Every year in Chicago, thousands of male leather enthusiasts gather from all over the world to celebrate and convocate at the International Mr. Leather convention. IML features a diverse group of men from all over the world coming together to party, shop and share – and of course crown International Mr. Leather in a star-studded and leather-studded pageant.
You can learn a lot about marketing at a gay leather convention.
Every year, Ron and I go to the Marketplace, the section of the convention filled with merchants and vendors catering to this distinct sub-culture, an almagation of Easy Rider and the Marquis de Sade. For me it harkens back to my earlier days when I’d spend summer weekends at arts and crafts fairs. My parents are handweavers and we’d spend many summer weekends all over the midwest selling our handcrafted garments and textiles. This is just like that.
But with riding crops.
Rebrand a Commodity
The marketplace has the usual (and sometimes tired) assortment of video production companies and clothiers. Some of the handmade pieces are absolutely amazing like the chainmail shirts. At times though, you are awash in a sea of black rawhide and tattoo ink.
After awhile, all the booths start to look the same and all the DVDs start to look the same and all the world famous actors start to look the same. After you’ve seen your 50th ball-gag, it all starts to look pretty pedestrian.
But then there’s the poppers.
I’m not going to even touch the ethics behind poppers. Long story short – they are an inhalant – usually branded as ‘video head cleaner’ – which was their original use. So you can essentially get poppers at any local Wal-mart. They aren’t that special.
This is where branding comes to the rescue. There were entire racks of branded poppers with fantastic names and flavors, encouraging customers to mix and match – sort of like The Body Shop but with fewer loofahs. Adults pay triple for video head cleaner that smells like mango citrus.
What is ordinary about your product line? What makes it exactly the same as everybody else? How can you add pizzazz and fabulosity? Reread Free Prize Inside.
Filling Needs Customers Don’t Even Know They Have Yet
We’re always told to anticipate your customers needs and meet them before they can even realize that they aren’t being met. Take for instance Foxy Furniture.
Foxy Furniture is owned by a straight couple that creates dungeon furniture that easily breaks down into normal furnishings. They had a St. Andrew’s cross that converts to a plant pedestal as well as a spanking bench that converts to a linen chest. They were able to address the secondary need of their niche – the need for functional dungeon furniture plus the realization that most don’t have the space to dedicate an entire room of their house to such purposes. They also recognized the need to hide the accoutrements when company comes to dinner. The furniture can be built to custom specs to match the existing decor with a choice of woods, stain and upholstery.
What unmet needs do your customers have – the thing they need after they get your products… is there a new product in there somewhere? Remember: everytime someone says "Why can’t I just…" they are calling out for a product.
Try Before You Buy: Sample An Experience
In the spirit of Ron Popeil and Ronco, Mistress Midori – a world-famous domme – was giving a live demo of Japanese-style rope binding. Again, the same friendly showmanship was on display as our Mistress got a willing volutneer to be all tied up. At each knot she reinforced the subtle nuance of this style of binding versus the normal (I’m guessing crasser) American style of binding. Mistress Midori wasn’t just standing behind her marketing table and passing out samples, she was in the crowd (and attracting a crowd).
In the back of my head echoed those famous words: "Just set it, and forget it!"
How can you get in the crowd of your market? How can you better educate your prospects? How can you let prospects sample your services?
Keeping It Fun
What I always find so refreshing is how friendly the crowd is. For all the hyper-macho, super-butch stereotypes behind the leather persona – everyone is here to have a grand (and consensual) good time. There was a great sense of play, frivolity and celebration.
How can you be more playful in your daily business? (Being playful doesn’t mean you don’t take things seriously)
Everyone Wants a Story to Tell
A final huge lesson of International Mister Leather and also from Seth Godins All Marketers Are Liars book – everyone wants a story to tell. Part of the reason we buy things and go places is to Have a Story to Tell, whether it is to ourselves or to our friends. Nobody could possibly walk away from IML without a story to tell about something novel or interesting or crazy or exciting. From the most straight-laced newbie to the most experienced enthusiast, IML offers a wide range of stories to be heard, seen and told.