How difficult is it to compete in a country where attitudes to sex toys and sex education are behind the times? And how do you overcome such challenges? Meet the Ukrainian company who’ve done just that. We talk to Nataliya Vakhovskaya, co-Founder of LoveBox.
Based in Kiev, Nataliya provides a great insight into not only the marketing of their great products but also the challenges faced, showing their marketing nous, recognition of the marketing environment around them and how to compete accordingly.
BRIAN GRAY: What is LoveBox and what is the history behind the business?
NATALIYA VAKHOVSKAYA: LoveBox is a range of adult gift sets for special moments. And special moments are daily!
LoveBox is a young brand, launched just a year ago by myself, my husband and our friend. The idea of LoveBox is to give people another perception of sex toys and sexual pleasure in relationships.
There is a strong stigma in Ukraine surrounding sex, and sex toys especially. All brick and mortar sex shops in Ukraine were mostly opened at the end of the 90s, with old-school goods, poor marketing, without any aesthetic and understanding of retail branding.
According to our estimations, there are also more than one thousand online sex shops in Ukraine of different size and turnover, but their design and communications are nothing common with the word ‘sexy’.
Because of a lack of proper marketing communications in adult goods retail, people in Ukraine mostly consider sex toys as something dirty and shameful. Many people do not know about brand new toys of high quality and modern design, with hi-tech features. So we decided to fill this gap and change the way people think about sex toys and sexual pleasure.
To achieve this goal we made a new ‘package’ for sex –both literally and figuratively. We invited a well-known illustrator to develop brand identity and packaging design.
In our blog we do not write ‘women’s magazine style’ articles about ’10 best sex positions’ or so on. We do everything to sexually educate people: tell about good sex literature, make review for new toys and brands, interviews with experts and so on.
What defines your typical LoveBox customer, and what three adjectives would you want your customers to associate with your brand?
Our target audience are newcomers in pleasure goods or people who are looking for an unusual gift to their friends or beloved ones. People who decide to try for the first time sex toys and erotic lingerie, accessories, who need professional guidance in the wide range of adult pleasure products.
Our three adjectives would be: Customer-oriented, aesthetic and surprising.
You have a range of different boxes available for purchase. Are they all equally popular or do there appear to be one or two clear favourites? Are there plans to introduce more, and if so what can you tell us about them?
Now we have three boxes: Romantic (basic set for couple), Dominant (light BDSM for beginners) and Freeda (woman’s version for better understanding of her sexuality).
On Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day we also have seasonal sets – Winter and Valentine accordingly. At the end of June we introduce two new sets: Wedding and Aqua.
The popularity of boxes depends on season and forthcoming holidays. Now the most popular is Freeda, bought both by men for their girlfriends/wives and by girls themselves. We expect great interest in Wedding as a gift for hen parties, weddings and wedding anniversaries because of peak wedding season approaching.
The images of the LoveBox – particularly the ‘Dominant’ box – are very evocative. What has been the reaction to them in your country?
At the end of November 2016 while we were working on our second gift box Dominant, we invited the famous Ukrainian singer Nana Domination to participate in Dominant development. Nana’s stage image and attitude to sex meets our Dominant mood, so we produced a really appealing campaign.
By the way, we use some pictures as hints for Dominant users; Nana shows how each item in Dominant can be used. We insert these cards in the box.
But actually we try not to exploit the images of sexy women in our visual communication. Each package of LoveBox conveys a different mood and creates the atmosphere of sex. For example, Freeda is a firework of woman’s orgasm, Dominant is undiscovered sexual wishes. Sex is great with its great variety, sex is a beauty of intimate relations, so we are trying to depict it through our different packages.
I am happy to tell, that everybody loves our images. People miss another “voice of sex’.
A well-positioned company seeks to ‘own’ one word in the minds of consumers (i.e. Volvo and ‘safety’). What would be yours?
LoveBox is gifted from people in love to people in love, from close friends, from people you trust, who celebrate love and their sexual relations.
We are against the message that sex toys are substitution of the partner or sex toys are the saving fire for fading relationships. It’s not true, of course. Sex toys are additional pleasure to obtain more from love.
We want LoveBox to be like a cake for family holidays and favourite dessert in everyday life: always desired to celebrate joy. Joy of relationships, joy of everyday life.
In Western Europe adult retailing is commonplace, whether on the high street or online. How does Ukraine compare?
In Ukraine unfortunately sex shops are like underground secret organizations: mostly all stores are with covered windows without any hint about goods sold there. Even if you meet a shop display, the visual merchandising is terrible. Just imagine plastic mannequins dressed in provocative costumes like those worn by Julia Roberts’ character in ‘Pretty Woman’.
What are the main marketing challenges facing LoveBox, and how are you overcoming them?
Before the official launch we were strongly counting on Facebook communication as were sure Facebook would not regard our innocent sets as adult goods (we even didn’t show the contents of the boxes for the first time). But to our great disappointment Facebook forbade page promotion. The first week we were stressed as Facebook is a strong communication channel for Ukrainian retailers and producers, but then we understood that this restriction helped us to save money and to be more creative in promotion.
Also, our customers prefer not to share their customer experience in social media (and we understand them). They are sending positive feedback to us privately, which of course we cannot publish. So we cannot rely much on word of mouth unfortunately.
To support our customer relations and to obtain buzz we developed and sent erotic colouring books to all our customers as a Christmas gift.
We do not invest much in promotion, trying to be creative, using viral marketing and to get buzz. At the beginning we worked with lifestyle bloggers but only some of them were ready to cooperate with adult goods. It was hard to find people without restrictions in mind to cooperate with. As I already said we lauched our second gift set Dominant with popular Ukrainian singer Nana Domination. It helps us to attract media interest. We got good PR coverage in press media and even on TV.
From time to time we get some PR coverage in magazines, and radio, but once again, the media in Ukraine are not ready to review sex toys as beauty products or electronics.
We also hold some brand events: women-only parties with educational lectures. I have to say sex education is of high interest among young Ukrainians today. I am writing educational columns on national online media to give people more information for discussion.
Our main distribution channel is our online store lovebox.com.ua. We do not have many retail partners as sex stores view us as competitors, and gift stores perceive us as an ‘improper’ category. Nevertheless there are some sex stores and gift shops who sell our boxes. I believe the number of partners will grow.
What has been the highlight so far in your journey, and why?
Initial customer feedback was like a prize for our hard-work. And receiving our first offers of cooperation from other brands: it was like endorsement and confirmation that we are doing well in the market. At the beginning of our journey it was hard to persuade partners even to look in our direction – we were new and small. But some months later LoveBox got its first email with offers from partners regarding co-branded projects.
Good marketing is important for any company, not only to thrive but just to survive. What have been your key marketing learning points and observations so far?
Always keep in mind the classical 4Ps. The first P (product) is crucial. Without a quality product you cannot win. You cannot even be noticed by customers.
Retail is becoming more and more mobile. We should keep this in mind while developing campaigns as well as purchase methods.
What are your own personal strengths that you bring to the LoveBox business?
I with my partners have experience in electronics retail, what is more we have specializations in PR and marketing. And some experience in sex 😉
What are the most valuable things you’ve learned so far in your erotic industry career?
Our cultural feature – to hide and suppress sexual desire. And sex toys help to uncover it. So people actually need sex toys to learn about themselves. I never looked at sex toys in this way before. And now I understand that this is the key role of adult goods.
And I’m continuing to learn. This year I began studying Sexology at the Kiev Institute of Modern Psychology and Psychiatry.
And what does the next twelve months hold in store for LoveBox?
Today we are working on new gift sets and developing our small online shop. Our plan is to invest in good user-friendly online store with bigger goods range. We are planning to visit EroFame in October to get acquainted with key market players. And we have much work planned regarding sexual education.
This certainly ranks as not only one of the best interviews so far with a #sexySME company, but also is one of the most encouraging to anyone competing in the sector, or thinking about doing so. LoveBox are selling their products in a country whose conservative culture and attitudes to sex and sex education make it a real challenge to be merely acknowledged, nevermind supported.
But they have adapted accordingly: their involvement with a high-profile national figure like Nana Domination is arguably a masterstroke and through the joys of ‘balance theory’ should serve them really well, using Nana’s already established profile and the existing positive attitudes towards her.
And let’s not forget: the products themselves. From the photos, what LoveBox are selling looks every bit as good as anything found in Western Europe and further afield.
In short, Nataliya and her colleagues have the marketing nous and the ambition to hopefully build LoveBox into a well-known – and well-respected – brand not only in Ukraine but further afield too. We wish them the best of luck!
ARE YOU AN AMBITIOUS, MARKETING-LED, COMPANY IN THE SEX TOY, LINGERIE, FETISHWEAR AND EQUIPMENT OR DATING / EVENTS SECTORS?
If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrepreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!
Until next time!