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 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
While federal workers are not necessarily learning new dance moves on TikTok during the workday, they are seeing work-related ads on Facebook, connecting on LinkedIn and following current events on Twitter. Personal devices are present in the workplace and provide access to social media throughout the day. But as with any digital media, preferences can change, usage varies by age and the level of influence can differ by platform.
To understand federal decision-makers’ media usage habits and trends, for over a decade, Market Connections conducts an annual Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS). In response to the uptick in the use of social media among the general public, within this study we also ask federal decision-makers about the top social media websites they are using.
Do Feds Access Social Media at Work?
People often think that security measures may keep federal employees from checking social media at work, forcing employees to drop their phones at security or leave them in their cars. However, the study found three-quarters of employees can carry personal or work-provided mobile devices into their work environment, providing them a device on which they can possibly check social media. It also found one in ten check their accounts during the workday (in the office), and one in five check during their lunch break. Not surprising, peak usage happens in the evening when four in ten said they check their social media.
What Social Media Sites Are Feds Visiting?
Facebook continues to top the list with three-quarters (76%) of respondents saying they visit the site. In addition, one-third of respondents (38%) noted being daily Facebook users. This is no surprise considering the majority demographic of survey respondents, half of which are 55 or over and one-quarter being 45-54 matches that of Facebook’s fastest-growing audience. (According to AARP, a recent poll found that Facebook use had an 18 percentage point increase among those 50 to 64 years old and a 14 percentage point jump among people 65 and older.)
Second to Facebook, over half (56%) of the respondents listed visiting LinkedIn. However, interesting to note, while it was the second most-used social site, the frequency is much less, with only one in ten (11%) being daily users.
Instagram and Twitter have continued to experience some growth among federal workers, yet both tied for third with four out of ten federal employees sharing they use these sites.
Should We Consider Marketing to Feds on Social Media?
Social media is being used and is certainly a viable way to reach the federal audience, however, questions remain:
- Who are they following on social media?
- How are they using social media?
- How would they react to work-related advertising on social media?
- Are they concerned about privacy?
Are there other challenges and issues for those trying to market to feds via social media that should be considered?
The Federal Media & Marketing Study scratches the surface. To get a deeper understanding of social media usage among federal employees, in support of our federal marketing clients, we conducted a survey to answer these questions and more.
See results and insights from this study at our upcoming webinar: “How Are Federal Employees Using Social Media in the Workplace?” on December 12 from 2-3 PM ET.
Congratulations to the Washington Nationals who recently won the National League Championship Series (NLCS) and are headed to the World Series! Both local and national audiences will be tuning in to see if the Nats can continue their streak and whether their good luck charm (the baby shark) can take them all the way!
During the post-season, not only are players like Scherzer, Turner or Rendon front and center on people’s TV screens and in-person at games to thousands, but so is the venue they are playing in.
Which begs the question, should government contractors be sponsoring or advertising at these highly visible locations? Was this a missed opportunity for many contractors who want to broaden their brand awareness?
When sports teams are performing exceptionally, or are just exceptionally popular, venues such as FedEx Field for Redskins fans, Audi Field for DC United and Washington Spirit and finally Capital One Arena who hosts the 2018 Stanley Cup winning Washington Capitals, 2017 division winners Wizards, and recent 2019 WNBA Champions, Mystics, receive much higher visibility and can provide companies with strong brand exposure.
Companies such as SAP, Geico, Leidos, Boeing, PNC and others have taken advantage of brand exposure at some of these locations, but would this be a smart investment for other companies trying to get in front of federal audiences?
In 2014, Market Connections asked about federal employees viewing sporting events. Thirty percent stated they watched baseball on TV and 31% had attended a Nationals game in person. In 2015, attending Washington Nationals games in person exceeded any other live sports event, with over one-third (37%) of DC respondents stated they had gone to a game.
How did it fare among feds in the summer of 2019?
Among other questions gauging behaviors of federal employees, we asked feds working in the nation’s capital about the venues they visit. This included a list of sports arenas, museums, theaters, music venues and other highly visited locations in and around the city. Marketers looking to increase their company’s brand awareness in the DC metro area, a major hub of federal activity, can use these findings to help them gauge the value of advertising and sponsorship at these local venues.
Together with findings about their other media and marketing habits including where they go for print, TV, radio, digital and social media usage, federal marketers can take these findings to help them develop or refine their marketing strategy to this unique audience.
Join us on October 31 as we release the 2019 Federal Media & Marketing Study at our annual breakfast briefing at the Center for Education at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. Register here.
Can’t make the breakfast? The overview report will be available for purchase for $199. (2018 data available now, 2019 data available mid-November). Learn more.
Need more details? Subscribe to the Federal Media & Marketing dashboard for the most comprehensive data about the habits of federal decision-makers both inside and outside the beltway, across multiple purchase categories, agencies and job roles. Learn more and subscribe.