Unbelievably, we are less than 50 days away from this year’s elections. Like in many other big election years, our clients always ask us the same question, “How do you think the elections will affect the federal market?” We believe there are two parts to that question. The immediate one that comes to people’s minds is, “How will whoever wins change (or not) federal spending priorities?” There are many pundits and policy experts that will weigh in on that topic in the coming months. Our interest is in the election process itself; “How does the fact that a presidential election is happening affect the ability of federal employees to do their jobs?”
Though we are often asked, we generally avoid interviewing elected officials and appointees, preferring to take the pulse of those folks that make and influence the day-to-day decisions at agencies. For the federal market, that can include everyone from end-users to executives, program managers to procurement officers.
What we’ve found in the past is that elections don’t change the values of the people making the day-to-day decisions, because those day-to-day values (e.g., doing their job well, serving their country, being viewed as an expert) are not tied to a political belief system. Those values will affect how your overtures influence the evaluation and selection process.
What elections do, however, is create an air of uncertainty around change in leadership. Will newly appointed agency heads have different ideas on the longer-term, strategic changes as to how work at the agency is approached? Will they allocate budgets differently? Where are their priorities? How will this affect those working at those agencies and their day-to-day activities?
These concerns are out of the control of most of you reading this post. Federal marketers and client services teams should focus on how their company can support current efforts, be proactive and forward thinking about new directions that may be taken, answer questions that may come up and deliver on promises already made. The number one goal is to support their customers during a time of uncertainty.
Want to know more about how your federal clients are feeling about the upcoming elections? What will their jobs look like over the next month and a half? When do they anticipate budgets to be set? What challenges do they foresee? To answer these questions, we conducted a survey to see how the upcoming elections will affect the federal market.
Join us for our webinar “How the Upcoming Elections Affect Federal Agencies?” on Thursday, September 24, at 2 pm ET.
As we approach the end of the fiscal year, the discussion turns toward agency end-of-year spending. Should federal marketers and sales assume selling for the year is done and look toward 2021, or should they implement a final surge campaign with the hopes of capturing any last-minute spending from unspent budgets?
According to Lou Anne Brossman, founder and CEO of Government Marketing University, it’s about gauging internal expectations and assessing if your company will be able to meet last minute agency demands. Ask the executive team, “What outcomes do you expect from 4th quarter marketing?” “Is this a last-ditch attempt full of hope or a concerted effort to go after identified opportunities?”
If you know there are dollars to be spent, ask yourself if your company prepared for a turnkey (i.e. quick) sale? In a recent IDEATION call, Lou Anne discussed tips for marketers at the end of buying season. Below are a few of her expert tips along with findings from our own studies about the best content for the late stage buying process.
- Do not expect new, unidentified fourth quarter sales from a fourth quarter marketing campaign. Opportunity identification and marketing must start far earlier than that.
Federal marketers and business development professionals understand that selling to the government is not a short sales cycle. Not only should you always be front of mind, you have to consider being there with exactly what they are looking for at the exact time they are looking for it.
Selling to the government is an educational process, and the preparation often starts 12 to 18 months ahead of time. If you are marketing in the fourth quarter, it’s best to market to them for solutions they will be looking for in the next fiscal year’s needs. However, it is always useful to be top of mind if 2021 needs can be moved up with 2020 dollars. (see #2).
With next year in mind, consider that they are now reviewing needs and specifications for NEXT year’s requirements. What content should you be providing them? According to the Federal Content Marketing Review (FCMR), educational pieces such as research reports and white papers are key.
- Given everything said above, there is still a possibility — however remote — to win fourth quarter business at the last minute.
However, this is usually thanks to the marketing you did in the first couple of quarters of the fiscal year. To ensure that you are able to tap into any unspent dollars, consider marketing to where they are in the buying process. The 2017 FCMR study showed us that if they are looking at finalizing a decision quickly (making final selection), they are most likely looking for trials and product demos.
Is your company’s solution “acquisition-ready” for a last-minute sale? According to one chief procurement officer from GMarkU’s discussion, “If [an agency program office is] coming at me in the last quarter of the year especially because you have an unfunded requirement, or even an emergency buy, I’m going to lean towards existing contract vehicles. I’m going to look to things like the government-wide contracts, our strategically sourced contracts, or the GSA schedules, or other vehicles that make it easy for me to get it done quickly.” This means having your sales teams, contract shops and legal departments ready to go and on the same page.
It’s intuitive to make sure your company is set up for the quick sale and you may want to lead your marketing with language stating which vehicles you are on upfront to make it easier for your customer.
- End-of-year procurements are not just for the large, well-established vendors.
While you may think that agency’s will only reach for well-established vendors during last-minute sales, there is a place and space for small business. You should know if there is a portion carved out for small, woman-owned, minority-owned businesses. Does your marketing quickly identify you as such? In addition to what contract vehicles you are on, it is important to identify yourself as SBA, 8a, WOSB, minority-owned, or other, as appropriate.
Small businesses looking for year-end wins should also consider working with a larger vendor who already has experience. Your marketing should consider not only the agency but primes as well. What can you bring to the table for a partner? Does your company have an expertise in a niche that is needed by a prime? Knowledge of how you are perceived can help you strategically market your company’s products and services to key agencies AND partner contractors looking for something specific. Brand research could be a first step in gauging where your strengths, weaknesses and differentiators lie.
While it may be daunting to market specifically for those last-minute unspent requirements, it is not without value. It is important to understand end-of-year procurement priorities, provide content that speaks specifically to their needs and ensure you have the right vehicles for easy acquisition.
Messaging that highlights the ability to get next year’s needs addressed now can be appealing to agencies with multiple challenges. Educate them on how you can address issues they may not think they are ready for, focus on your strengths and differentiators, and highlight how you can make the process as easy as possible. These elements will give you the best chance to secure some last-minute commitments you thought weren’t realistic until next year.
Guest blogger: Mark Amtower, Amtower & Company
Market Connections’ Federal IT (FIT) Persona Study should resonate with everyone selling IT products or services to the government. The always evolving IT landscape shortens the cycle of Moore’s Law every day, making it critical for the savvy IT product or services contractor to educate federal buyers on a regular basis. Smart federal marketers understand that to increase the likelihood of success, they need to extend this education process to a broader audience of influencers and decision-makers at target agencies. The FIT Persona Study helps marketers understand each type of persona that can participate in that process.
Once you determine the characteristics of the personas you need to influence, start mapping out content that fits their needs at each stage of the buying process (see, Market Connections’ Federal Content Marketing Review).
According to studies by other major market research firms, buyers begin their journey by doing research online, looking for information on the products and services they are likely to purchase in the relative near term. These studies show that 60%+ of the buying process is researched before outreach to any vendor. Mandiant Security Validation’s (Mandiant Solutions, part of FireEye) Chief Marketing Officer, Tracey Moon, coined this the “dark funnel” in a presentation around the customer journey of Government Marketing University’s 2019 GAIN conference.
Building Content for Your Target Audience
Your content must fit each step of the process starting with the identification of the issue to be resolved. Then you should educate the buyer of the problem area and how it can be addressed. After that, you can educate on what your solution is and does, in what situations it is applicable, ease (or not) of use, etc., developing content specific for each persona in the process.
The newer the technology or technological advance, the bigger the opportunity is to jump in early with good content to educate your customer.
However, key influencers and decision-makers may have differing challenges with technology that need to be addressed and using personas can provide guidance on the types of problems or challenges that need addressing in your content. For example, you may need to address technical challenges for the frontline IT specialist, how it is deployed for the project manager, versus how it can help reach agency mission goals for leadership or how it can be procured to the procurement officer.
The most important thing: develop your content with the idea of educating your customer, not selling to them.
The next step is to understand how they prefer to consume content. If you are targeting end-users, you may be able to get away with one or two formats; however, if you are trying to reach an agency and all their key players, you may want to consider the format in which you develop your content pieces. An end-user may prefer a video, a project manager may prefer a white paper and a CISO may prefer a podcast. One type of content format may not fit all.
Marketing Your Content
Unlike the famous movie quote, “if you build it, they will come,” you cannot create content and expect your customer to find it on their own. Once you have built your content, you need to market that content across different platforms. Use SEO, social media, trade media, and other sources to announce the presence of your content and direct customers back to your resources. Another valuable use of personas is to help you make strategic decisions on where to market based on target personas’ key preferences.
For example, if your key target personas show a preference for using social media such as LinkedIn, there are many ways you can drive traffic to your content:
- Simple, easy and no cost: Post a synopsis and a link, then get your sales, marketing and business development teams to share the content with their networks.
- Group pages: Check agencies’ company pages, click on the “# of employees on LinkedIn,” then use the “All Filters” button to look for specific job titles. Once you find professionals that match your target personas, you can look to see what “groups” they belong to and if possible, join those group(s) and start sharing your content there as well.
- LinkedIn articles: Byline or have company ambassadors (leadership) byline short articles to be published on LinkedIn.
- Advertising: If budgets permit, consider boosting your posts with LinkedIn advertising.
Educating your government customer in a targeted manner by creating content that addresses their specific challenges, in formats they prefer to learn from, and marketing that content in areas/platforms that they are more likely to visit, can only help increase the likelihood of consideration during the procurement process.
Mark Amtower has been advising federal contractors of all sizes on the best practices for marketing to the federal government since 1985. Most recently he has focused on social selling, differentiation, building the SME platform and content marketing. He is the author of several books, has hosted a weekly show on the Federal News Network for 14 years, and has been a contributing writer to Washington Technology for 12 years. He is a frequent speaker at industry events. Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.
From the Desk of Aaron Heffron, President Market Connections, Inc.
While many of us remember fondly as a kid hearing, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” we all need to remember, “yes, folks, there will be a federal market after COVID.” Setting aside the debate of when the “after” is a reality, it is not too soon to start thinking about how to position your company to emerge from quarantine stronger and ready for action. You can do this by developing and implementing a marketing plan that accounts for the market realities while it hedges against market uncertainty.
Here are FOUR marketing areas affected by COVID-19 you should reevaluate:
- Events won’t be dead forever, but you’ll need to choose which to attend and sponsor wisely. Our recent COVID related polling of the federal community highlights hesitancy to attend even the smallest of events until the first quarter of 2021. At this point, micro-sized events of under 50 people will be the most likely for federal employees to attend. As you look toward the middle to end of 2021, larger trade shows and conferences may start springing up. Ask event organizers what they are doing to “re-sell” their event. The marketing for the event will be more important than ever as federal employees try to weigh the value of attending. HINT: It’s not only a safety issue.
- Create a webinar strategy that is concise and informative. As remote working and travel restrictions have continued, the prevalence and dependence on webinars has grown. A 45-minute webinar packed with the most recent information, case studies, and forward-looking views is increasingly important as an effective mechanism to educate numerous federal employees at the same time. Rather than scouring online publications and websites for new information, feds are willing to schedule the time to learn both synchronously and asynchronously. Just remember, though, as our content marketing research has shown, minimize the “sell” and maximize the “tell.”
- Adapt your buys to the changes in media usage but hedge your bets. Later this year we will be releasing the 12th edition of the Federal Media and Marketing Study that looks at federal employee preferences for reading, listening and viewing of websites, publications, radio stations and television programming. The survey this year will be measuring habits during the pandemic and we expect to see some drastic changes. The bigger questions will be how long these changes are in place and will longer term behaviors change? Regardless, when the results are public in late October, it will be important to tailor your short-term strategy for media placement and PR to account for these changes. Do not write them off as “temporary” because the tail will be long and may reveal new pathways to the customer.
- Dig deeper to understand what your customer is going through. It will be important to think about how your company will be interactive with your target audience going forward. How affected have your customers and prospects been from the current circumstances? Digging deeper and identifying those specific characteristics of your target audience (including what and who they know) will be necessary, even if you’ve never done it before. Our recent development of federal personas was done with the need for more personal targeting in mind. Individual fears, concerns and values always play a bigger role when there is uncertainty in the market. In 2021 and beyond it will be important to speak to the hearts as well as the minds of the customer as they face fears and concerns that go way past their job responsibilities.
Yes, there will be a federal market in the post-COVID world. What will it exactly look like? Your guess is as good as mine. What we do know now, however, is that with some careful planning and thoughtful actions you can have your organization positioned better than your competitors as new opportunities arise.
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
FIT Personas Study:
A Deeper Look Into Your Federal Customer
Date: Thursday, June 11, 2020, 2-3:30 PM EDT
This is a virtual event.
Join us for the first study release in our new Federal Information Technology (FIT) series designed to help you get closer to your federal technology customer.
The FIT Personas Study will highlight the different profiles of individuals that influence and make decisions for IT products and services at the federal level. Personas have been an increasingly popular tool to identify and pinpoint specific personal and professional factors that influence the decision-making process. Combining qualitative and quantitative feedback, these results will help you understand what makes your customer tick, both personally and professionally, and provide you key insights to inform your marketing and business outreach strategy.
Study results will be followed up with a panel discussion with key federal marketing professionals on how they use personas as part of their federal marketing practices.
EXCLUSIVE TO EVENT ATTENDEES:
Those attending will have exclusive complimentary access to the report. On July 6, 2020 the overview report and detailed personas will be available for purchase to the general public.*
- $59 (includes access to report)**
Christina Morrison, Federal Solutions Director, Proofpoint
Tom Nagle, Managing Partner, Statler Nagle LLC
|2:00 PM – 2:40 PM||Welcome and study results presentation|
|2:40 PM – 3:15 PM||Panelist discussion|
|3:15 PM – 3:30 PM||Q&A with audience|
Thanks to our marketing partners:
**PSC members: Contact Mari Canizales Coache (email@example.com) for member discount code.
*The 2020 FIT Personas results reports will be available for sale to the general public on July 6, 2020 starting at a price of $99.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve shared how to take advantage of increased screen time among government audiences, as well as, how to effectively pivot your in-person meetings to virtual ones. Now we take a look at the pervasive online vehicle that only continues to grow in influence: social media. In addition to your own website and public sector media channels, social media is essential to reaching your target audiences.
According to our latest Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS), on average, nearly one-third of federal employees are spending 15 minutes or more on social media. It’s no surprise the top two social sites among feds are Facebook and LinkedIn with 4 out of 10 alone visiting Facebook daily. As government employees are tethered more to their computer, we expect these numbers to climb and the lines of personal and professional social media usage to blur even further.
The old adage of not being able to reach the public sector through social media no longer holds water. Whether it’s via professional social media channels (approximately 2.1 million federal employees are on LinkedIn), or the increased ability to view social media on personal devices, social media marketing should be a key part of your overall marketing mix.
Our Content Marketing Review highlights that the professional value of social media goes beyond just traditional awareness building. Nearly half of federal decision-makers and 7 out of 10 state and local decision-makers found professionally based LinkedIn and LinkedIn communities useful portals for accessing content for educational purposes. The efficacy of social media to deliver content even bled over to the traditionally personal social realm. One-quarter of federal and over half of state and local decision-makers felt Facebook and Twitter were also useful sources for work-related content.
Using social media can help you not only place you in front of your audiences, but also drive traffic to the content you’ve placed on other channels to help increase visibility and lead generation. It also allows others to help you drive traffic by making it shareable.
- How effective are social media sites? Download the Content Marketing Review
- What social media sites do they visit? Purchase the Federal Media & Marketing Study Overview and Audience-Based Reports
- Watch the complimentary webinar: How Are Federal Employees Using Social Media in the Workplace
How can we help?
- Contact: Aaron Heffron (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss social media strategies and content generation
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.