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“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high, and we miss it, but that it is too low, and we reach it.”   -Michelangelo

This quote from Michelangelo is one of my favorites because it sums up what I truly believe – we are each capable of so much more than we realize.  Over the course of my adult life, I have tested this belief multiple times by setting and achieving big goals – from starting my own company, Market Connections, to jumping out of perfectly good airplanes to trekking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa this past January.  At, 19,340 feet, “Kili” is the tallest peak in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world!  Not only was this an epic adventure, it was the hardest physical thing I have done.  EVER.

Climbing Kilimanjaro has been one of my major goals and last year I decided to stop talking about it and just get it done.  As you can imagine, doing this type of climb takes both physical training and mental preparation.  Last August, I started my physical training by doing cardio three times a week and strength training once or twice a week using machinery like my Peloton bike and Stairmaster.  On the weekends, my husband and I drove 1½ hours to hike various trails in the Shenandoah and GW National Forests.  Even though he did not go on the Kilimanjaro trek with me, I could not have asked for a better, more supportive training partner.

While the training helped me to prepare physically for the challenge, the actual trek (taking nine days from start to finish) was, at times, both physically and mentally grueling. However, summiting Kili gave me a true sense of accomplishment.  As in other times in my life, it showed me that I could accomplish the high-reaching goals I set for myself by putting in the hard work, training and preparation, and in the end, there is a certain level of exhilaration and awe when accomplishing that goal.

As in any difficult endeavor, certain life lessons are brought into sharper focus.  Here are a few of mine from the climb that apply to both my business and personal life:

  1. Slow down and enjoy the journey.  If your life is anything like mine, it is full to the brim with activities and obligations.  It can be very hard to be present and keep your focus on things that are truly important.  Kilimanjaro doesn’t give you a choice.  It strips you down to only the absolute essentials, both physical and mental.  For example, I packed several “must have” items I thought I would need that never came out of my duffle bag!  As we climbed further up the mountain, worries and frustrations I carried from home quickly fell away.  Instead my focus was on “pole, pole” – Swahili for slowly, slowly.  It’s a phrase we heard often on the trek.  Walk slowly and breathe slowly and deeply.  This advice was almost meditative and allowed us to focus more fully on our surroundings, each other and achieving our goal of getting to the top.
  2. “Hakuna matata.”  Swahili for no worries.  Before coming to Tanzania, I’d only heard this as a reference to The Lion King.  In Tanzania, and particularly on the mountain, this is something people repeat a lot.  For them, it’s not just another phrase, it’s a way of life.  I’m trying hard do the same.  Stuff happens, but we all have the freedom and ability to decide how we deal with it.  Easier said than done, but I’m working on it.
  3. Drink more water and be a ‘lazy lion.”  To stay well hydrated and keep altitude sickness at bay, we had to consume at least three liters of liquid each day.  That was tough.  At home, usually the only liquids I have all day are two cups of coffee in the morning.  We had acclimatization time when we were told to be “lazy lions” – to rest and take it easy – so we would be ready for the physical and mental challenges of the next day.  To succeed on the mountain, you must pay attention to, and take care of your body’s needs.  Back down at sea level, we all need to do the same.  With all the responsibilities and busyness of our everyday lives, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.  Start small.  How much water have you had today?  Drink more water. Take a nap.  You’ll feel better.
  4. We are all greater together.  We can accomplish so much more together than we can ever accomplish on our own.  Stephen Covey calls it interdependence.  And I needed it to get up the mountain.  Before I went, it came in the form of encouraging words and training support from friends and family.  On the mountain, it came in the form of about 60 people including my climbing partners, guides, porters, and cooks all watching out for my well-being.  Each had their own unique strengths they brought to the task at hand.  It’s no different at home.  You are only as strong as those who support you.  Don’t underestimate the value and power of your team.  Recognize and tap into that power and there’s no telling what you can accomplish together.
  5. Never give up and push beyond your comfort zone. As a successful business owner, I already knew this, but the climb reinforced it.  Big journeys begin with a single step.  And it’s one step at a time and then just one more until you reach the top.  While the journey may be tough, the view from the top is worth it!  (Just check out my video below!)  We each must set our own goals and hike our own trail in life.  Your goals may change, and while you may not always make it to the summit, make sure you give it your best and that you’re happy with the trail you leave behind.  Remember, life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I hope this will inspire you to take on new challenges or try something you never thought possible.  What are your plans in 2019 to get out of your comfort zone?  What goals will you strive for?  What steps do you need to take to prepare to reach those goals?  Drop me a note and let me know.  I would love to hear from you:  lisad@marketconnectionsinc.com

 

Check out Lisa’s video from the summit below:

If the January 2019 Federal Shutdown has revealed anything, it’s that the best laid marketing plans may fall to the wayside in the need to react to changing dynamics of the market. A solid marketing plan focused on brand awareness, strategic outreach, and effective communication tools can handle any fluctuations and bumps in the road. A strong brand perception among your customers can ease anxieties, knowing that solutions exist when budgets and timelines are in turmoil.

As part of Market Connections’ ongoing efforts to help its clients, we often tap into the great ideas of other thinkers in the marketplace and try to bring it home for public sector marketers. A recent LinkedIn article by Ironclad Brand Strategy’s Principal, Lindsay Pedersen, got us thinking: What should one do to develop a brand strategy that can weather the ups and downs and layers of uncertainty? According to Ms. Pedersen one should “define the target customer and the competitive frame of reference.”

Over the years, some of our clients have broken into the federal market almost by accident by producing commercial solutions that help address a public sector issue. In these cases, sales teams experienced great success by being the first in, bringing a new technology or solution to bear in a way that hadn’t yet been considered. Thus, enlightened public-sector buyers saw the potential and worked hard within their organizations to justify its value in a traditionally rule-bound, risk-averse setting.

However, as other players came into the market, the “first in” vendor wasn’t connecting like it used to. While they had identified the customer, built some brand awareness and started understanding the competitive frame of reference, what they didn’t have was the right way to talk to the federal buyers. Their potential market had expanded beyond the early adopters and the commercial messaging rooted in bottom line rewards did not resonate in an environment focused on mission, service and public good.

For those clients who have experienced some success and need to break through to the broader federal market (whether new altogether, or bringing new offerings), we suggest THREE key steps, building on Pedersen’s first two:

  1. Define the target customer: Is the whole federal market right for you and your offering?

Who is your target customer? Are you trying to break through or increase the offerings you provide in the federal market? Would they benefit from the products or services you provide? Does your product offer solutions to their challenges? Do you truly understand their pain points?

For those focused on making the federal market a part of their business strategy, this takes on an additional meaning. Are you targeting the federal market as a whole? Are you focused on a particular product category for the federal market? Are you focused on a type of agency or a specific agency? Whether broad or specific, contractors must consider not only pain points and challenges, but what it means to work with the federal government including mission, processes and timelines. Will your product or service be viable in the federal market? To find out, it’s important to go right to the source.

However, companies looking to break into the federal market may find it difficult to gather this type of information directly. Those looking to break into this market or looking to bring a new offering to federal audiences may want to consider a market opportunity assessment to help them make informed decisions around whether to keep, eliminate, or enhance offerings. This type of study provides a profile of the federal market, specific target audiences and titles that offer the strongest potential for success, market needs within the framework of the offering and characteristics and features of the offering that resonate the strongest in the market.

Once companies have a firm understanding of their federal customer, their unique challenges and mission goals; and having a confirmation that the products and services they offer can benefit this customer, the contract and the mission; the next step is to understand how they are perceived by federal decision-makers, especially in comparison to other contractors in the same space.

  1. What is the Competitive Frame of Reference: Are you working in an environment with strong incumbents, new players, or a mix of the two (and what do customers think about them?)

As Pedersen points out, the second part of preparing is defining the competitive frame of reference. Who are your top competitors? What differentiates you, your services and products from theirs? What are your competitors’ weaknesses and where are their strengths?

To understand your customer and competition better, Pedersen recommends conducting customer interviews. She points out to small focus groups or interviews conducted over the phone. However, in the federal market, as many of our clients can point out, getting honest feedback from customers, especially if those contractors sit among their clients day in and day out, can prove to be difficult, if not impossible. Working together with a third-party firm may help in getting honest feedback about current customers while also looking into the satisfaction of service of contracts whose incumbents you’d like to unseat.

If clients are interested in winning new contract work, it is key to do this type of contract evaluation prior to when the RFP has been issued. A minimum of 12 to 18 months prior is recommended. Seasoned contractors know that once the RFP or RFI has been released, it is nearly impossible to get any feedback from agency decision-makers.

This type of research can provide key insights that could help shape a proposal based on current or past challenges or even future expectations and help you understand how you can position yourself to differentiate yourself, your products and your messaging from those of your competitors.

  1. Tailor your message: Are you talking the talk WHILE you walk the walk?

Your offering is viable in the market, and you have insight into the unique challenges of the customer and how you can differentiate from the competition, now is the time to focus on the framework of your messaging.

To ensure the messaging resonates, the best next step is to do some message testing. Whether you are investing in concept, communications, advertising, logo, tagline or name testing, having feedback from your customer/prospect ensures that you are delivering the right tone that addresses their key challenges and pain points.

This is especially true in the federal market. Experienced federal marketers understand that developing messaging for this market is not as simple as taking corporate marketing materials and simply adding a federal agency name in place of other customers. To truly reach and resonate with public sector clients, in addition to understanding their pain points and criteria, those seeking to reach federal audiences must develop marketing materials and assets with the right tone and language formatted for the channels in which they will be most visible. An example of this is seen in how a company addresses how their solution may “support the mission,” a concept less heard of in the corporate/commercial markets.

However, getting the deep insights needed to develop their brand framework as laid out in the three steps mentioned above can be difficult – not only for contractors who are trying to break into the market, but even for trusted vendors who sit next to their federal clients day-to-day. To get these insights, we recommend using a neutral and objective third-party who can uncover honest feedback on messaging and articulate the needs and expectations of federal audiences. By evaluating impact and effectiveness of messaging appeal, credibility, relevance, and usability, contractors can create campaigns with messages that address federal clients’ needs. This will strike a deeper chord with their federal audiences, motivating them to act on that messaging.

This way, contractors seeking strong brand recognition for their company and offerings in the federal market can have solid data to help them make key decisions. They understand their target audience and how that audience will respond to their offerings, how they fit within and differentiate from the competition, and key messages that resonate with their audience to help them stand out from the noise. Having this information will ensure that strategies they put in place in the federal market will be successful and provide a stronger ROI for their investment.

Learn more about Market Connections services to support your brand strategy framework:

FEDERAL MEDIA MARKETING DASHBOARD

 

A dynamic web-based reporting dashboard allows you to cross-tabulate survey results to create your own customized data views, such as job title and product purchases; or job title and web site visits or publication readership.

NOTE: You are purchasing a subscription to a dynamic online data set, not a PDF report. You will receive a user guide in the form of a PDF, and a representative from Market Connections will contact you within 48 hours with your username and password to access the online dashboard.

The Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS) dashboard has provided federal marketers reliable and affordable data source for honing and perfecting strategic marketing campaigns. The FMMS database, as a whole, gives federal marketers detailed information to reach the right senior decision-makers at a wide array of federal defense and civilian agencies. The comprehensive dashboard allows a user to match certain demographics, job functions or purchasing areas with specific media habits.

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Agency-Based Marketing Reports

Market Connections now offers federal marketers a quick and easy way to get agency specific marketing data to assist with their account-based marketing needs. Whether you are targeting DOD as a whole, or focusing just on the Army, new reports derived from years of Market Connections’ study data can provide the background you need to make smart decisions. The library of reports will provide what you need to know for media buying, advertising and overall strategy decisions for the most popular categories.

For $495, purchase a single-run report of critical audiences. Use the purchase form below:

Benefits:

Single-segment runs provide:

  • Detailed information on the specific audience you are interested in reaching
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Christie Cox

Christie Cox, Marketing Director, Unisys Federal

After completing two recent studies with Market Connections, we reached out Christie Cox, Marketing Director at Unisys Federal to understand how this research is supporting their marketing and sales strategies. Unisys’s offerings include security software and services; digital transformation and workplace services; industry applications and services; and innovative software operating environments for high-intensity enterprise computing. Unisys has always understood that the federal market has unique challenges and needs; from budgetary restrictions to constantly changing federal mandates and requirements; and has been a long time consumer of research in the industry.

MC: Can you give us a little background as to why you conducted this research and how you are leveraging your results?

Christie: Market-relevant research of our targeted government audience is invaluable to help us understand our client’s pain points so we can drive solutions to better support their missions. We leveraged the results [from a recent research study] for a very successful live event for the industry that resulted in meeting potential clients, gaining thought leadership media placements; and we continue using the data as ongoing messaging points for why we design our solutions plans.

MC: We understand you see the value in research, as you are conducting additional studies this year. Can you share any ROI you have seen or expect to see from the studies you have already conducted and share why it’s important for you to continue to do studies?

Christie: We plan to conduct another major research-based campaign in 2018 around technology’s influence with automation on the federal changes in their workforce. We feel it is very important to take a pulse of the audience to best understand how Unisys can meet their needs. The marketing and PR ROI is, as usual, difficult to measure, but we highly value the opportunity to lead industry discussions from our previous research in digital government,  IT modernization, and biometrics-based identity intelligence. The market research we employed Market Connections to conduct for us has led Unisys to be a first and early thought leader in the industry and provided value that is unmeasurable for positioning for future deals.

MC: What advice would you give a marketing director who wants to do a research project?

Christie: Pay close attention to your design of the research survey questions because they are critical to the end results you will see and what gets measured. Make sure you ask all of the right questions, and Market Connections can help you achieve that.

Market Connections would like to thank Christie for taking time to share insights on how Unisys Federal is using the research provided to further their work in the federal market.

See results from Unisys Federal’s recent studies:

ANNOUNCED ON MAY 1, 2018: Unisys’s Modernization Revolution Marketing Campaign won the American Business Awards’ Stevie Bronze Award in the Government/Institutional/Recruitment category.  See all the winners: https://stevieawards.com/aba/2018-marketing-award-winners

branding new divsion

Amelia Shane,
Chief Experience Officer,
Akina Animal Health

As companies grow and venture into new markets, they must answer the question of whether they will do so under their primary brand, or launch a new division. Often, launching a new division simply makes the most sense. Once decided, the next steps is how to brand and launch this division.

If this is something your company is considering, read on.

Recently, Akina Pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy based in Chantilly, Virginia launched a new division focused on animal health: Akina Animal Health. Amelia Shane, Akina Animal Health’s Chief Experience Officer, sat down with us to discuss how the company positioned Akina Animal Health in the market, how they branded the new division, and how they approached the launch.

MC: What’s Akina’s background?

Amelia: Akina Pharmacy has is a compounding pharmacy that has been around for five years. When I came on board two years ago, we realized our team had extensive experience in animal health as well as human health. Bass Girgis, Owner and Head Pharmacist in Charge, Tom Wheeler, VP of Business Development, and myself all had backgrounds in veterinary, as well as human medicine. We realized we had a niche with a lot of potential, we knew we had a market and a position, and the potential to make an impact, so we decided to go for it. That’s how Akina Animal Health started.

MC: How did you decide on a new division with a new identity, versus operating as Akina Pharmacy?

Akina logo for branding new divisionAmelia: We knew we had to brand it separately from Akina Pharmacy because the needs of the market are different and that changes everything. Completely different branding is necessary when you’re targeting a different market and want to position yourself for that market.

We also knew if we wanted to compete in the animal health market, we had to be an e-commerce company because that is the standard. Akina Pharmacy, on the other hand, is not an online pharmacy. W e can still compete in our region and market without having an e-commerce site.

MC: Tell us about how you approached the branding.

Amelia: Branding is the most important asset to a company and I love it, so for me, the branding was fun. It’s all about establishing who you are and how you fill a need. With so many of our leaders having a solid background in animal health, we began with a really good understanding of the market and who our competitors were. That gave us a good base to start with our market research.

We looked closely at our competitors and spoke to prospective customers (veterinarians and office managers). We wanted to make sure we had our own niche, so we explored what was missing from existing animal health compounding pharmacies. Through that, we identified some key gaps, and knew we could fill the need. The research was valuable.

MC: And what did you learn?

Amelia: The biggest gap was the urgency to get medications delivered to pet owners. We learned most competitors have a slow turn around time. We also discovered our approach to quality and the steps and precautions we take in delivering medications that are accurate and exactly what the doctor prescribed are different than our competitor, so they are a good selling point.

MC: Did you suspect you’d find this or was it a surprise to you?

Amelia: It was a little bit of a surprise. I worked in the industry for eight years and I worked for a competitor. I knew them very well, but it was during the deep dive I saw what they weren’t doing. Working there day-to-day, I never noticed that.

MC: How did you translate these findings into your brand?

website look branding new divsion

Kindness is a central theme in the Akina Animal Health brand.

Amelia: It led to the overarching concept of “kindness.” We are using the word kind a lot. In fact, our business descriptor is, “The new KIND of compounding pharmacy” and our tagline is “kindness compounded.” It encompasses that we’re new and we have this focus of kindness revolving around our pharmacy. We understand the urgency. We will deliver orders quickly so our customers’ patients’ pets don’t have to go two weeks without medication.

MC: Let’s talk investment…

Amelia: Well, I can’t give you the exact number for a variety of reasons. I will say although we had a tight budget, we did have a budget that was substantial in relation to our overall startup costs. And it was worth it. The brand is a company’s most important asset, so I don’t think you should skimp on that at all. But the reality is, you may not have as big of a budget as you want. It’s important to take the time to find a great agency who can work with your needs. And it’s important to assign effort and get leadership buy-in to do it right.

MC: How would you define doing it right?

Amelia: First, set a budget. Then find a branding agency that is a good fit for you. Branding is so much more than a logo and tagline. A good agency is going to give you a lot more than that. Branding is the look, the feel, your values, and your key messages —the brand guidelines. It’s everything you need to implement your marketing now and into the future.

It’s also about being authentic and how you make your customers feel. We could say we want to be kind and give patients peace of mind. But if that isn’t really who we are, it doesn’t mean anything. Our core value of kindness came out of the branding work; it is who we are and everything we do gets back to that.

MC: How did you select a branding company?

Amelia: We worked with a small branding agency called Apertures. We took a look at a five agencies at a range of price points. We didn’t want to go with an agency that’s branding huge commercial companies; that’s not us. We wanted to work with an agency that’s branding other businesses and startups similar to our size — we’re still considered a small business and we have under 50 employees.

Apertures wasn’t the most expensive, nor the least, but they fit what we were looking for.

We contacted their customers to assess whether they’d be a good fit. We knew this would be a long process and we needed to know we would have a good relationship. It always surprises me when I learn people don’t do that. I think checking references is so important; it helps you assess early if you’ll mesh well. It takes time, but makes all the difference. You find out what working with them is like, how they communicate, and how they handle problems.

MC: How did you approach the launch?

Amelia: We decided to launch during an industry tradeshow. This gave us a chance to demo the site to our ideal clients and incentivize people to sign up. We had great response and were able to get some direct feedback. You just can’t put a price on first hand information directly from the customer’s mouth.

We followed the tradeshow with an integrated, multichannel marketing plan. We have big plans for Akina Animal Health. We’re still in the testing phase, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t. We don’t really have a lot of ROI data yet, but the early response has been good.

MC: Do you have any other advice?

Amelia: Branding absolutely builds financial value to a company. It’s hard to put a price tag on that. Even though we were on a tight budget as a start up division, we took the time to do it right. Most people who are starting a business and building a brand know a good piece of the industry and the market. Use that knowledge, but also do surveys and interviews. That’s a great way to take into consideration how your customers feel about you and what improvements can be made in the market.

Market Connections would like to thank Amelia for taking the time to share her division branding experience with us. To learn more about Akina Animal Health, visit the e-commerce site: https://akinaanimalhealth.com/

TOMORROW
BEST PRACTICES WEBINAR: Using Research to Assess Market Perceptions and Company Positioning

Considering a rebranding, or branding a new division? Join us tomorrow and learn the importance of taking a baseline of how your organization is perceived in the market and how you can use that information to shape your message.

Date: Wednesday, April 5, 11:30 AM EDT

Register Now

 

Art Director and Designer

Mary Beth RamseyMary Beth Ramsey has 30+ years of graphic design and production experience. Working closely with clients and copywriters, resulting materials have included direct marketing packages, branding identity, corporate collateral, fine art promotions, posters, web sites, banners, invitations, postcards, and more. From concept to final product, Mary Beth’s main objectives is to strengthen the client’s brand while achieving the highest results, by leading the audience in the most effective manner to whatever action is the ultimate goal of the project.

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