Monday, June 29, 2009

The Challenge of Measuring Online Advertising

Much of traditional, media-based advertising is driven by the impression. Think of the TV ad, the billboard or the print ad. The name of the game is identify your audience, buy some space and deliver your message through engaging creative. We all know that measurement ends up being illusive at best and plain impossible at worst.

Online advertising promises to be different. And it is. But are we discounting the power of building your brand in the right place at the right time with the right creative?

We strongly believe that online advertising is still advertising. Impressions count. Branding counts. Thought leadership counts. Audience engagement counts. The below article from does a nice job of arguing for going beyond the click-through in measuring online advertising and provides some interesting data points:

Engagement metrics evolve beyond CTR along with Web display ad technologies

Let's not be too hasty in discounting the power of the right impression.

Social Media as a Marketing Tool

Over the past several months, many of our sponsors have been asking us how they should incorporate social networking sites into their marketing plan and better reach the younger segments of their customer base. Most recently, that discussion has been driven by the rapid growth of Twitter and Facebook, and the accompanying tales of companies that have seen great results from clever marketing strategies.

Whether you are an established brand or an up-and-comer trying to build buzz, there is a growing worry among companies that not having a Twitter profile, a blog or a Facebook page means you're "behind the ball." Often, the main barrier is either unfamiliarity with social media or difficulty evaluating whether these initiatives are really worth the time, effort and hassle. So if you decide to commit to building a social marketing plan, what sort of return can you expect and how is it measured?

Understanding Your Options:

In our experience, social media marketing can be worth the time and effort, but it's important to take a measured approach. There are a lot of ways out there to engage customers, including traditional methods like building a sales force or going to a trade show. Social media is just one of many options in your marketing toolkit. The upside is that it's cheap, but the downside is that it takes time on an ongoing basis and requires expertise to really make it pay off.

Before spending a lot of time on social networking, make sure you think through your objectives and come up with a plan for how you're going to use it to complement your marketing strategy. Here’s a quick outline of the value and opportunities offered by a few of the sites that we’d recommend you consider as part of your strategy:

1. Facebook Page
  • Connect with customers from around the world who use Facebook every day (in our case, first responders)
  • Showcase your brand and drive traffic back to your corporate site
  • Engage purchasers with multimedia features such as video demos and product images
  • Grow your list of friends and use Facebook as an engine for announcing everything from a promotion to a major product launch

2. Twitter Profile
  • Provide your customers real-time updates on company announcements, discounts and promotions, product launches and answering FAQs
  • Develop a follower list and speak directly to customers with short, conversational messages about your brand and products
  • Follow individuals in your industry and find out what they are discussion (in our case, we are seeing trainers, media contacts, industry experts, distributors and manufacturers all using Twitter)

3. LinkedIn Group
  • Create discussions between decision makers within a professionally focused environment that is directly tied to your company
  • Educate purchasers by posting relevant information such as news, available jobs, white papers and research results
  • Build a database of active members and communicate to them directly as the group moderator

4. Company Blog
  • Become a thought leader in your market by sharing your expertise and best practices with readers
  • Archive content relevant to your company in a branded, search engine-friendly environment
  • Organize link exchange between valued clients and partners to your blog for increased search value

Getting Started:

Now that you know where to go, let's talk about what you need to do. Like any new marketing investment, learning the best way to use social media for your specific company takes time and a lot of trial and error.

If you do it yourself, you’ll need to allocate time on an ongoing basis to keep your profiles fresh and grow an audience. If you are not willing to do so, don’t even start.

Below are a few brief tips of how to stay efficient as you get started:
  1. Let Others Do the Work
    One of the easiest solutions use services that offer exposure within their existing social network. For example, for our sponsors, we'll post links to sponsor-submitted content, including press releases, new product announcements and white papers, or even direct links to our sponsors' sites to our Twitter feed, Facebook page and in-house social networking sites. We've already done the work of aggregating a network and can speak directly to our members in a nonintrusive way.

  2. Use Tools
    Stay up-to-date on the latest applications that simplify social networking processes. Developers are constantly innovating new ways to interact with social media sites and improve your experience. For example, TweetDeck is a useful app which, among other uses, allows you to simultaneously post messages to your Facebook page and Twitter profile with one click.

  3. Create and Follow a Plan
    Create a social networking plan and appoint someone to become your resident expert. Using Twitter as an example, here are some main points that should be included in your strategy:
    1. Type of content - What are the types of information that you want to communicate? We focus primarily on product announcements, tips and breaking news.
    2. Frequency of posts - How often will you tweet and from how many different profiles? After you decide what type of content you want to post you can then determine the appropriate number of posts. Posts should be done weekly at the very minimum.
    3. Integration - Can you strengthen your corporate site and add fresh content by incorporating an RSS feed of your tweets? Or convert followers to newsletter subscribers?
    4. Promotion - How do you increase your followers and convert non-Twitter users to followers? Twitter can be a powerful way of keeping in touch with customers in between purchases. Adding an icon to your site or newsletter is an easy way to add followers and create more ongoing interaction.

Hopefully this gives you some helpful tips and things to think about as you consider your own social marketing strategy. On a side note, we've recently launched a couple of new services to help our sponsors better make use of social networking. If you're interested in learning more, contact us directly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Defining Findability

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently in the online marketing world about “findability,” or how easy it is to find a Web site or company online. The Internet is vast and growing; it currently contains at least 25 billion pages. Google engineers recently found 1 trillion unique URLs on the Web. The sheer number of pages our there is downright incredible. What findability gets to is how well you match your company to potential customers that are looking for you or what you sell. How do you stand out in what I affectionately call "the online garbage heap"?

When I think about reaching the niche markets we serve and driving relevant traffic to our Web sites, I focus on the following question: “What are the most critical places for my presence, and how can I reach potential customers where they are most open to my message and products?” In my case, it's reaching police officers, firefighters or paramedics that are looking for news, products and information, and who are likely to become members of our sites. For most of my customers, it's tracking down first responders looking for or researching the products they sell, which could include anything from body armor and AEDs to fire apparatus and tasers.

For niche marketers, I recommend the following framework for evaluating different types of online marketing options. When thinking about my online strategy for each of the markets we serve, I look very closely at the following online environments and ask myself how well each of these provide access to potential customers:

Portals (,
The best portals provide a highly targeted and qualified audience that is deeply engaged in the content they are accessing. Visitors tend to be highly loyal and return frequently. They also tend to be the more savvy, professional and engaged member of the community you are targeting and often visit portals looking for you or information on the types of products you sell. Portals also offer great opportunities for product education and lead generation if configured to make you “findable”. Look for the market leaders with the best content and the leading expert contributors and be careful of the numerous wannabe sites that merely repurpose print content or run-of-the-mill news.

Search Engines (Google, Yahoo)

Using search engines, either through SEO or CPC buys, is all about making your company and products immediately accessible. It works best when you have a call to action or are looking for straight conversions, particularly if customers are already familiar with your product or brand. Search engines and portals (described below) are the first places customers go when looking to buy products and since that’s where they are searching, that’s where you want to be found.

Associations (,,
Associations offer highly targeted access to their members. Most are small and not very web savvy, but do have a web presence. I recommend reaching out to those most relevant to your customers to see whether they have a newsletter in which you could buy exposure or in which they would be willing to trade links or post press releases. Many will do so for free.

Social Networking Sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
Mining social networking sites for potential customers can be a constructive guerilla marketing tactic, but also a huge waste of time. Ask yourself if your facebook fans are really potential customers or if they care at all about your products and brand. If you have twitter followers, who are they? If you have a niche product and only a small percentage of the market you serve could be a potential customer, make sure that your social networking is reaching that customer. If so, it can be a nice marketing channel. If not, don’t bother.

I like the term “findability” because it goes far beyond simple SEO or Cost per Click buys and takes a holistic look at your customers and the behaviors they exhibit online. It’s a nice concept to force you to think not just about where you find your customers, but when and where they can find YOU.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Introducing Praetorian's Blog - "Think Online Now"

As the leading online media company in the public safety market, the Praetorian Group has a unique vantage point from which to observe the intersection of online marketing and niche vertical communities. We combine a focus on police, fire, EMS, corrections and homeland security with more than 10 years of experience on the forefront of Internet technology, content and advertising.

When I started Praetorian in 1999, online portals were all the rage. It seemed like the entire business world was enamored with the potential of the Internet to revolutionize how business is done. Dollars were flowing and anyone with an interesting business plan or idea was getting capital. We’re all familiar with the resulting crash.

But as with any disruptive technology, the Internet continued its march onward. Like new technologies before it – the printing press, the telephone, the automobile, the computer - it now has become ubiquitous and has fundamentally changed how we communicate and do business on a day-to-day basis. If my mother, who is in her 60s, sends me Yahoo instant messages and somehow figured out how to set up a Twitter page, the world has definitely changed. We’re seeing that not only in the mass market, but also in the niche communities we serve.

Our business model has been battled-tested and refined. It survived the dotcom implosion and has been molded by national disasters such as 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. It’s even evolving now as we address the realities of our current economic environment and the advent of social media and networking. Over that period, we’ve realized that our success relies on two primary components:

- Deep domain experience and dedication to keeping first responders informed, safer and more effective in protecting their communities

- Sophisticated understanding of building online businesses and applying Internet strategy to vertical communities to address marketing and business challenges

This blog is designed to explore both of those components and how they interface. We believe it will be a must-read for those in the following groups:

- Companies serving Public Safety and interested in reaching first responders
- Executives and marketing professionals at companies or ad agencies targeting niche markets
- Business professionals in the police, fire and EMS market
- First responders interested in online technology and marketing
- Entrepreneurs interested in the latest thinking related to online communities

We look forward to starting a dialogue. Thank you for joining us.

Alex Ford

CEO and President
Praetorian Group, Inc.