How PopSugar leveraged data to increase its branded content deals by 85 percent

Although many publishers are facing content studio growing pains, PopSugar has grown its number of branded content deals by 85 percent so far this year versus the year-ago period.

The women’s fashion and lifestyle publisher beefed up the tech stack that fuels its content studio, The Bakery. PopSugar built tools to analyze the audience and intent data from its website and shopping platform, ShopStyle, so the content studio doesn’t have to sit around and wait for RFPs to come in but can proactively pitch brands itself. This has helped the studio grow its revenue, said Chris George, svp of product marketing at PopSugar.

The Bakery has 40 people — seven of which work on the data and tech operations — and accounts for 60 percent of PopSugar’s ad revenue, George said. This is an increase from 2016, when the Bakery had a staff of 25, including three on the data side, and accounted for 40 percent of PopSugar’s ad revenue. The Bakery accounted for just 20 percent of PopSugar’s ad revenue in 2015. PopSugar wouldn’t share raw numbers.

When starting a branded content project, PopSugar first looks at engagement data across the category the brand is in. Its proprietary TrendRank tool monitors social shares across a few hundred publishers to identify topics that are likely to make content go viral, giving it a view into engagement beyond its own properties. Then, PopSugar breaks down its audience data into segments that suit the brand and combine its data with the brand’s. Where applicable, it will merge the intent data it gets from its shopping content in ShopStyle and PopSugar Shop. So far this year, The Bakery has driven a 40 percent brand lift across the campaigns it works on, George said.

From there, it will work with a brand to come up with content that other content studios haven’t already created. For example, a food brand was trying to target mothers during the back-to-school season. PopSugar’s data showed this audience segment was reading a lot of articles about activities to do with their children. The Bakery responded by making a video that showed parents and children making dioramas out of food items.

“Brands are investing in [branded content], and as a result, it is creating a cluttered environment,” George said. “If you are a food advertiser and you create only recipe content, it is likely to get lost.”

PopSugar also is looking into licensing TrendRank to brands. It’s also developing a similar tool to identify which products (e.g., a particular brand’s lipstick or shoes) drive content shares, but the details haven’t been finalized.

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