Embracing technology: Lovehoney’s evolving approach to marketing

Lovehoney - Technology approach

Last month, Lovehoney, the market-leading pleasure products retailer, signed a deal with partnership automation platform impact.com to support the in-housing of its affiliate and influencer activity. Here, the brand’s digital team – senior global affiliate marketing manager Catherine Dunn, global affiliate marketing manager Christina Weaver and head of digital performance marketing Simon Boice – speak to Modern Retail about in-housing, boom times for adult products, and how technology is broadening retailers’ marketing options.

What have the last couple of years been for the adult products industry?

Simon Boice: It has been a very busy time in the adult space, with lots of couples being locked down together, or apart, and stigmas about adult toys continuing to erode. So we are having a commercially good time, but an emotionally tough time the same as everyone else.

You mention stigma – what are the particular challenges of marketing adult products online?

Catherine Dunn: There are certain channels we obviously can’t use, which means we lean in very hard to channels like affiliates and influencers that do work for us.

I’ve managed the programme for Lovehoney for 14 years, and when we first kicked off the programme, we had limited affiliates that we worked with. Even the big voucher sites were wary of working with us for a long time, but gradually that has completely changed, and now we have a very broad section of mainstream affiliates in the UK who see the value of working with us. Affiliates like making money, so at the end of the day, if you have good AOV and a good conversion rate, they’re going to work with you.

You’ve elected to use an automated platform to handle your affiliates and influencers. How did you arrive at this point?

Catherine: We have a large, very experienced in-house affiliate team – there’s four of us in all, which is unusual for a company of our size – and we were looking at taking the whole operation in-house, having worked with a network for a long time. We’ve been talking to impact.com for some years, and we decided to fast track our long-term plan and launch an in-house programme with them this year, because that’s how we see the future of our affiliate channel. We’ve outgrown the capabilities of traditional networks, so this is a natural progression.

What are you specifically hoping to achieve by in-housing using a platform like this one?

Catherine: For us, it’s having more control of the tracking via an in-house programme, having a more direct relationship with our affiliates and having more flexibility. As a business, we want to push into the US, and impact.com has a great footprint there, as well as across EMEA and APAC. We needed feet on the ground in the US, and that was something our previous platform was not able to support.

We are a global company – we’re in lots of different markets across Europe; we’re in US and Canada as well – and we needed to work with a platform that can service us across all those markets, and that was impact.com.

What about in the UK, where the brand is originally from? Awareness is already high – what are you trying to achieve there via partnerships?

Simon: The UK is a very well-established market for Lovehoney – we are the clear market leader in the UK, and prompted awareness is around 70 to 75%. Here, we have no such issue with people not knowing who Lovehoney are. But for us, it’s now a question of capability: how can we next-level what we’re doing where we’re already established? We’ve got a dual strategy of preserving our market-leading position where we have one, and gaining a market-leading position where we don’t, and this gives us a means of coming at it from both directions.

Are there particular tools that fit well into what you’re trying to do with partnerships?

Christina Weaver: Essentially, we are always looking to attribute value for our partners at Lovehoney. And there’s a really cool tool called Activate that automates all the influencer partnerships we have and gives a lot more flexibility on campaigns we do with them. We have a great product review programme where we give out products in exchange for reviews and lots of bloggers that work on that work. And this has really helped us harness growing that at a bigger scale than individually emailing affiliates allowed us to do. Trackonomics is another key one that lets us create, analyse and optimise affiliate content at scale.

Is it fair to say that this kind of technology gives you data and insights that in turn begin to steer the kind of marketing you can do?

Simon: Absolutely, that’s the intention. Impact opens up multiple new avenues for us that were previously blocked: SKU level targeting, upper funnel boost payments, in-channel attribution and more. So now we have more confidence in the tracking and reporting, it doesn’t so much open up things we couldn’t do before, but it does open up things that we were never comfortable doing before.