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Why Data is Sexier with Context (sfw)

— Media & Technology —

In 2013, PornHub—the behemoth pornographic video-sharing website—embarked on an ambitious effort to crunch hardcore data (pun intended). Believe it or not, the result has been an elegant content strategy that has pushed the business in unexpected ways. It didn’t take long for the digital marketing community to notice: Contently named PornHub as the new king of data-driven content and Moz published How PornHub Is Bringing its A-Game.

By its very nature, PornHub is forbidden fruit—a built-in advantage when it comes to engagement metrics. Even if you don’t want to look, you probably will. PornHub Insights, the company’s research and analysis unit, owns a professional-yet-saucy brand that reveals salacious, titillating stories of how the world consumes pornography. To mitigate blushing, isolate PornHub’s content from the company’s data; key learnings rise to the surface that digital marketers can apply in their own strategies, regardless of what industry they serve.

1. The Only Benchmarks That Matter Are Your Own

PornHub data turns commonly held perceptions on their heads. Vice magazine recently examined data from PornHub Insights for an article centered on, ah-hem, “efficiency of product”—related to the standard metric, average time on page. In the article, it quickly becomes apparent that, in some ways, PornHub’s key performance indicators (KPI) are the opposite of what the majority non-porn marketers think they need to accomplish.

Sometimes context and relevance are lost when we focus too much on generalized benchmarks. The Vice article is a prime example. User data is delineated categorically by types of pornography searched for. Think: “librarian” or “pizza delivery guy.” PornHub’s sitewide time on site average of 9:20 was used as the fulcrum. Category performance was graphed in seconds above and below the fulcrum. The lower the time on page, the faster optimal (ah hem, again) customer experience is achieved, thus hitting the mark on a KPI.

In plain language, content in the “red head” category was the big winner, resulting in -163 seconds below site-wide average time on site (6:62). In PornHub’s book, that’s effective and successful content.

According to Vice, “Best-case scenario, it was so hot that they [CENSORED] right away and, having been satisfied, stopped watching. Worst-case scenario, the video was so disgusting and bad that the viewer clicked away immediately. To separate the second category from our results, PornHub cut out outliers—both either extremely short or extremely long viewing times.”

When answering the question—What benchmarks are you measuring your data against?—the bottom line is this: global benchmarks are completely irrelevant. Data is not helpful without context and true insights on customer behavior, a.k.a. real people using your website or application. The only benchmarks PornHub’s marketing should be judged against are its own.

2. Be Customer Centric

Recently PornHub expanded its business in a new direction: sexual education. The data scientists at PornHub apparently knew high volumes of people, including youth, turn to online pornography as resource for guidance, medical and sociological information. An information gap was identified and a business opportunity was revealed. Enter the Sexual Wellness Center, a website founded by PornHub featuring advice and medical information from the renowned sex therapist, Dr. Laurie Betito. A press release announced the venture as “the free site will feature original editorial content on an assortment of topics from an array of esteemed doctors, therapists, community leaders and experts.” As far as brand perception goes, it’s possible the Sexual Wellness Center could be a game changer for PornHub.

The Sexual Wellness Center is in its infancy. We don’t know whether PornHub will monetize the site, invest in it purely as a branding mechanism or something else. Regardless, content strategists and business analysts alike will be watching to see what it accomplishes.

The takeaway is that it is critical not to silo data. Monitoring web and keyword trends is typically relegated to the marketing team and not often treated as real data. In this instance, it is possible the PornHub leadership team was guided by digital marketing usage trends, in conjunction with business analysis data, and other sources of quantitative and qualitative input. Analyzing all of the data holistically can reveal insights that might not emerge if they are viewed individually and highlight new opportunities to create valuable user experiences.

3. Data, Content & Creativity Yield Results

Call it content strategy if you prefer, but PornHub is operating like the media company that it is. PornHub owns what marketers strive for: Engaging online information and entertainment that drives users to action, generates profit and creates customer loyalty. With the launch of PornHub Insights, the company is leveraging data to market the company, promote the brand and expand its offerings. Thorough data analysis enables the company to continues to create content customers want and breaks the mold with clever, surprising business strategies—over and over again.

Media is a risky business these days. While traditional print media organizations, such as newspapers and magazines, continue to struggle to adapt and remain financially viable, online porn is prolific. However, the business model isn’t as profitable as one might think. Much of PornHub’s content is user generated, meaning, like YouTube, the videos are supplied by its patrons. The prolificacy of online porn doesn’t guarantee a profit, which means PornHub can’t rest on sex alone.

PornHub’s competitor, Youporn, provides a glimpse into the business valuation of such a model. According to Forbes, in 2007 the founder of Youporn “was interested in selling the site to Vivid. At the time, it was only pulling in $120,000 a month from ads.”

So how does a media company, porn or otherwise, profit? By diversifying, getting creative and taking risks. That’s a simple rule of thumb that also works for digital marketing. Data alone cannot 100 percent safeguard a business. But without it, you’re leaping before you look. And it’s okay to fail—in fact, it’s preferred. Fail fast, learn, adapt and try again. Apply creativity and you may realize opportunities for promotion and increased market share that require minimal investment. If executed properly, creative tactics crafted out of audience and user behavior data may strengthen your brand equity.

Creativity must ooze beyond advertising campaigns. Leadership must be willing to take creative risks with contextual data acting as a guidepost to explore unlikely markets, offerings, visibility tactics and allies.

A solid example is PorhHub’s record label, which was launched in 2014. Vice President Matt Blake told Billboard, “We’re an ad-based network looking for content that appeals to our demographic. Mature lyrics for an adult audience; no boy bands or teen-pop, for instance.” Coolio signed a deal with the label and the buzz alone was valuable.

Thinking smaller, PornHub nails simple ideas, too. Take the release of its adult coloring book, featuring a compilation of explicit sketches by renowned artists. Simple, amusing and it yielded a ton of earned media.

The role of public relations in how data is leveraged should not be underestimated. Vocativ says this is why Pornhub “routinely partners with publications like Buzzfeed, Mic and, yes, Vocativ to release analyses of its users’ viewing habits.” The news hook: data. People are interested in the data as a story all by itself.

Speaking of a clever hook, remember the epic snowfall much of the Midwest and East Coast endured in March? Did you know PornHub slapped its logo onto snowplows and shoveled driveways for fellow Bostonians for free? It made for a bawdy punch line and solid publicity stunt. The tactic also generated measurable buzz, compounding efforts to change market perception for a brand the general public tends to feel uneasy about. The effort was measurable and the performance was, no doubt, analyzed—providing more insights into what works on and offline.

Regardless of how you feel about their industry, PornHub’s integration of data and content is worth following. Just be sure to use nothing but the full URL http://www.pornhub.com/insights/ if you’re at work. And don’t navigate to a subpage. Not even the Contact Us page… seriously.

Cory Ampe
Posted by Cory Ampe