Government technology influencers and buyers need content that will help them make informed decisions and often seek information from third-party experts such as professional associations and industry vendors to help educate them.
Market Connections’ recent Content Marketing Review Study highlights the value of thought leadership content for government audiences in establishing your company as an expert and leader in the field. According to the study, public sector buyers of products, services and other emerging technologies prefer research reports, white papers and case studies to help them make informed decisions. To help them, this content should include detailed information such as data and research, examples of past performance and product specifications. If done right, one in five respondents indicated they incorporate vendor content into their RFI or RFP, the holy grail for companies competing for government contracts.
The savviest B2G marketing and sales teams commission primary research to help them better understand their target audience. Drilling down into the unique challenges and barriers buyers face, the goals they are trying to achieve, and how they define success helps shape messages, market strategy and RFP responses. The data and research gathered can also be a key component of marketing content, thereby educating their customer and becoming a perceived valued partner all at once.
When incorporated into a multi-faceted marketing campaign, B2G marketers can see a strong return on investment (ROI) from their research-based thought leadership content. From becoming known as the industry experts in one area (SolarWinds) to increasing sales (Iron Mountain), thought leadership has a real, measurable impact.
How can you create content that educates and resonates?
Best Practices for Developing and Leveraging Research-Based Thought Leadership Content:
- Think about your unique services and solutions. Focus on the big picture, don’t limit yourself to a single project, RFP or recompete.
- Assemble an internal, cross-functional team (PR, sales, and subject matter experts) to create a research effort that meets your marketing, PR, lead generation and sales objectives.
- Hone in on their needs and challenges (because those are what your offerings are going to address).
- Think about dissemination. What is the best way to connect the valuable information to your target audience?
- Don’t limit your outreach to one platform. Leverage your content across marketing channels.
Want to learn more? Join our upcoming webinar, “Does Thought Leadership Still Matter to Government Audiences?” on Thursday, July 25 from 2-3 PM EDT. Register here.
Have you ever changed your mind? Not necessarily about something trivial like what you want for dinner, but truly changed your mind about a long-standing opinion of a person, company or issue due to a new experience, discussion or interaction? If you have, you are one of the few. However; as marketers, we ask our target audience to change deep-seated opinions with our marketing and PR efforts.
Why is it so hard to change an entrenched opinion or perception? It isn’t so much about influencing that one person, but more about how much you can influence everyone around them.
The Difficulty of Breaking Convention
A well-known saying can help us illustrate this thought process. “You don’t get fired by hiring IBM.” Substitute “IBM” with any long-standing, high profile vendor in the marketplace. Because the vendor is well-known and established, it benefits from the collective power of the group and the psychological barriers that prevent individuals from stepping out on their own if they disagree. Think about how bold and confident a person needs to be to speak up and present a counter view to an entire group! Even if the argument is well-reasoned and fact-supported, it can be an uphill battle based on the historical assumptions the group maintains (whether justified or not!).
It’s easier to go the conventional path; the risk is spread among everyone in the group.
This sometimes happens when we sit across the table from clients or prospects. The first thing they tell us is they want to influence a specific person in an agency. They assume this ONE PERSON is the key to change, away from the conventional wisdom. They ask us to only interview a specific level of person (often c-suite) and get their opinion. They often forget the environment in which this individual works. Even the most empowered executive faces great organizational inertia to stick with the status quo, or the most well-known solution.
A Better Approach
Wouldn’t it be easier for the executive if opinions were more varied across the organization? Wouldn’t it be better if you knew that when an executive asked for the group’s feedback on a vendor or proposal, there was greater familiarity and awareness of new vendors across all staff, from procurement to technical staff to the program team lead? To change the opinion of your customer, you can’t focus on only the final decision-maker; you need to explore the differences in opinion among all influencers within an organization. We regularly discuss this approach with our clients to help them move the needle.
The influence of the collective is further seen historically across Market Connections’ research. The Federal Media &Marketing Study revealed when making a decision, over half (51%) of federal respondents cite peers and colleagues as the most trusted source of information. What this tells us is public sector decision-makers are just like us. Their decision-making is not just influenced by their own thinking, but the thinking of those they surround themselves with every day.
As you plan your next efforts to understand and influence a specific agency or decision-maker, make sure you understand the thoughts and opinions of the whole ecosystem, and market accordingly.
Learn more about key services Market Connections offers to help you understand how you are perceived in the marketplace and throughout your customer base with brand awareness, customer satisfaction & contract evaluation, new pursuit and capture, and brand, product or message testing.
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
“Our company provides innovative, cutting-edge services meant to disrupt the existing paradigm through best-in class products, agile, game-changing industry leaders and a one-stop, value added portal.”
If “Buzzword Bingo” were a game, this sentence would have hit all the squares on the bingo card!
Writing a description of how your product, service or even your company, is different than your competitors can be difficult for B2G marketers. Commonly used words like innovative, cutting edge and next generation, have lost their impact and can ring hollow to customers. While marketers often get requests to use these words in their materials, can including these words in marketing content hurt a brand, rather than help it? According to the Market Connections’ 2019 Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond study, certain words and phrases may annoy readers more than they explain what you do. In addition, as we have shown in our recent webinar, Differentiation in a Federal Market: How Do You Stand Out?, leaning heavily into these phrases does not necessarily aid in the overall differentiation of your company in a crowded, evolving marketplace. Our in-house database of digital marketing collateral from 100 top technology contractors contains millions of words and highlights the similarities between what is being promised from vendor to vendor.
Content aimed towards government IT customers, whether a white paper, marketing collateral, or a white board-style video, should be built upon three pillars: data and research; product specifications; and past performance. While it may be difficult to avoid all buzzwords, your content should focus on including these three pillars to ensure you keep your customer engaged. Federal, state and local technology decision makers want direct and informative content without the jargon to avoid the overt feeling they are being sold a bill of goods.
Finally, make sure your content includes clear statements focused on the value of your product or service to the organization, in non-technical terms customers can circulate. Three-quarters of federal respondents and over half of state and local respondents admitted to sharing content electronically with colleagues, teams and supervisors, many of whom may not have the same technical expertise as your initial target and may be even less tolerant of buzzwords.
Throughout our review of feedback from federal, state and local IT decision makers, we consistently came back to the theme that content should educate. Education is about presenting the right information at the right time using language that can be understood by the audience. By ensuring that you are meeting the expectations and needs of your audience and avoiding buzzwords and phrases, you are one step closer to creating content that meets your prospect’s needs, and, in turn, advances your company throughout the sales process.
To get the full list of top “annoying buzzwords” for both federal and state and local audiences, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about content preferences of federal, state and local IT decision makers by downloading the full report and infographics of the 2019 Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond.
Watch the recording and download slides for our webinar: Differentiation in a Federal Market: How Do You Stand Out?
For public sector marketers, case studies provide you the opportunity to demonstrate your past performance while highlighting your expertise and product or service’s unique features. In an arsenal of marketing materials, should you put an emphasis on creating case studies to highlight your products and services to public sector markets? The resounding answer is yes!
Results from Market Connections’ most recent study, 2019 Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond, demonstrated the value and importance of case studies across federal, state and local decision-makers in informing and educating them about products, technical services and emerging technologies.
Ninety-five percent of respondents across both federal and state and local sectors admitted to using case studies to inform and educate them during their work-related buying process and nearly one-third across both public sector groups agreed case studies from contractors and vendors were among the most valuable types of content, placing it in the top three of all content types.
What should your case studies include?
There’s no surprise when it comes to the top three features government decision-makers on both sides seek in case studies. With at least four out of ten, federal, state and local decision-makers listed “data and research to support content” as the top feature sought in case studies. This was followed by “examples of past performance” and “product specifications.” Much lower on the list was “insights from industry thought leaders” and “visual contents (including imagery and infographics),” although the latter ranked slightly higher among state and local decision-makers (21% vs 13% of their federal counterparts).
Learn more about what content works for your government audience
What other marketing content do decision-makers across federal, state and local find valuable in helping them make important decisions about procurement of technical products and services or new and emerging technologies? Where are they going to access this content? How much time are the spending with it and what actions are they taking with it? Where should you focus your content marketing efforts?
Join us to get full study results and hear from an expert panel of public sector marketers at the Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond Breakfast Briefing on May 9 in Vienna, Virginia.
“Content marketing is the only marketing left.” – Seth Godin
In 2008, Seth Godin made this bold statement, and in the decade that followed, in both the corporate world and public sector market, we have watched this statement unfold with an explosion of white papers, infographics, podcasts, sponsored articles, and videos. However, with so much content in the market, it’s hard to break through the noise. What marketers need now, more than ever, is content refinement and an understanding of WHAT the target audience wants, WHERE they are searching for it and HOW much time they want to spend with it.
Looking ahead to the release of the findings from Market Connections’ 2019 Content Marketing Review survey of the public sector marketplace in May, we decided to look at what other researchers focused on commercial B2B and B2C markets are reporting.
According to Content Marketing Institute in 2019, nearly two-thirds of marketers reported increased use of video and/or written digital content compared to the previous year. More than a third (37%) said they increased their use of podcasts and audio books.
With these three areas on the upswing, it’s important to understand how and when to deliver content. According to Harvard Business Review, content marketers should take three things into consideration:
- The amount of time you are asking your audience to invest. According to HBR, buyers’ average viewing time is just under three minutes and within that time can make quick judgments including whether to move to the next step.
- When to optimize content for mobile and when not to. Mobile content is leveraged most at the top of the sales funnel. But just as the type of content should evolve throughout the sales process, so should your content format. When a lead becomes a strong opportunity, the use of desktop to view content becomes more prevalent.
- Traditional times to send content may no longer apply. Seasoned marketers have often delegated sending content on Tuesday morning through Thursday afternoon. However, according to HBR, visits have become more evenly distributed across all week days. In addition, they found that “[Even] if initially engaged [during the week], a prospect reading a piece on Wednesday often returns for a longer visit on the weekend.”
All of these suggestions provide great food for thought for those working in the public sector market, and lead to the ultimate question: do these strategies work for the B2G market?
To answer this question, we invite you to join us for a breakfast briefing: Content Marketing Review: Federal & Beyond on May 9. We’ll share how public sector decision-makers at the federal, state and local levels are responding to content: what types of content they prefer, how much time they want to spend with it, what they want to get out of it, and where they go to get it. After the results briefing, a panel of expert marketers will share best practices from their own experiences.
Emerging technologies have afforded workers today a different kind of environment. Whether it’s the opportunity to telecommute, flexible schedules, remote offices or shared work spaces, the way we do business has evolved from the traditional 9-5 of days past. Our own studies of the federal workforce have further reinforced this notion. While we have been pointing this out to federal marketers for the past year and a half, it now has a name.
A recent article by Inc, has given a title to this blurred line between our work life and our personal life. Instead of a work-life balance, this is called work-life integration. Work-life integration, for many, eliminates hard boundaries and is ideal for professionals who want to shape their own workday. It allows them to incorporate parts of their personal life throughout the day, including needs brought on by children, elderly parents, or other activities. However, for others, this integration is a negative evolution, forcing them to over-incorporate work into every part of their life, while not giving personal parts of their life the same kind of priority.
Whether workers are embracing this, or fighting it, work-life integration also affects how we consume media and communications for work. Enabled by mobile technology, it is not surprising to find professionals checking personal emails or visiting social sites throughout the workday. Conversely the same technology allows them to just as easily check work emails or read online articles during personal time.
Does work-life integration affect federal workers as well? While workers at some agencies are restricted by security concerns, according to a couple of Market Connections studies, the resounding answer is YES.
According to a Mobility PulsePoll™ of federal audiences and their mobile activity, we found that 4 out of 5 felt mobile devices caused an increase of 3 or more work hours by being connected. Nine out of ten admitted to checking work email on their mobile devices on weeknights and weekends and three quarters were checking their work email during vacation!
We have also asked federal employees about their teleworking frequency in our annual Federal Media & Marketing Study. Approximately one quarter stated they were teleworking one day a week or more, with civilian agencies leading the pack and those in the DC area participating more often than those outside.
We also learned that one-quarter of federal employees in the DC area commuting by bus or rail checked their work emails during their commute, in this “grey” period between personal and work time, they were conducting work-related activities.
To learn more about the blurring of work and personal life and what it means for marketing, we recently explored attitudes toward targeted advertising. According to our research, nearly two-thirds admitted to seeing work-related advertising on websites they visit for personal reasons. Another four in ten said they saw work advertising in their personal social media accounts (excluding LinkedIn). With the concern that work ads might be seen as “intrusive” the question then became – had you ever clicked on work-related advertising you saw on sites visited for personal reasons or social media? Nearly half admitted to having had clicked on a work-related ad when visiting their personal social media, and over half admitted to having had clicked on one when visiting a website for personal reasons. Clearly this isn’t putting people off (it might actually be another pathway to them!)
What does this mean for those of us trying to reach federal audiences? Like the rest of us, federal workers are also experiencing a work-life integration and those looking to market to them should take this into consideration when putting together their marketing strategies. Marketing and media placement do not necessarily have to follow traditional 9-5 work schedules or traditional media channels.
However, if reaching them during non-traditional hours is something you’re willing to test, consider the following: 1. Which media/communications channels they are visiting; 2. Not all content during this time is equal. Take into account what type of marketing they are more open to unlocking (Video? Podcasts?); and 3. Consider your goals for marketing during non-traditional work hours and tailor your efforts to align with your goals. For example, social media may increase brand awareness, while website placement or earned media might be better to increase the depth of understanding of your products and services. Understand the goals of your marketing and what you want them to take away from your efforts.
To learn more about the media habits of those in the federal workforce, visit Market Connections Federal Central for the latest studies, blogs, and the Federal Media & Marketing dashboard, a one of a kind database that provides detailed information on the media and marketing habits of thousands of federal workers, inside and outside the beltway, across all agencies, product categories and decision-making levels.
Marketing IT Offerings: Ensure your messaging is on target with helping government improve performance, customer experience and operational costs.
Traditional commercial tactics do not always translate seamlessly into the public sector market. Aligning your message to your customer’s mission needs and outcomes, marketing to multiple agency stakeholders (from technologists to procurement professionals) and transitioning your position from vendor to partner/educator can significantly improve the strength of your marketing and messaging to this niche market.
Lou Anne Brossman and Steve Watkins from Government Marketing University interview marketing executives Liz Anthony (ViON Corporation), Aaron Heffron (Market Connections) and Milo Speranzo (Dell EMC) about effectively marketing IT service offerings in the public sector. This discussion provides fellow government marketers insights and best practices for the evolving government IT landscape.
- Your marketing collateral should showcase BOTH your services AND your product offerings.
- Federal marketing is evolving from product to solution focus. Your marketing should focus on how you can help your customers meet their mission, not their bottom line.
- Educating your customer is essential to solution marketing (and selling.) Help them understand all aspects of the solution to their current problems, and review solutions to the problems they haven’t even realized they have yet.
- Newer “As A Service” models require multiple messages. Multiple audiences play a role including technologists, compliance and procurement professionals.
- Do not treat the government as its own vertical, but as a robust economy with its own verticals. Customize your marketing to different verticals within the public sector economy you are going for (state, local, federal, agency).
- If you are new to government or vertical, leverage any name brand equity you may have in the commercial space, across other verticals or even other products to get a leg up in the market. It’s not completely necessary to run away from your established commercial roots.
- Consider the future buyers in the public sector audience and how they gather information – generational turnover in leadership positions requires a trusted partner to help guide them.
- With so many events and media outlets in the public sector space, be strategic on where you spend valuable time, energy and resources. Triangulate where your customer and their mission aligns with your offerings and solutions and place your focus there.
- Look at opportunities to partner with associations and volunteer opportunities in areas of focus for your government customers.
- Utilize great free resources such as fbo.gov, performance.gov, fpds.gov and other government sites.
Listen to the full podcast. (Podcast length: 52 minutes)
Lessons from the Federal Media and Marketing Study
Federal government employees are visiting social media sites more frequently than ever before. Across the board, social media use has increased, including upticks in the use of Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. But the increases in all of these paled in comparison to the millennial darling Instagram-54% growth from 2017 to 2018! We’ll go into more on Instagram in a little bit…
Personal mobile devices have blurred the lines between one’s work and personal lives, especially on social media. Even if work devices have certain social media sites blocked, personal devices, a 24/7 companion for many, have made it so social media marketing can’t be ignored and can be a dynamic tool for marketers. According to the study, a majority of feds (62%) acknowledged having seen work-related advertising while they are visiting sites (including social media) for personal use, and of those, over half (57%) acknowledged having had clicked through at some point.
So, you may ask “How do I make sure my company’s social media content is engaging and clickable?” Social Media Today points to visualization: “Visuals are key to maximizing your social media presence, and the emergence of image-based formats like Stories has only exacerbated this.”
Now back to the noted rise in Instagram… the growth in popularity of Instagram and story functions across social media sites is driven by imagery, including infographics, and can increase your visibility and help drive click-through and readership. Don’t worry that your brand will be co-located with consumer brands and pictures of pets; the mash up of those things is what makes it more visible and appealing to today’s audience. The “work brain” and “home brain” operate together in today’s younger audience.
To help B2G marketers, Market Connections looks at resources and best practices to help our clients achieve goals for reaching their public-sector audiences.
With that in mind, we are sharing Social Media Today’s article on 2019 Social Media Optimization Guide. This guide provides the latest data on dimensions needed for all aspects of visual imagery on social media including popular sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, and will help prevent marketers from making the most common mistakes such as using incorrect sizes or resolutions that can inadvertently make posts or sites appear unpolished and unprofessional.
Market Connections’ action-based research can also support your federal marketing needs by identifying the best platforms to reach your target audience with our Federal Media & Marketing dashboard or creating primary, research-based thought leadership and marketing content (including infographics, white papers, webinars and blogs) you can use to share across social media and other market channels.
Learn how social media and other marketing tactics should fit into your overall strategy for reaching federal audiences. Watch a recording of part one of our three-part webinar series, Marketing Tactics & the Federal Environment.
Finally, we invite you to join us for our upcoming webinar: Media Habits in a Time of Change: A Federal Media & Marketing Study Webinar on Wednesday, February 13 from 2-2:30 PM EST.