ANME/XBIZ virtual panel.

Moderated by Megan Swartz of Deja Vu Love Boutique, the discussion brought together Nichole Grossmann, director of marketing for CalExotics; Ian Kulp, sales director for the Americas for Satisfyer; Alexandro Feynerol, sales director for North and Latin America for Svakom; Scott Watkins, VP of sales for Doc Johnson, and Alicia Sinclair, founder and CEO, of COTR, Inc.

The panelists began the session by identifying key, long-running trend areas that brought their brands to a bittersweet high point at the start of 2021: new technologies, interactivity, evolving consumer and social views, a changing retail landscape, creative marketing, and, of course, the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Ian Kulp emphasized the changing face of consumers (younger, more socially engaged) and how their shopping habits and desires naturally push brands towards creating products that are more inclusive, safer, interactive and engaging.

He sees this trend developing even more and bringing together a stronger community over the next several years in stores, online, and within more digital spaces.

“I think that digital intimacy is going to shape product design in the future, given what we’ve gone through,” said Kulp.

Alicia Sinclair pegged the destigmatization of adult toy shopping and the rise of sexual health education at retail locations as trend drivers for innovation and progress.

“The retail spaces, as Ian said, have changed dramatically. They went from being what we referred to as ‘Jack Shacks’ or adult bookstores to couples-friendly boutiques and places that you feel comfortable shopping with a friend or even a family member,” said Sinclair. “They are places you go for fun. That dynamic has shifted especially the past five years where you can take classes and learn about your body in a different way.”

Even with the challenges and uncertainty that rained down on the industry these last 12 months, several brands took advantage of new technologies to roll out innovative products in 2020. CalExotics, for example, unveiled the My Pod, a new vibrator with a charging case and built-in UV sanitizing light.

Nichole Grossmann credits the toy’s success to its ease of use and familiarity, packaging features customers are already used to with the new built-in UV technology.

Because of COVID’s impact, other brands like Doc Johnson made the decision to hold off on new product development and focused on improving their business from the back-end.

“Our innovation came in our manufacturing process, in figuring out ways of how to make products faster and at the same quality that we’re known for,” said Watkins. “It’s been about filling the pipeline and making sure customers have products that can keep their stores and websites stocked. That was the key thing.”

As lockdowns extended across the country, many people turned to sites like OnlyFans for entertainment or as a means of income. This put companies like Svakom in a prime position to take advantage of this new trend with their line of interactive toys.

With an accompanying Svakom app, OnlyFans viewers can interact with cam models by tipping. The more one tips, the more a toy, like the Phoenix Neo, vibrates. The model can also control hundreds, even thousands, of people at the same time if they also have one of the brand’s toys connected to a session.

“Thinking that you can do all of that with a click of a button on your computer is mind-blowing,” said Svakom’s Alexandro Feynerol. “That’s why we’re so interested in getting more into that area. It's the future.”

Satisfyer is also expanding into interactivity with their range of toys connected by the brand’s app, Satisfyer Connect.

“What sets us apart with this application is that we focus on the end user, the consumer,” noted Kulp.

The panelists noted that getting these new products and innovations in front of consumers and retailers is another challenge. 

While traditional ad platforms and social media offer mainstream companies a myriad of ways to promote themselves, adult-oriented brands face stricter options or none at all. However, as Watkins, Sinclair and Grossmann pointed out, there is an effective way to get around social media censorship — partnering with influencers and educators.

How effective can it be? Watkins pointed out how Doc Johnson’s partnership with television personality, Brittanya O'Campo (aka "Brittanya187") and “Love and Hip Hop” stars Karlie Redd and Safaree Samuels helped the company reach over 250 million people on social media.

Those relationships had the added benefit of helping legitimize their products to a wider audience added Watkins. 

“When Karlie Redd talks to a consumer base (3 million strong) that may never have bought one of our products, that’s helping Doc Johnson,” said Scott. “She’s also helping to bring new consumers into shops that we’re partnered with.”

For b-Vibe, Sinclair partnered with sex educator and Spectrum Boutique owner Zoë Ligon to help spread the word about her brand’s products and expand the collection with the brands’ collaborative line of Texture Plugs.

“I just think the way that Zoë has sex-educated a millennial audience on social media is so unique,” said Sinclair, explaining what drew her to Ligon. “The way she talks about sex, the way she connects with people, and she was a huge brand fan of b-Vibe for a long time.”

Sinclair shared some simple and solid advice for any company looking to partner with an influencer:

  • Make sure they have a verified following
  • Establish that their messaging is in line with yours. If you like the way they talk about sex and sex toys, then they’re probably a good match
  • Work with them to share quality information and knowledge.

“It’s my personal preference that people talk about pleasure products in a way that’s not comedy or humiliating. I want their conversations to be empowering and make viewers, followers or listeners feel good about their bodies,” said Sinclair.

Brands interested in discovering ambassadors for their products can also take advantage of sites like the influencer marketing platform or to search for candidates.

Finally, the panel discussion focused on COVID and its impact on product design, innovation, people, business and sales.

“We have dealt with a lot. It has not been easy. That being said, [COVID] has helped us as a business from an operational perspective to step our game up. Things that we probably should have adjusted about our business 10 years ago, we finally did. So from that perspective we have taken a step forward as a company and we’re prepared for the future,” said Watkins.

Everyone agreed that the impact of the pandemic and these changing trends are not going away and that everyone needs to adapt to ever-changing technology like virtual reality in the coming years to stay relevant and in business. 

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