Guest Blogger: Chris Parente, StoryTech Consulting
If you want to successfully market a product or service, you need to understand everything you can about who your targeted decision-makers are and what they care about. A way to increase your understanding is the development of marketing personas.
Per Wikipedia, “a persona in user-design and marketing is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.” The definition goes on to say that “in most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users.” The “garbage in, garbage out” rule applies – personas are only as good as the research used to create them.
Recently I attended the Federal IT (FIT) Persona Study – A Deeper Look into Your Federal Customer. It was a virtual event put on by Market Connections with support from their marketing partners the Professional Services Council and Government Marketing University. Market Connections has been doing B2B and B2G research for over 20 years, providing actionable intelligence to support marketing and business outreach strategies. They are probably best known in B2G circles for their annual analysis of the media consumption habits of government decision-makers, a must read for government marketers.
Market Connections interviewed over 300 federal IT decision-makers, both inside and outside the beltway. There were also additional in-depth interviews with key federal personnel to round out multiple personas detailing personal and professional preferences. Spoiler alert – there is no single federal IT persona that covers all decision-makers.
As part of the overview presentation, two of the ten available federal personas were shared with registered attendees, a program manager working for the Veterans Administration out of Texas, and an IT specialist in D.C. working for the Department of Health and Human Services. These are valuable for government marketers, whether as a foundation to build upon or as a “sanity check” to compare to their own federal personas.
Some overall results that caught my eye:
- What inspires them – The top two responses were feeling they are making an important contribution and doing their part for the mission.
- Top professional challenges – Nearly half cited slow bureaucracy, followed by one-third stating needing to do more with less budget.
- Who they have confidence in for technical decisions – Two-thirds trust their team members, however, ONLY 16 PERCENT trust contractors/vendors! Caveat emptor indeed!
Within the two federal personas shared, key differences were seen, for example their motivation to learn about IT:
- The IT specialist valued being viewed as the internal expert.
- The program manager felt technology changes quickly.
In addition, differences were found in how they preferred to learn, communicate, and gather information; challenges they faced in their roles; what they sought most from vendors they worked with; among others.
After the survey presentation there was a panel discussion moderated by Aaron Heffron, president of Market Connections. The panelists were Christina Morrison, Federal Solutions Director at the cybersecurity provider Proofpoint and Tom Nagle, Managing Partner at the management and marketing consultancy Statler Nagle LLC.
Christina talked about using personas during her time at HP, and how people naturally want to buy from people they like. She made the point that personas are important no matter the size of your budget, and that they fit perfectly into an account-based marketing (ABM) approach that unites sales and marketing objectives.
Tom cautioned marketers against thinking that buying decisions are entirely rational. He told the audience that personas were an effective way to “market to the whole human.” He also said that personas support framing your messaging as storytelling, which is a prerequisite for success. (Amen Tom!)
The presentation and video of the results readout can be purchased here. Early in July Market Connections will release their federal persona bundles developed from the research. These will cover additional decision-makers and influencers in IT purchasing from the CIO to the procurement professional at both defense and civilian agencies.
Understanding your target market is a never-ending process. Personas based on quality market research help immensely.
Chris Parente is the founder of StoryTech Consulting LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in IT communications, working for organizations such as the Cellular Telecommunications Internet Association (CTIA), Advertising.com and VeriSign. From 2005 to 2014 he served as Managing Director and Partner at Strategic Communications Group. StoryTech Consulting has helped clients such as VMware, FireEye, Leidos, Ruckus Networks and Government Executive Media Group meet their content marketing objectives. For more information visit https://storytechconsulting.com/
Our latest blog post “Beyond the C-level Suite” emphasized the importance of marketing to both federal IT decision-makers and influencers at agencies in different ways. Detailed personas for each federal influencer, from senior executive to procurement staff to end user can crystalize your approach and give you guidance as to the unique personal and professional challenges that can influence how and why they make decisions. In part one of this series, we’ll focus on how marketing teams can use federal personas to guide their strategy.
Originating in the consumer market, personas used for B2G will differ in their area of emphasis and approach. While B2C companies focus exclusively on their target customer, B2G marketers must blend the influences of the agency culture with the preferences and habits of the individual. To date, most B2G marketers have focused heavily on the unique aspects of agency culture and processes. We believe that on top of this marketing strategy, it is important to understand the personal motivators and opinions of specific decision-makers and influencers within the agency that is purchasing your product or service.
If you have already made the investment in creating unique federal customer personas, the journey has just begun. There are several next steps to get the best out of your efforts.
Share, Share, Share!
Federal personas are only effective if you are sharing them across your company, from leadership to marketing and communication teams to sales teams. Educate up and down your organization to consider how each persona plays a part in decision-making. To ensure all teams are considering personas in their sales and marketing efforts, post your personas in visible locations and discuss them frequently in cross-team meetings to incorporate the individual natures of each decision-maker into your company culture.
For Marketing Teams:
Plan your content to be rooted in the agency mission but tailored for specific individuals. This includes adjusting for topic, tone, depth and distribution. You would not market the same way to an executive as you would to an end-user. Their priorities, backgrounds and values may be different. Some may value being viewed as an expert in their jobs, while others value the security that their job provides them.
Furthermore, a tech-savvy end-user, may prefer to watch a video or webinar to learn more about new technologies while a program manager or senior executive may prefer to read about new trends and technologies in a white paper. What is their preference for learning mediums? How do they prefer to receive information?
In addition to the learning style differences, key influencers and decision-makers may prefer different ways to access information. Across the board, marketers understand the importance of SEO, but are you considering other channels for marketing to different federal personas? While one individual may prefer to directly go to a vendor website or video, others may prefer to get information from associations, industry publications or events.
In addition to preferences, use tools like the Federal Media & Marketing Study to understand what publications and websites they’re going to already in order to focus your media and advertising efforts there.
Learn More About Federal Personas:
Purchase the overview report and corresponding video readout:
The FIT Personas bundles will be available for purchase soon and will be found on the same page as the overview report.
The Importance of Influencer Personas for the Win
How many times have you sat around a table, planning your next campaign and someone says, “We should just target CTOs, CISOs or CIOs – they make the final decision…”? We’re often faced with the same statement by public sector marketers who are looking to find out specifically what agency plans are and the likelihood their company would be short-listed for an upcoming opportunity. Are senior executives the only type of federal persona to consider for the win?
One Can Say “Yes,” But Many Can Say “No”
When prodded further about their marketing plans, the goals stretch far beyond just getting in front of a specific CTO, but rather to increase the overall likelihood their company will make the final consideration list for specific contracts or broader multi-agency contracts. Based on this, we employ a research plan that identifies not only the likes and dislikes of the C-level executive, but more importantly, the general disposition of all those at the agency who, in some manner, participate in the product and vendor selection process. These are the influencers that can say “no” before your company ever reaches final consideration.
As part of our 2020 efforts to inform the public sector marketing community, we have been constructing descriptive personas to help guide marketing strategy, language and execution. The chief executive is not the only federal persona at the agency you should rely on if you want to influence decision-making towards your product or service. To truly understand your agency’s challenges and priorities, you must expand your reach to include decision-makers AND key influencers.
Understanding the perspectives of decision makers and influencers throughout the agency is especially critical for federal IT purchasing. In addition to executives, key influencers for major purchasing decisions can range from a procurement specialist to a program manager or even an end user. Within a single agency or contract, the different players around the table have varying priorities, challenges and pain points that need to be overcome, and your marketing efforts need to reflect this.
Role of Personas in Your Federal Marketing
When creating marketing materials to engage key influencers, marketers need to consider the varying personality styles and preferences, sometimes more than levels of expertise or technical skills. How do they prefer to communicate? Where do they seek more information? What do they value in a contractor? Would you market to someone in an IT role the same way you would market to a procurement specialist? Once you have a good understanding of the similarities and differences of each individual, you can use this information to ground your marketing efforts to ensure you are marketing towards their personalities and preferences.
Successful government marketers understand that their efforts may need to be multi-faceted and approaches may need to vary. While one signature is required for that multi-million (and even billion) dollar contract, there may be a dozen people behind the scenes that are helping to make the final decision. In federal IT, where mission rules, stakes are high and contracts are huge, having an in-depth understanding of the complex cast of characters that guide the final decision leads to successful marketing to those key players, which in turn can help lead to that win.
Join our virtual event: Federal IT Persona Study: Deeper Insight into Your Federal Customer
Thursday, June 11, 2020, 2-3:30 PM EDT
Our last blog post “Increased Screen Time Equals More Time with Public Sector Decision-Makers” focused on taking advantage of increased screen time by providing your government customer with content that educates and informs. The next step is to place your content where your customer is already going.
Before placing content on other media channels, take stock of your own corporate site. Approximately 7 out of 10 public sector decision-makers believe that corporate websites are an effective online source for information. If your customer were to visit your corporate site, or preferably a federally focused microsite, is the content they are looking for available and easily accessible? Is your site easily navigable? How far would your customers have to dig to find information around resources they are looking for? Is your site and its contents search engine optimized?
What Online Channels Do They Go to for Content?
According to our recent Content Marketing Review, three-quarters of both federal and state and local decision-makers find government-focused online communities and government-related news websites (e.g., GovLoop, Governing, Government Executive or Federal News Network) effective for delivering content to educate and inform their work-related buying process.
We are also hearing from top government-focused publications that increased screen time has driven up the number of visitors to their sites and subscriptions to their e-newsletters. With this in mind, sponsored content or advertising across highly trafficked online sites should be part of your strategy, if budget allows. If it doesn’t allow right now, work with your subject matter experts and other thought leaders in your organization to develop content attractive to these publications. Earned media can often be more effective than paid media.
To make data-based decisions on where to focus your media purchasing budgets, consider sources like the Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS) that allow you to strategically match your company’s target audiences with the publications and sites they most frequent. Spending, matched with strategic market information, can maximize your impact.
Learn more about FMMS audience-based reports available for purchase
Now Is the Time to Educate Your Government Customer
In our last blog post, Webinars in Place of In-Person Events – A New Normal?, we shared insights about public sector webinar preferences to help marketers refocus their marketing dollars from live events and conferences to virtual events. However, webinars may only be the tip of the virtual iceberg.
With more public sector employees teleworking and with travel and in-person events on hold, marketers can expect a spike in online traffic. It’s time to use this increased screen time to be a partner to your customer. Digital platforms allow for greater, self-directed education opportunities on ways to address new, or redirected, agency priorities and missions. Being a source of high-quality information has always been one of the best ways to build a strong, long-term relationship with your customer.
What Is Needed to Deepen Your Relationship with Your Customer
Over the years, our surveys have consistently noted that white papers, research reports and case studies are among the type of content most valued by federal and state and local decision-makers. The best designed of these assets, typically, have one thing in common: they educate the customer without feeling salesy.
It’s not always easy to figure out what you should or should not include in these content pieces. Our Content Marketing Review revealed that public sector decision-makers want data and research to support the content, examples of past performance and product specifications. Fancy visual contents, insights from industry thought leaders and content tailored to their vertical were less critical to the success of good content.
For detailed charts of top features across key marketing assets, download the presentation.
With the increased screen time your customers are experiencing, if you haven’t already, now might be a great time to create or update your marketing content to educate your customer while they have less “out of office” distractions and more screen time.
Women in Technology recently hosted their quarterly WiTConnect event focused on the state of technology in healthcare. This event focused on the top challenges faced in the Healthcare IT industry by bringing a panel of industry experts to share their experiences. Predominantly focused on the public sector, the following panelists shared the priorities, challenges and innovations being seen from both sides of the industry as they look for solutions and work together to improve citizen and agency experience:
- Stacie Alboum, Deputy Director, Center for Information Technology (CIT), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Maheen Mirza, Director, Dell Technologies, Federal Healthcare
- Genevieve Morris, Founder, Integral Health Strategies (IHS)
- Patty Obermaier, Vice President, US Health & Life Sciences Organization, Microsoft
The imbalance of supply (a trained healthcare workforce) and demand (greater need for services) is a top challenge facing the industry. According to Patty Obermaier from Microsoft, the population of those aged over 60 will more than double by 2050 and there will be a shortage of 14 million healthcare workers by 2030. While the right technology can help meet some of the demand, it can’t replace people. Multiple panelists agreed that a strong workforce development effort must take place within this field while healthcare IT technologies continue to catch up.
In addition, a data explosion has also happened in this field. According to Obermaier, “There are four thousand new medical publications showing up on PubMed every day and knowledge of the medical field doubles every 73 days.” Genevieve Morris, founder of IHS and author of multiple policies, also noted a significant increase in the amount of data being exchanged within the medical community. She likened it to, “turning on a faucet… a fire hydrant really… and expecting physicians to weed through that data in real time while their patient is sitting in front of them. Realistically that’s not going to happen, things will get missed and adverse events will occur.”
Finally, in a digital age, patients are also digital consumers with their own needs. Their health care expectations are likening to their expectations for all consumer interactions. When they walk into any health institution, they expect that institution to have all their records available and be able to pay for interactions the same way they pay across other markets, for example, with apps such as Venmo. For many reasons, these expectations cannot currently be met.
Key Public Sector Challenges
Healthcare IT in the public sector brings its own unique challenges. These include:
- Highly regulated federal environment
- Complex procurement and budgets
- Working and maintaining legacy IT systems
Stacie Alboum, Deputy Director at the Center for Information Technology at NIH, shared that, beyond those challenges, her agency faces a high level of complexity and range of services including a vast array of institutes and centers each focused on their own mission. Alboum’s agency is tasked with being efficient and effective in providing tools and services that provide a high-speed network to perform research; a suite of communication collaboration capabilities able to support hundreds of thousands of meetings and interactions; and high performance computing capabilities to conduct large scale data analyses in a variety of scientific fields to all 44K staff members and thousands of external collaborators.
Meeting the demands of all centers and institutes is only one piece of the complex needs of many public sector healthcare IT professionals. Like many other agencies, those in healthcare IT are spending a majority of their capital expenditure budgets (roughly 80%) on operating and maintaining legacy IT systems. To modernize IT, agencies are finding innovative ways to work with and learn from industry. Because certain vehicles are not in place, agencies are looking at using Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs) in order to help them get products, pilots and proof of concepts to market much faster. They have been open to private/public partnership to learn from industry and to are willing to talk to industry to hear what they are doing to see how they can also take advantage of it.
AI and machine learning tools are also being developed by industry to help with the collection and exchange of data, the shortage of qualified workers and the streamlining of administrative processes. One example is a prototype being released by Microsoft that includes a tool that listens to and transcribes interactions between doctors and their patients, allowing practitioners to focus more on their patients and less on note-taking.
Additional tools may help practitioners weed through and pull the data they need when they need it. To help with data exchange and interoperability, Morris noted her work on the Trust Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA). The goal of TEFCA is to make all health information networks across the country talk to and share data with each other. This will mitigate the need for healthcare systems to join multiple networks in order to share data.
Information blocking regulations underway may also help minimize the hoarding of data. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) APIs could help with the exchange of electronic health records. The goal is not to commoditize the data exchange, but to allow vendors to make money on the services you can run on top of that data.
A Word of Warning
Technology may help provide more efficient and effective solutions for many challenges being faced in the industry, but those in healthcare IT need to remember not to lose track of the problems they are trying to solve.
An exclusive focus on the “technology” part of healthcare IT causes many to fall into the trap of thinking the latest technology will solve all interoperability problems, leading them to over-complicate seemingly simple problems in order to provide new technological solutions. Many folks focus on, as one panelist put it, “the shiny new thing.” Whether that’s AI, machine learning, FHIR APIs, or other technology, you must make sure not to lack underpinning infrastructures necessary to the technology work.
And as companies look to promote technology solutions to their customers, they need to understand that those working in healthcare have been burned by technology companies in the past and may hesitate or be open to new concepts. This includes the fact that some problems do not require technological solutions at all. While we are in an era of convenience and technology, in some cases, an actual face-to-face or manual solution may prove best.
Want to Learn More?
Panelists provided a few resources for more information about healthcare IT.
Interested in the media habits of federal healthcare professionals? Market Connections has created a new Federal Media & Marketing sub-report for this market. Purchase here.
Congratulations to our friends at Lockheed Martin for their recent Department of Defense contract win to support and sustain the F-35 Lightning II combat jet fleet through 2020.
Awarded annually, this contract provides a range of improvements to Lockheed Martin’s repair and maintenance network. It will pay for advanced engineering work, fleetwide data analytics, pilot and maintainer training, supply chain management resources, and the services of industry sustainment experts at air bases and depots.
“The F-35 continues to deliver exceptional capabilities to the field, and this contract ensures F-35s are mission ready to meet warfighter needs,” said Greg Ulmer, the Lockheed Martin vice president who serves as general manager of the F-35 program. “The joint government and industry team continues to make significant progress improving readiness rates and reducing sustainment costs. In 2020, we are confident F-35 sustainment costs will be equal to or less than legacy jets.”
Work under the $1.9 billion contract will take place in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, California and the United Kingdom.
Do you have the information you need to create and justify your marketing strategy for the upcoming year? The “right” information can take many forms, including customer feedback, prospects’ spending plans, agencies’ strategic direction, and the important factors for key decision-makers and influencers. Limited budgets and tight timelines can often hamstring the most well-thought-out plans for information gathering. Market Connections has worked with dozens of public sector contractors over the years to get them the right information at the right time. Whether it’s maximizing the use of free resources or commissioning custom research, here is what we have learned works best in different situations.
As many know, the BEST part of selling to a government customer is that their past spending history is often open for all to see. By way of publicly available data, one can see where agencies have historically spent their money and with whom. This is incredibly helpful in identifying partners, gauging the competitive landscape, or making a “go/no-go” decision on an upcoming opportunity.
With a little elbow grease and a working knowledge of the federal procurement process, government contractors who are looking to find information about upcoming contracts and opportunities can find information on https://beta.sam.gov/ (formerly FedBizOpps.org or fbo.org). This site, run by GSA, is a great starting point to find contract opportunities. You can search for opportunities by keyword, solicitation ID, or by the name of a federal organization. You can then use a wide variety of filters to narrow results.
For more historical information, such as past contract winners, number of contract actions and historical spending since FY2004, details can be found on Federal Procurement Data System (https://www.fpds.gov/). Market Connections works intimately with this data to help measure the size of the overall market, make determinations of go-to market strategies, and track the growth and viability of partners and competitors.
Syndicated or Multi-Client Studies
A wide variety of organizations and companies release overview data regarding the federal marketplace or specific agencies of product/service categories. Usually available for a small fee, these studies and reviews can provide a glimpse into strategic plans and the direction of buying, as well as offer insights into habits and behaviors of the market in general. Something to keep in mind, however, that while this information is available to you for a smaller fee, it is also available to your competitors.
Bloomberg Government and Government Executive Media Group offer overarching studies to understand how, at a high level, contractors are perceived in the federal marketplace. BGov200 and Leading Brands can provide a glimpse of the top contractors in the market, leveraging the knowledge within the specific companies and direct contacts with buyers and federal employees.
In addition, Professional Services Council (PSC) conducts a yearly assessment and estimate of federal spending every October based on an extensive network of interviews with government officials, congressional staff, private analysts and government contractors. PSC’s Annual Vision Federal Market Forecast develops budget estimates for defense and civilian agencies overall, as well as, specific breakdowns for individual agencies ranging from the Department of Agriculture to NASA.
For best practices in federal marketing, Market Connections provides our own annual and biennial studies such as Federal Government Contractor Study which looks at the best practices of federal marketing and business development professionals; Federal Media & Marketing Study which focuses on the media habits of federal audiences; and the Content Marketing Review studies which content marketing methods are best received by federal IT decision-makers. Presented at in-person networking events, this data provides insights to help with contractors with federal market strategy development.
General information about your audience may not be enough. Your product or service may be in a niche-category or very specific, your target audience unique, or you have some thoughts and insights that you believe can set you apart from your competitors. If this is the case, it is worth the investment to commission some custom research specific to your needs.
Oftentimes our clients need more detailed information to help make smart business decisions, especially when new product launches or large advertising investments are on the line. Whether they are seeking to position themselves for a specific contract, ensure customer satisfaction, develop or test specific messages, or to gain a better understanding of how they are perceived against a specific set of competitors, our custom research can provide data and insights directly from the federal audience contractors are serving.
Market Connections has over 25 years of experience in reaching these specific audiences, gathering a strong database of federal decision-makers from all areas of the government. Whether seeking insights from the general audience, specific to an agency or purchase category, Market Connections third-party research is a trusted resource among federal professionals and the contractors who serve them.
Learn more about custom research Market Connections provides to aid government contractors with their business development and market planning.
While federal workers are not necessarily learning new dance moves on TikTok during the workday, they are seeing work-related ads on Facebook, connecting on LinkedIn and following current events on Twitter. Personal devices are present in the workplace and provide access to social media throughout the day. But as with any digital media, preferences can change, usage varies by age and the level of influence can differ by platform.
To understand federal decision-makers’ media usage habits and trends, for over a decade, Market Connections conducts an annual Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS). In response to the uptick in the use of social media among the general public, within this study we also ask federal decision-makers about the top social media websites they are using.
Do Feds Access Social Media at Work?
People often think that security measures may keep federal employees from checking social media at work, forcing employees to drop their phones at security or leave them in their cars. However, the study found three-quarters of employees can carry personal or work-provided mobile devices into their work environment, providing them a device on which they can possibly check social media. It also found one in ten check their accounts during the workday (in the office), and one in five check during their lunch break. Not surprising, peak usage happens in the evening when four in ten said they check their social media.
What Social Media Sites Are Feds Visiting?
Facebook continues to top the list with three-quarters (76%) of respondents saying they visit the site. In addition, one-third of respondents (38%) noted being daily Facebook users. This is no surprise considering the majority demographic of survey respondents, half of which are 55 or over and one-quarter being 45-54 matches that of Facebook’s fastest-growing audience. (According to AARP, a recent poll found that Facebook use had an 18 percentage point increase among those 50 to 64 years old and a 14 percentage point jump among people 65 and older.)
Second to Facebook, over half (56%) of the respondents listed visiting LinkedIn. However, interesting to note, while it was the second most-used social site, the frequency is much less, with only one in ten (11%) being daily users.
Instagram and Twitter have continued to experience some growth among federal workers, yet both tied for third with four out of ten federal employees sharing they use these sites.
Should We Consider Marketing to Feds on Social Media?
Social media is being used and is certainly a viable way to reach the federal audience, however, questions remain:
- Who are they following on social media?
- How are they using social media?
- How would they react to work-related advertising on social media?
- Are they concerned about privacy?
Are there other challenges and issues for those trying to market to feds via social media that should be considered?
The Federal Media & Marketing Study scratches the surface. To get a deeper understanding of social media usage among federal employees, in support of our federal marketing clients, we conducted a survey to answer these questions and more.
See results and insights from this study at our upcoming webinar: “How Are Federal Employees Using Social Media in the Workplace?” on December 12 from 2-3 PM ET.
Market Connections CEO, Lisa Dezzutti received Government Marketing University’s second annual Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 GAIN Conference on Tuesday, November 12. Unable to attend, President Aaron Heffron accepted the award on her behalf.
With over 30 years of experience in the government marketing community, Lisa was recognized for her contributions to the industry, including starting market research firm, Market Connections, serving as Board President for Women in Technology and years of service at GTSI.
In presenting the award on behalf of Government Marketing University, Mark Amtower, Managing Partner at Amtower & Company and first annual Lifetime Achievement Award winner shared a few words about Lisa, “The contributions of Lisa and her team at Market Connections has helped us produce some absolutely great marketing programs, not in glam and glitz, but in real results, things that actually work… I rely on Market Connections like no other source in this market for my education.”
While she was unable to accept in person, Lisa did send a few notes of appreciation, “I am so deeply honored to receive it and terribly disappointed not to be here to receive it in person. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to be a part of the government contracting industry for the last 30 years.” She continued by noting those in the audience, by saying, “I have had the opportunity to work with and get to know many talented people, many who I call friends, many who are in the audience today. My friends and colleagues are the real reward after 30 years in this industry.”
To learn more about the GAIN Conference and see all 2019 GAINer awardees, visit www.theGAINconference.com.