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5 Marketing Lessons from a Part-Time Pornographer

February 10, 2014

Photo courtesy of Evan Hayden

I was living in a small town in Mississippi, about 90 minutes south of Memphis. I met Micah through a mutual friend.

The guy was jacked, thanks to a daily workout regimen that was supplemented by steroids. All the guys in the little gym where we both worked out looked up to him.

Almost nobody in our small town knew he was gay — he just didn’t fit the stereotype. But I knew, because the guy who introduced us had dated him.

The Secret Life of a Mississippi Politician

I didn’t judge Micah. I think that’s why he trusted me. Plus, it’s nice to be known. Nobody likes keeping secrets.

And he had plenty of them… Dirt on a politician from the next county, who sometimes came through, for one.

“I hooked up with him in the back of an adult theater in Memphis once,” he told me.

Small towns are full of secrets like this.

But that was nothing compared to what I later found out about him…

A Video “Ministry”

Probably the biggest, or at least the most surprising, secret I learned from Micah was how he actually made his money. During the day, he worked for a Christian ministry, doing some kind of administrative job.

Part of the ministry involved releasing sermons and educational material on video. Because of this, Micah had access to video cameras, lighting equipment, and an editing suite.

This was a temptation that he couldn’t resist. So he started “borrowing” cameras to videotape his adventures.

Soon after that, he was in the adult movie business, hiring others to perform while he taped everything…

5 Marketing Secrets from a Part-Time Pornographer

1. Be the Market – You’ve got to know your customer before you can effective sell to him. The most effective way to do this is to be your customer.

Micah liked the videos he was making and he lived the lifestyle. How can somebody outside that world compete with that?

It’s possible…sort of.

Think about movie actors… A good actor will research his part before filming. John Travolta, for example, prepared for his role as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever by getting to know families in Brooklyn and taking dance lessons. Without this, his performance wouldn’t have been as believable.

You want to do something similar. If you’re marketing to Christians, hang out in a church and get to know Christians. If you’re marketing to writers, meet some by going to a writing workshop. If you’re marketing to bird watchers, go to a birding event.

At the very least, go to Amazon and read the reviews of people consuming products similar to those you’re trying to market.

The best thing you can do to make sure you’re successful in your business ventures though is to avoid picking niches you’re not part of. Forget keyword research or other “data.” An insider will kill you without any of it.

2. They Zig, You Zag – It’s hard to compete with the big boys when you’re playing the same game they are.

Could you compete with McDonald’s on convenience? Could you compete with Southwest Airlines on cheap fares? Could you compete with FedEx on speed of delivery?

Probably not. Definitely not without a lot of work.

Same goes for the adult movie business. A guy with a borrowed video camera, amateur performers, and little skill isn’t nearly as qualified as a professional shooting professional talent on top-shelf equipment.

“Professional” wasn’t Micah’s game though — he focused on the amateur world, producing movies that were barely legal at best. People didn’t order what he did because he was a great cinematographer. They ordered from him because they couldn’t get what he did anywhere else.

3. Start Where You Are – There is never the perfect time to start. You’ll never have the best equipment, the budget you want, or everything else falling into place at the same time.

Micah, as far as I know, didn’t own any of the equipment he used to make his movies. He didn’t have a degree in film. He didn’t even have permission to use the equipment he was borrowing.

None of these things stopped him.

Many businesses have started on borrowed (or donated) computers, furniture, and other office equipment. If you’re working on your business while on the clock at your day job, you’re working on borrowed (to put it nicely) time.

If you want something, stop the excuses and make it happen.

4. Own 100% – One of the big lessons any “information product” business can learn from the adult industry is that 100% ownership, if you can get it, is the way to go.

In non-adult entertainment industries, such as television and movies, actors get paid royalties every time their performances are used, from DVD licensing to reruns on television. There are multiple unions to deal with.

In the adult entertainment business, actors are paid once and the studio can do whatever it wants with the content, without additional royalties. There are no unions.

Is this good for the actors? I wouldn’t choose to be paid as a “work-for-hire” and forfeit future royalties. But it’s great for the studio.

Royalties complicate things. Going this route is an accounting nightmare and will limit what you can do with the content you’ve produced. If you’ve ever wondered why Netflix has a limited selection of movies available for instant streaming, this is why.

Pay your talent, whether that be actors, singers, musicians, writers, or graphic designers, up front. For this money, make sure you own the content created. That way you’ll be able to make the decisions on how to use that content yourself, without additional royalty or licensing discussions.

5. Keep Your Mouth Shut – Micah and I were in a small Mississippi town and porn was illegal there. Because of this, it’s safe to say what he did would have been considered outside acceptable community standards.

He didn’t talk about his movies publicly. Had he been found out, he would have lost his job and likely his status within the community.

Even if you’re running a “legitimate” business, it’s still a good idea to have a similar approach to talking about what you do. If you’ve got something that works, such as a hot niche or specific way of marketing, it’s very easy for others to come in and create a mess for you.

If you’ve been in the online marketing space for some time, you’ve likely seem many of these situations. A few, smart people make good money at something, then word gets out to a more general population of people who don’t understand the subtleties of the business, and what was working no longer works as well. Worse yet, aggressive marketers get something banned or outlawed.

Fax broadcast was like that. Email marketing is now heavily regulated because of this.

While you may get a rush letting people know your trick for making money, such as how to be #1 on Google, it’s a stupid business move.

Transparency is overrated. You don’t have to tell the world everything you’re doing.

Final Thoughts

There is money all around you and much of it is being made in secret. Keep your eyes open if you want to find out about it.

Remember that you don’t have to play the same game as everybody else. In fact, many times, doing just the opposite of what everybody else does will get you the best results.

Finally, when you find something that works, shut your mouth and keep at it.

Make it happen!

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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