Over the past year, Market Connections’ signature studies, including the Federal Media & Marketing Study and the Content Marketing Review, have pointed to a rise in the role of professional associations with federal decision makers. These studies, along with additional surveys we have conducted in the federal market, have concluded that public sector marketers should strongly consider working with professional associations to reach federal, state and local decision makers. To further test our hypothesis, we created a PulsePoll™ specifically asking about the role of associations, with the hope that this data can not only support government contractors’ membership and engagement strategies, but also identify opportunities B2G marketers should consider through professional association channels.
We saw the first hint of this trend in the 2018 Federal Media & Marketing Study’s Most Trusted Sources of Information. Two of the top three sources listed among federal respondents for trustworthiness came from professional associations. With nearly half of respondents, professional association websites (46%) came in second place followed by white papers and case studies created by professional associations at number three (36%). Webinars hosted by professional associations also ranked among the top ten, with nearly one-third of respondents listing it as a top trusted source (31%).
We continued to see the importance of professional associations in the 2019 Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond. Over half (55%) of federal respondents said they frequently click on and/or download content from familiar professional associations. This is a sharp contrast to the less than one in ten (9%) respondents clicking on or downloading content of unfamiliar vendors.
Recent results from our 2019 Federal Events PulsePoll™ and webinar continued to illustrate our hypothesis of the important role of professional associations in federal marketing. Professional associations ranked second in how individuals learn about events (57%). In addition, among all events listed, those hosted by professional associations AFCEA and AUSA ranked in the top five among all respondents, and even higher among defense agencies.
Looking at these findings alone, one can’t deny the value of working with professional associations to help reach federal audiences, especially for vendors who may not have an existing relationship with target clients.
However, some questions remained unanswered. For example, which professional associations are federal decision makers joining? Should contractors focus their membership and marketing efforts with federal- or IT-focused associations? Are there marked differences in membership by agency type or job role? What factors are important to feds when choosing to join an association? What are some barriers keeping them from joining? Most importantly, how are they engaging with associations that contractors can benefit from?
To help answer these questions, we surveyed federal decision makers about membership and engagement with professional associations. To hear results of our latest PulsePoll™, join our upcoming complimentary webinar: Marketing Through Professional Associations: Reaching Your Government Clients on Thursday, June 27 from 2-2:30 PM EDT.
When creating marketing content for a government buyer of products, services or emerging technologies, federal and state and local decision makers want to be educated and not sold to, according to the 2019 Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond. Content should help them make informed decisions and have minimal sales messages. Additionally, for state and local decision makers, consider including insight from government thought leaders to help support your message.
Regardless of what you are selling, whether they’re simple products (including laptops, desktops, servers), standard IT services (cloud, cybersecurity) or complex emerging technologies (AI, automation, blockchain), respondents prefer research reports and white papers. Demonstrations are key to those buying products, while those making decisions about services want to hear the success stories through case studies. Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of your marketing collateral, especially among state and local government decision makers. It is certainly a valued piece of content among this audience.
Education is best done through providing the detailed information and specifications needed by decision makers ranging from the highly technical process specialists to the more outcomes-based managers. Federal, state and local decision makers all wanted the content they consume to contain research and data to support the performance claims, examples of past performance by vendors, and the detailed specifications necessary to make the products or services work within their agencies.
A unique difference between state and local audiences versus federal audiences is their desire to see insights from thought leaders. State and local respondents cited wanting to see insight from government thought leaders, likely given the fact that they do not have the same type of infrastructure in place for information sharing that exists on the national level. In addition, many state and local technology buyers are part of very small staffs and departments and relish outside input. Federal decision makers, are more likely to want insights from industry thought leaders, perhaps looking for ideas and perspectives that are not deeply rooted in just a public sector world.
It is important to note and reinforce that at least one in five respondents mention they prefer content without sales messages. Federal respondents are more willing to accept sales messages within blogs, while state and local tolerated them more in videos and case studies.
Whether your focus is on the federal or the state and local market, as a marketer looking to reach and engage your target, you must create content that educates above all else. Across the board, make sure your content has the data and research needed to support your assertions, contains information about past performance (including customer testimonials and insight from your customer’s peers) and specific details about your product or service that will help inform their decision or help them justify it to their stakeholders.
See full results from the 2019 Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond here.
Additional blogs on best public sector marketing practices based on this year’s results:
- Content Marketing: Be a Partner to Your State & Local Customers
- Don’t Let Buzzwords Kill Content Directed at Your Federal Audiences