COVID-19 upended the way we do business, including in-person events.
For over two years now, government contractors have wondered when and how federal events will get back to “normal”— shaking hands; networking; and seeing clients, vendors and colleagues face-to-face.
In the past year, attempts to have in-person events have happened in fits and starts. Surges in COVID cases and new variants partnered with government policies regarding event requirements all but pushed us completely back to virtual.
But federal employees are ready to get back to “normal.” Market Connections teamed with Government Marketing University to survey federal employees on their feelings about attending events for the upcoming training Fusing Gov’t & Industry: Event Go/No Go? Half of the respondents said they plan to attend in-person events this year. Of these, a majority, four out of five say they would attend one to three events in person, numbers that match what respondents said in 2019 before the pandemic.
For those focused on the defense market, the news is even better. Respondents across defense stated they were more likely to attend everything from micro- to large-scale events at higher percentages than their federal civilian counterparts. The success of the latest AFCEA West supports this finding. (Editorial recap of event success from fellow federal marketer Sheri Ascencio can be found here.)
Event Value Proposition
To host successful face-to-face events, we must change how we view them. A higher focus on the value proposition in attending is key. What will attendees gain from the event topic/content, speakers, opportunities for product demos and networking? These, along with logistics such as length, location, and requirements should all be considered.
When asked what drives event attendance in a 2019 event webinar survey, eight in ten respondents said the topic is the key driver. Nearly half mentioned networking opportunities and one-third mentioned the keynote speaker. One respondent said they attend events “(to) learn about technology, meet with vendors, meet other IT people, or (for an) interesting topic.” Another respondent from Homeland Security had a similar response: “(To) expand my knowledge and understanding of the topic.”
According to the 2021 Content Marketing Review, even in the midst of COVID, events (both virtual and in person) top the list (81% of federal respondents) as the most effective channel for disseminating content— topping search engines, email, corporate sites and news sites. These numbers further confirm that content is a key factor for the event strategy.
New Factors to Consider: Remote Work and Hybrid Events
In addition, COVID not only changed the way we met, but how and where we work. Today, 86% of federal employees work remotely at least part-time and over half work remotely full-time. This reality begs the question of whether government employees will be willing to attend an in-person event on a day they work from home, or on one of the only days that they come into the office. In short, what would drive them to step away to attend in-person?
Some event organizers are responding to this question by considering a hybrid event format. Yet there is fear that hybrid events will cannibalize the opportunity to meet with customers in person, historically the best way to forge strong relationships.
The bottom line is event organizers want attendees to come in-person. What can you do to drive attendees to make that decision rather watching comfortably from their couch?
To answer this and other questions on event drivers, deterrents, and the future of federal face-to-face events, attend Government Marketing University’s latest training, Fusing Gov’t & Industry: Event Go/No Go? and set your 2022 events up for success.
Brought to you by Market Connections’ strategic partner, Government Marketing University, GAIN 2021 is the premier government marketing conference where you will learn along with the brightest minds in the government marketing community.
GAIN 2021 will have all the hottest content and speakers to ensure you’re “In the Know”. Hear the latest tips and techniques in reaching your government audience by checking out their agenda and registering today. You can count on Government Marketing University to lead the way with incredible and innovative training content like Creating a Holistic Marketing Strategy, Staying Agile in an Evolving Landscape, Translating Policies and Mandates into Actionable Campaigns and so much more.
Check out their new format of a 3-part series with episodes streaming over a 3-week period so you can watch and learn at your own pace.
Streaming in November 2021:
- Episode #1 Strategic Marketing: Streaming Thursday, November 4th
- Episode #2 Government Personas: Streaming Thursday, November 11th
- Episode #3 Campaign Strategy: Streaming Thursday, November 18th
On Tailoring Content Marketing to Target Agencies
Following the Content Marketing Review release, we reached out to our strategic partner, Government Marketing University’s expert COO and co-founder, Stephanie Geiger to share some tactical advice for content creation for government marketers looking to reach audiences with agency-based marketing.
Watch the interview video or read the Q&A below for more details.
AH: Greetings everybody and welcome to the latest update after our Content Marketing Review (here just a couple of weeks ago), my name is Aaron Heffron and I am the president of MC and we’ve been doing these video follow-ups with some leading marketers around the industry to give us a little color and context about the research we did recently, hopefully many of you already listened in to that presentation, and today I welcome Stephanie Geiger who is COO and cofounder of Government Marketing University. Welcome, Stephanie.
SG: Thanks, Aaron. Hey, how are you?
AH: Doing just fine. So, thank you for joining. Government Marketing University has been a partner of ours, for I can’t even remember how long now… it’s been many years.
SG: Almost since the beginning.
AH: Almost since the beginning, yes. It’s great. You guys do a lot of great things out for the marketing community within the public sector. Before we get started, can you tell me a little bit about what Government Marketing University is doing?
SG: Sure, yeah. So, we’re basically a marketplace of knowledge. What we’ve been doing since we launched back in 2015 is to bring together a place where we have all sorts of different experts from across the public sector, industry, current and former government, thought leaders, media – all sorts of folks from across the community – in order to really help provide education, training, and opportunities to network and connect with individuals and peers.
We’ve specifically been partnering with Market Connections since we got launched to help to bring surveys and focus groups and other valuable information and gathering different types of content and statistics for our marketers to really help them and empower them throughout their entire career and journey within the government marketing space. We have a couple of things coming up together. We’re excited to launch our visionary series that’s going to be coming to market soon. We’re going to be interviewing some various experts within the industry and bringing some snippets of educational content for our marketers.
AH: Yeah, I look forward to those. Those are great conversations we had with some senior marketers in the space. I’m excited about that coming out. But one of the things I know that has come up in those conversations has been the idea of account or agency-based marketing as it’s sometimes called. Tell me how that connects to the content marketing, how do those go hand and glove with each other?
SG: Sure, so I think a lot of marketers freak out when they think, “How can I do agency-based marketing when it comes to content? I’m going to have to have 15 different pieces right, so I can market to each of the various agencies and their specific missions that I’m trying to craft messages to.” But the way that I approach agency-based marketing is, if you have smaller budgets, limited bandwidth, really zero in on one or two agencies that you feel that might be a little bit lower hanging fruit, you feel might be able to make some initial traction in, and instead of creating multiple assets, start to pick one that can serve as kind of a multi-purpose asset.
So, think about a one-minute white paper, that you can flip out some potential snippets to use on social media or you’re tagging those key influencers or decision-makers within that agency, or maybe do a podcast, right? Where you can pull out some of that content and flip it into a blog post. Capitalizing on that time you have with your internal subject matter experts to elicit that information, all those great juicy nuggets, and then being able to use that in a multi-purpose way, I feel like it’s really the best use of your time in order to start making headway. Start small and then make impact and figure out how you can continue to grow that. Repeatable process-driven marketing is always a great way to approach agency-based marketing.
AH: So, you’re saying, “Create this repository or pool of information, and rather than recreating that pool of information for each agency you want to go after, you’re cherry-picking within that?” Am I accurately laying that out?
SG: Yeah, absolutely. So, if you’re focusing on one particular agency (right?), getting to know them, really zeroing in on them… instead of trying to do agency-based marketing across five to seven targets (right?), zero in on one to two and create that repository that you can draw from in order to make sure you’re creating those customized assets.
AH: That’s interesting. We hear a lot, and that bears out in the Content Marketing Review, that the long-form written content is invaluable to them. Everything is in one place – you have everything there. You’re talking (a little bit), kind of shorter form content. So, what are those couple things you need to think about in that shorter form content that can still have some impact?
SG: I think, with any of this, we know that there are still audiences that like that longer-form content. So, it’s really understanding the consumption needs and mapping to those, as far as the type of content we push out – I think, like a technical role (right?), who always wants a 4-6 page white paper, but then somebody from a business perspective, where maybe an infographic or these one-minute white papers like I talked about, which are kind of a hybrid between some technical specs that you see in a white paper and a more of an “infographic-y” feel with some statistics – so we like to zero in on the opportunity of mapping the need and the content piece.
So, not just writing a long-form piece of content because you think it’s going to sound great, and your subject matter expert was really happy to share those delicious insights with you but figuring out what it is that is going to actually help ensure that the piece gets read. And we know historically that shorter form content is starting to become much more prominent because of COVID and shorter attention spans. So, as you’re looking for ways to draw the attention, find ways to have teaser copy as you’re posting it out on your social media or find ways to create something that might have traditionally been in a longer form, that can be represented in maybe a more of a graphical or shorter form capacity.
AH: I’ve heard from some of our clients that some of the most effective content they have isn’t necessarily have a lot of bells and whistles to it, it’s that it’s as targeted to that particular answering to that particular question as they can, because they’re seeking that information. It could just be a guy or a woman with a whiteboard behind them sketching something out, but it’s exactly asking their question. So, it’s important to really know what those questions are and what the needs are out there.
SG: Absolutely. Use cases are great (right?) because you can create a couple of use cases that map to your core values and capabilities that can be a multi-agency mechanism and support. So, if you think you have something that you can apply widely across civilian agencies, we’ll come up with that use case and find some different types of consumable opportunities for that (right?). You can have a short video like you mentioned, you can have a podcast Q&A, have some versatility (right?) in the types of content that will still allow you to reach that diverse influencer and decision-maker audience.
AH: So, keeping this short and to the point – make it consumer-friendly, as we’re talking about – last parting words… What’s one bit of tactical advice that you would give folks as they’re looking at their content plan or trying to figure out how to get their content, what’s that one tactical takeaway you can give?
SG: Well, I mean… I think… not to keep going back to COVID, but if COVID has taught us anything it’s to be agile. Work to identify those key milestones or goals within your content marketing strategy but then allow for some flexibility to be able to map to what’s going on in the market. You think about the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) or the new executive order on cybersecurity. You need to allow some flexibility so you can respond and allow yourself some opportunity for timely responses. So that you’re ensuring that you have your core pieces intact every year, but you have some flexibility to be responsive and timely in a market.
AH: Well, that’s good advice, being agile and flexible. You can never go wrong in having that for you. So, thank you to Stephanie. Thanks for taking the time today, appreciate it. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and get out into the sunshine today. So, it’s wonderful having you as a partner and glad to have you today.
SG: Appreciate you, thank you!
ABOUT THE CONTENT MARKETING REVIEW
Our biennial study surveys government IT decision-makers to understand what types of marketing assets they find most useful and influential during the buying process, what information the content should contain, and where they are going to look for content. Over the years, the audience has expanded from federal decision-makers to include the full gamut of the public sector market, including state and local and education.
Whether it’s blogs, white papers, videos, podcasts, or reports: public sector decision-makers turn to thought-leading sources like these to inform their buying decisions, learn about new technologies, and gauge vendors. Results from our study provide insights followed by best practices for public sector marketers looking to create content marketing to reach and influence their target FED and SLED customers and prospects.
In its fifth year, Government Marketing University’s GAIN conference pulled together federal marketers, C-level executives at federal agencies, and mainstream marketing experts to share best practices, insights, tools and advice in an effort to educate federal marketers.
We pulled together five key takeaways from this year’s virtual conference to share with you.
1. Do your research.
A common theme among all C-level government executives was their desire for government contractors to “do their homework” before calling on them. This included:
- Researching strategic plans, goals and mission
- Identifying any questions they might have
- Understanding their customers’ experience
- Formulating a preliminary plan as to how you can help them improve service to their customers
You can find this information by going beyond agency websites, to the OMB dashboard as well as reading about agencies in federal publications to find what their chiefs are saying publicly, and stories focused on agency needs. It’s also important to pay attention to virtual and in-person events and conferences where agency staff are speaking and what they are saying. Connect the dots and understand their needs.
Think beyond what is available publicly, and truly understand your target audience’s unique needs through custom research. Effective, targeted questioning may help answer questions about awareness, challenges, needs and where they are on their customer journey related to your products and services. Thought leadership research can help you understand those needs while also giving you the fodder to create content that connects those dots.
2. Focus below federal.
GAIN’s government speakers and marketing experts spoke on the importance of creating content that was focused more narrowly than just a generic federal audience, using a more agency-based marketing approach. “Respect that the mission is unique. It’s not just government… but there are over 400 agencies who all do things differently.” Don’t give a standard pitch to a government customer; ensure you target that agency. Edit your message to their mission.
One should also consider where to place this content. Focus on not only general federally-focused publications, websites, and associations, but also those niche sites and organizations focused on your target agency. Be where they go for information.
The Federal Media & Marketing Study can provide you more details based on agency, product/service type or location.
3. One size does not fit all.
As marketers, we already know all too well, content is king. However, when creating content, marketers often wonder, what is the type of content my target customer WANTS?
When creating your content, make sure you build it out into DIFFERENT formats. Consider how people like to receive information. When asked across the four days, the government speakers varied in their preferences. Some mentioned they preferred white papers, while others said case studies and testimonials. Some prefer to read, others to listen, while others like to watch. Consider length and language of content. This confirms what we have seen in our Content Marketing Review, a biennial study which asks government employees about their preferences around content marketing.
If your content is tech heavy, you may want to consider content for both the techy and the end-user who is not so tech-savvy. In addition to the Content Marketing Review, you may also want to consider our Federal IT (FIT) Personas Study that highlights preferences on a deeper level and includes preferences and priorities of key personas for both civilian and defense federal IT markets.
4. Don’t sell, story-tell.
Regardless of format, whether it’s content creation or a meeting with your customer, you need to go beyond “selling your product or service.” Share a story on how you have solved problems for other agencies in the past. As one speaker put it, storytelling may “open their aperture” to problems they didn’t even know they may encounter. Go beyond “product talk,” and tell your story.
This can be done in multiple ways. One speaker suggested scheduling a “virtual coffee break/lunch” where you meet and share a story on how you have solved a problem in the past. Other speakers suggested case studies or use cases. Be authentic. Make it personal and share your real human experience.
And finally, and most importantly, if given the opportunity to meet, listen. Don’t make it a presentation, but a conversation. Provide your customer the space to also share their problems and concerns and tell their story too.
5. Once won, don’t lose.
Adriane Burton, CIO, Office of Information Technology, Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) reminded vendors not to be “short-sighted.” She noted that oftentimes once a contract was won, many of the people that the agency was familiar with would disappear.
Once a contract is won, vendors need to continue to deliver results and ensure that customers are really happy.
When you’re sitting in the same space as the customer, are you sure they would be willing to tell you about creeping concerns? In a remote work environment when you are NOT in front of your customer, can you tell if they are satisfied with your services or products? With potential millions of dollars at risk, ensure small problems do not snowball into larger ones that can risk your contract renewal. Consider hiring a third-party firm to find out your customer’s true level of satisfaction.
To learn more about GAIN 2020 and to watch the recorded sessions, visit: https://thegainconference.com/
Brought to you by Market Connections’ strategic partner, Government Marketing University, GAIN 2020 is the premier government marketing conference where you will learn along with the brightest minds in the government marketing community. This year’s conference will be virtual over the course of four days in November with two-hour segments each day focused on the four core areas: Grow, Accelerate, Innovate and Network. (GAIN!)
Each day you will hear from dynamic speakers followed by keynote commentary brought to you by senior government marketers, a government CIO, CISO and program manager will be in the virtual house along with a stellar line up of experts delivering insightful training workshops and more!
Attendees will be provided with tools, insights and inspiration needed to take their 2021 government marketing to the next level via an online environment that can be accessed anywhere.
Tuesday, November 10th
10:00 a.m. thru 12:00 noon EST
Thursday, November 12th
1:00 p.m. thru 3:00 p.m. EST
Tuesday, November 17th
10:00 a.m. thru 12:30 p.m. EST (GAINER Awards)
Thursday, November 19th
1:00 p.m. thru 3:00 p.m. EST
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 the 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.
Market Connections CEO, Lisa Dezzutti received Government Marketing University’s second annual Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 GAIN Conference on Tuesday, November 12. Unable to attend, President Aaron Heffron accepted the award on her behalf.
With over 30 years of experience in the government marketing community, Lisa was recognized for her contributions to the industry, including starting market research firm, Market Connections, serving as Board President for Women in Technology and years of service at GTSI.
In presenting the award on behalf of Government Marketing University, Mark Amtower, Managing Partner at Amtower & Company and first annual Lifetime Achievement Award winner shared a few words about Lisa, “The contributions of Lisa and her team at Market Connections has helped us produce some absolutely great marketing programs, not in glam and glitz, but in real results, things that actually work… I rely on Market Connections like no other source in this market for my education.”
While she was unable to accept in person, Lisa did send a few notes of appreciation, “I am so deeply honored to receive it and terribly disappointed not to be here to receive it in person. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to be a part of the government contracting industry for the last 30 years.” She continued by noting those in the audience, by saying, “I have had the opportunity to work with and get to know many talented people, many who I call friends, many who are in the audience today. My friends and colleagues are the real reward after 30 years in this industry.”
To learn more about the GAIN Conference and see all 2019 GAINer awardees, visit www.theGAINconference.com.