IPVM For PR / Marketing People

Author: John Honovich, Published on Feb 12, 2013

This post helps PR / Marketing people understand and productively work with IPVM (as much as possible given the generally adversarial position). It may be useful for others as it talks about our philosophy and positioning.

Below is a 1 hour video recording of a live webinar we held with 50+ marketers:


The video covers the same content as presented below with more color and questions from many marketers.

Background

IPVM started in April 2008, as my programming project spidering manufacturer websites to identify and collect new information / URLs. It led to posting about product news and quickly had over 10,000 monthly visits. During 2008, it was a free experiment.

At the beginning of 2009, we started the membership service (a few dozen signed up the first week). In 2012, we added in online training (135 current attendees for the 10 week course). Overall, now in 2013, we have 6,000+ members.

IPVM has no external funding, is debt free and continuously profitable since 2009.

The chart below shows the trend in overall visits to IPVM over the past 4 years:

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[Note: many people visit multiple times per month. Given that people can access from many devices (phones, tablets, work PCs, home PCs, etc. accurately estimating actual uniques is not feasible.]

Overwhelmingly, people come directly to IPVM:

Comparison To Other Sources

PR people obviously want to understand the impact of media sources and especially compared to other sites. Here's my best guess at how IPVM compares:

  • In terms of sheer numbers, we have more visits than most online security sites, with only SecurityInfoWatch having slightly more and SourceSecurity more than double (industry best at SEO).
  • In terms of direct traffic, we probably have more visits than any security site. From what we have seen, even from some of their own reports, most security sites get 80%+ of their traffic from search, primarily due to the massive amount of press releases and data sheets that they copy/post. By contrast, we get less than 1/3rd search visits.
  • In terms of video surveillance traffic, we likely get 5x to 10x more reads than any security site, as they almost all cover a broad array of security products and services.

That said, the biggest PR impact comes from IPVM taking strong positions on issues. Because of this, we are far more likely to shift views than sites that republish manufacturer marketing. Certainly, those sites are better for marketing efforts but far less influential.

IPVM Cultural Differences

To understand why we do what we do and how to interact with us, there are two fundamental cultural differences:

  • Engineering mindset: We focus on understanding what works and how well things work. By contrast, trade magazine editors typically have mindsets similar to marketing people. We are like the engineers you dread dealing with.
  • Rebellious approach: We want to call out, debunk and stop misleading marketing practices. This is the 'negativity' that PR people understandably dislike about IPVM.

We feel this makes the industry better by delivering more accurate information and fighting back against bad spin. Of course, this makes marketing harder when our position conflicts with a company's PR agenda.

Money and Its Impact

IPVM makes all its money from low cost subscriptions and online training fees. We do not do accept advertising nor do we have any side consulting projects or arrangements with any manufacturer.

Manufacturer commonly threaten media sources with pulling payments but those threats are pointless to us. That's why we can call out any manufacturer at any time without any fear of undermining our business.

We Care About Getting It Right

While we do not care about manufacturer money, we do deeply care about getting things right technically. If a company feels something is wrong or incomplete, we want to know. The best thing to do is have a technical / product person reach out to us and explain. By contrast, having a PR agency tell us their unhappy will not result in any positive action.

Facts and Opinions

One of the webinar registrants asked, is this "Facts based or opinion based research?" It's definitely both.

Facts are the foundations of our analysis - how things work, how well things work in tests, etc. But what that means and whether one should use or not use is obviously our opinion.

Neutral vs Independent

We are not neutral. We are not trying to be the 'Switzerland' of security technology.

We are independent and technically grounded. We are not impacted by manufacturer money. Rather, we always seek to ground our opinions on research/testing, frequently unique work done nowhere else in the industry.

Covering Your Companies Product?

The most common question asked in the PR survey was essentially, "How do you choose what products to cover?" / "How can I get you to cover our products?" To answer that, we need to examine reader interest.

Nobody Wants to Read About Your Products*

Yes, nobody wants to read about your products. I mean this statistically, not as a matter of personal judgment. Indeed, the same applies for reading about IPVM.

Challenge #1: The market is extremely fragmented so most people are not going to consider or be interested in any manufacturer's product. Even mega manufacturers are ~5%, medium ones are 1%, etc.

Challenge #2: The Internet inundates people with millions of options, almost more interesting and entertaining than descriptions or reviews of your (or my) products.

Global Impact of Weak Demand

If you wonder why trade magazines almost only write about their advertisers or republish articles manufacturer submit, this is why. Readership is super low and it cannot justify original reporting. Such posts typically get a few hundred real reads total.

IPVM Impacted as Well

It does not make sense for us to write on most products because our readership levels, just as well, cannot justify it. For instance, a test might cost us a few thousand dollars to do but even a popular is only going to result in a thousand or so reads. That's hard to justify.

Here's What Readers Want

We obsessively tack web statistics to better understand what readers value. Here they are, based on those stats:

Reviews and tests of individual products generate 80 to 90% less traffic at roughly the same cost.

But... New Product That Deliver Something Genuinely New

Despite this harsh reality, one driver helps get products covered: Products with features that no one else or very few other manufacturers already have. Why? Because this impacts trends and important shifts in the markets. As a PR person, you need to look hard at what, if any, does each release have. If they have none, it is a huge uphill battle, not only for us, but for any coverage. However, if you do, make it very clear what that 1 or few big differentiators are - state it clearly up front and often. Too many PR people bizarrely bury that under a stream of gibberish and platitudes.

It Helps Being Big But Be Honest...

We are more likely to write a review on a big company (like Axis or Milestone). Certainly, one factor is that more people care about them. But these companies disproportionately do new things (not all great, some which we mock). On the other hand, we rarely cover megacompanies like Honeywell and GE/Interlogix because there's really nothing new nor compelling for them in surveillance.

A marketing person cannot change the size of their company but they can help position themselves to release products that are different and new to the market.

What Marketers Do Today

99% of information published is brochureware - dull, corporate speak, one sided, best case scenario. For people who reach out to you, whether in person, or over the phone or to your website, that is acceptable (though we could debate if you could do better).

However, for reaching out to people on the Internet, it's death. And it gets worse each year as availability and expectations for better information become stronger. With existing content, even paying a fortune, getting large numbers of people's attention is mission impossible.

Here's What You Should Do

Three parts:

Maximize Your Own Internal Efforts

Make sure you build your own email list and regularly communicate with it. Why? Most people will not reach out, email lets you stay in touch far more cost effectively, broadly and consistently than any other medium. Also, host regular interactive webinars.

I would say stop wasting your money in print but the reality is that has already happened. Only megamanufacturers and trunk slammers routinely advertise in trade magazines. Shift that money to your own internal online activities.

Interacting with IPVM

I do not think interacting with IPVM will help much but since you are here, a few words: Get a strong product or technical person to be our contact. They can give us more details and we can trust them more. I doubt it will lead to much more coverage but it does make it easier to reference or write about your company if we can verify technical details.

Get a Personality

This is the big one. The one that no manufacturer in security / surveillance has yet to do. Hate our approach but part of IPVM's attraction is that it has personality (good, bad or ugly). I do not expect you to emulate us but our traffic is huge relative to its expense (Fact: a year of IPVM, 1 million visits, fits in a few weeks of Avigilon's marketing budget).

Here's a better example. Meet Joel Spolsky. His writings in the early 2000s led to huge exposure and sales for his software products.

He wrote interesting, entertaining general posts about his industry (software) but rarely, if ever, talked about his product (bug tracking). Despite this, he built a huge audience who respected and trusted him, and eventually bought his product and fueled his expansion into many other areas.

Today, it is quite common for tech entrepreneurs to have their own informative blogs that do not pitch their products but share insights into their market.

If you want to reach a broader audience and have people respect you even before they use your product, you need to build a credible online personality. Quite frankly, it may be too out of line with the company's culture but that's the new big thing for building outsized influence. Without that, you are left paying for people to read your brochureware.

More?

There are a ton of topics, issues and avenues that we have not touched. Feel free to leave a comment or email us and we will answer anything else.

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