marketing to the federal government

Federal commute timesLast week, Market Connections revealed results from the 9th annual Federal Media and Marketing Study (FMMS) followed by a moderated panel of expert federal marketers. During this discussion, panelists noted key data points from this year’s study results they felt were particularly interesting as they plan their 2018 marketing strategies:

  • In the DC market, federal decision-makers spend an average of 46-55 minutes commuting to and from work. This is a perfect opportunity to engage with your audience when they are most captive. Those who take private transportation listen to the radio: music (55%), news (46%) or talk radio (38%). Those who take public transportation read books (43%), respond to personal email (38%) or listen to radio music (31%).
  • Develop white papers, case studies, and webinar as part of your collateral for this audience. The level of trust for these assets created by third parties has increased from 2016 to 2017. It is important to educate your audience and help them find solutions to the problems they face.
  • The phenomena of “fake news” impacts news credibility  with 66% noting some level of impact. This could explain why feds are accessing more sources of media and spending more time with media throughout the workday, with 61% accessing online news and 57% watching the news, up from 54% and 51% respectively.

With these trends, and others, in mind, the expert panel of federal marketers provided their insights into the key takeaways from the data.

Grant McLaughlin, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Booz Allen Hamilton

Grant McLaughlinThis research, and conducting research is key. The insights are invaluable. Plan for it far enough in advance so that you the flexibility to act on the insights.

The data around commute time and habits was particularly interesting, and it seems federal marketers should be able to capitalize on it. Whether it’s attracting talent to your organization or establishing authority as a thought leader with key prospects. Would sponsored content, radio or podcasts be a good strategy? Whatever the answer, make sure you are clear on what they are going to learn and the benefit to them is clear.

Melissa L. Koskovich, Senior Vice President for Communications & Marketing, Leidos Inc.

Melissa KoskovichThe media mix is fascinating, particularly with the “fake news” element thrown in. With more people accessing more media sources, it is an opportunity for federal marketers. Everyone should look at the media mix from the study and compare it to their plans, and make adjustments now. Once that is done, continue the journey of differentiation. Having a strong message and articulating it are imperative for success.


Lisa De Luca, Senior Manager, Public Sector Marketing, Veritas Technologies LLC

Lisa De LucaDifferentiation and capturing the audience’s attention are more important than ever as decision-makers have more and more media sources to choose from. Look at how to position your company to be considered a thought leader. Ask yourself “How do I make myself relevant in this market?”

Also, foster partnerships. That’s an opportunity federal marketers can leverage to make a larger impact.


Lisa Dezutti, President & CEO, Market Connections, Inc.

Lisa Dezzutti

Make sure you understand your customer. When budgets are tight, there is a tendency to “peanut butter” the message—spreading one message out over the whole market. Doing that simply does not work in this market. Take a deeper look at your plan and make sure have tightened the message to fit the audience of a particular media property.



Francis Rose, Panel Moderator and Host, Government Matters & Government Matters Defense

Francis RoseWhen approaching properties such as Government Matters, be clear about what problem you are trying to solve. Are you educating them or creating a bit controversy? What do you bring to the conversation? What will your prospect learn? That is how you get invited to shows, and how you reach the audience.


Download the Overview:

Download the report to see how the study results may impact your 2018 media mix and strategy.

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Get in-depth insights with the FMMS data tool. This is a dynamic web-based reporting tool that allows you to cross-tabulate survey results to create your own customized data views, such as job title and product purchases or job title and website visits or publication readership.

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research gives impact with government buyersThere are two certainties in today’s government contracting arena:

  1. Uncertainty
  2. How contractors reach decision makers has fundamentally changed

To address those two certainties, contractors need to truly differentiate themselves. Agencies don’t want general promises of innovation; they want to know specifically how you will help them and they want to see how you’ve done it before. Marketing and content strategies that demonstrate a deep understanding of the unique challenges clients face and expertise in addressing it build a trusted advisor relationship, and have an impact.

That means the value of targeted and research-driven marketing communications has never been more vital for government contractors. From ensuring your messages reach the right government decision makers to testing brand messages, winning contractors invest in marketing strategies that provide the most return-on-investment (ROI).

Three Ways Research Gives Impact with the Marketing Strategy

  1. Research shows where to reach buyers

Contractors need to know where they can target and influence potential buyers. Market research provides insight into the marketing channels that will have the greatest impact in reaching prospects — whether through the press, on their own web properties, innovative marketing materials, paid search, or even in sponsored media or events.

  1. Research helps develop messages that land with the right audience

Research is vital for shaping and testing messages to ensure they resonate with the intended audience, and for competitive analysis with real market feedback of your offerings as compared to your competitors. While research requires an upfront investment, the ROI is much greater as it guides how dollars are spent and provides a method for measuring efforts and strategies over time.

  1. Research helps identify market influencers

Reporters used to be the primary market influencers, but social media has changed the landscape. Today you have a host of thought leaders across the government, industry, and academia who have enormous followings on blogs and platforms like Twitter. The world of influencers has expanded tremendously, and strategies have to adapt to engage and build relationships with these individuals. The key is to determine who is leading the critical discussions, the best marketing channels for reaching them, and delivering content that is useful, timely, and interesting. Research provides those answers.

effective delivery channelsNot if you’re selling to the federal government.

The 2017 Federal Content Market Review asked federal decision makers what content delivery channels are most effective. Almost three quarters said email (just behind corporate websites and search engines).

When we talk to our customers about their marketing strategies, they’re often reluctant to do an email campaign because they don’t want to annoy their list. The data shows, and experts agree, if the campaign provides information that will help your customers, then it won’t annoy them.

How do you do that? We found this great A to Z guide to email marketing from SendGrid. On the subject of frequency, the guide says:

“If you’re watching your engagement metrics, then you should be able to derive how often your recipients would like to be contacted. An even better way to figure out how often your recipients want to be emailed is by giving them an opportunity to tell you in a preference center! A preference center is a powerful tool that helps maintain the right expectations between the sender and the recipient.”

All 26 tips provide wonderful guidance on how to effectively use email marketing. And if you need some inspiration, Hubspot compiled some great examples of email marketing campaigns. View them here.

merritt group

Matt Donovan, Vice President Government, Merritt Group

Merritt Group

Jayson Schkloven, Executive Vice President and Partner, Merritt Group

This Thursday, Market Connections and Merritt Group will release the results of the 2017 Federal Content Marketing Study. We thought we’d give you a sneak peek and discuss a few of the findings with Merritt Group Executive Vice President and Partner, Jayson Schkloven, and Vice President Government, Matt Donovan.

MC: The data shows a need to develop different types of content for different stages of the buying process. Where should contractors faced with tight budgets start?

Jayson: We often advise our clients to get as far left of the RFP as possible. Contractors need to be able to win the business before the RFP is even released. We advise clients to build thought leadership content up front as requirements are still being investigated and defined; content that positions them as experts on key topics and trends in the eyes of the federal buyer before the RFI or RFP is even released. That positions the contractor as a go-to authority when the RFI or RFP is being shaped, well before it hits the street.

Matt: I completely agree. Especially from an awareness and market education perspective – you must get as far left of the RFP as you possibly can to avoid being left out.

This process is so different from the commercial sector where the stages of the buyer’s journey progress to that final transaction. In the federal market, if you’re not included in the RFP, you’ve missed your chance to compete before those stages unfold.

Jayson: This initial type of content is about thought leadership, be it white papers or eBooks or position pieces. But the study data shows as buyers get further along in the buying cycle, they have different content needs; at this point they want to see case studies, demos or a use case. This is a challenge when contractors can’t name their federal clients.

MC: What is your advice?

Jayson: Use cases and case studies are always hard for marketers to secure in the federal space. If you have a client champion that is willing to be featured in a case study, that is always going to be money well-spent and should be a priority. Once the case study is published, you can always use that to inform other content assets and thought leadership themes for the earlier stages in the buying process.

Matt: Agreed. In terms of that first touch, aim to be educational or tell them something they don’t already know about a critical pain point or challenge. Industry research has proven to be fantastic way to build awareness and start a dialogue that can lead into the following phases of the buying cycle.

MC: As federal decision makers are looking for that information, we know from various studies they face technical barriers to accessing some types of content, from websites that are blocked on work devices to bandwidth. We also know more and more, they are using their personal mobile devices to access content.

With that in mind, the study shows that almost one-third of contractors don’t take those existing barriers into account when developing content. What are your thoughts on that?

Matt: I think it’s essential to have a full understanding of any limits or barriers to communications federal agencies face. This market is unique in terms of email restrictions, or restricted social platforms and websites – especially within DoD and Intel. Will emails get through? Are social media sites blocked or prohibited during work hours?

But the thing to remember is many federal decision-makers are bringing their own devices to work and consuming content outside of work.

Jayson: The data also showed federal buyers are consuming content on the commute. When I see that, it begs the question: what are vendors and contractors who are trying to reach the federal audience doing to take advantage of this in new and innovative ways? Are they building websites and assets with a mobile-first approach?

Mobile has become a huge platform for content consumption and it continues to grow. Ensuring your website is responsive and mobile-friendly is table stakes at this point. But thinking a little bit more creatively about types of mobile content, like a podcast series or digital pocket guide, is something we are doing a lot more of with our clients. Or developing programmatic ad campaigns targeting mobile audiences or paid social campaigns on mobile platforms like Facebook Messenger; there are so many options.

Matt: Absolutely. Even on the social media piece, I think what the data is saying, and what our clients have noticed, is we’re all human beings; we’re on Facebook and Twitter after work. People don’t stop consuming information outside of the office. So even the tactics and channels that are prohibited at work may still reach the right decision maker and shouldn’t be completely left out of the marketing mix.

seo strategyMC: Part of that marketing mix includes getting found, right? Interestingly, the data shows search engines are the number one channel federal decision makers use to find content. Yet, 40% of contractors are not using search engine marketing (SEM). Do you think search engine optimization (SEO) alone is enough to capture those searches?

Jayson: Regardless of whether you’re investing in SEM, you need to make sure you are practicing good organic SEO. First, make sure you have relevant, pertinent content about your organization and your areas of expertise throughout your site and you are investing in updating it regularly.

I think too many organizations view their website as something they refresh every six months to a year or longer. That type of set-it-and-forget-it approach will not get you ranked organically. With our clients, we’re seeing greater success when they update the content on their site regularly. We sometimes develop a quarterly web strategy or monthly editorial calendar for their websites. In both cases, we build good content that is rich with targeted organic search terms that are also truly relevant.

It’s not about trying to game the search engines. The search algorithms have gotten too smart and those tactics can hurt more than they help your ranking. The key is to have a site that’s mobile friendly, follows good structure, is easy for search engines to index with content, and is updated regularly.

Matt: There is absolutely a place for SEM – it can be cost effective and search engines are where most of us start when we’re collecting information on a major purchase. But whether it’s organic with SEO or whether you’re using a paid strategy, it goes back to valuable content. If there isn’t any stickiness or engagement, and it’s not driving a follow-up action, the click didn’t mean much.

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By far, the most widely read article on FedPulse is Let’s Talk Price: How Much Does Research Cost? This makes sense because it’s important to know what the investment will be when you decide to do a market research project. In the last few years, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of online surveys we do, and we thought it would be useful to dedicate an article to the cost of online market research. In this two-part series, we discuss what goes into an online research project (and consequently why it isn’t free) and delve deeper into the importance of using panels.

An online quantitative survey project has both variable and fixed costs. Variable costs of online market research include:

  • The audience. The more specialized or high-level the audience, the more it will cost to reach its members. General consumer surveys are less expensive to field relative to more targeted audiences such as C-level executives, international respondents or specific industries such as healthcare or government. We often use panels — pre-screened and selected communities of people who have applied to take surveys continually in return for some form of compensation — to reach these high-level audiences. (We go into more depth about using panels in Part 2).
  • The number of surveys. The goal of any quantitative survey project is to obtain a sample of respondents that represents the population with some degree of precision and confidence level. Generally the larger the sample, the lower the margin of error. The appropriate sample size depends on the client’s needs.
  • Survey length. With a longer survey, the researcher may encounter something called “respondent fatigue” when possible respondents don’t complete the survey. To prevent that, a bigger incentive or stipend is provided. A longer field window may be needed to get the number of completes we’re seeking.
  • Sometimes quotas are set to ensure that a specific segment is sufficiently represented in a sample. For example, in federal research, quotas are often set to capture Defense agency respondents. This allows us to analyze the data and determine if there are significant differences between segments. The more quotas set, the greater the cost.

Variable costs depend on your goals and the type of online survey you are doing. There are also fixed costs associated with every online survey:

  • Online survey software licensing. Generally reputable research firms license sophisticated software to aid with online survey fielding. Though free software is available, licensed software allows greater flexibility and sophistication in formatting, branching, piping, display of images and video etc.
  • Survey design. Regardless of the type of market research you are doing, you need the survey questionnaire. A reputable research firm makes sure the survey is worded properly (not asking leading questions) and scales correctly.
  • Data tabulation and report preparation. Research firms license or own statistical software packages that help with data tabulation and analysis — a key part of the research project. From simple frequencies and descriptives to advanced analytics, trained personnel use this software to analyze results and prepare the client report.
  • Project management.Conducting any market research involves coordinating many components, which takes the skill of an experienced project manager.

While online surveys are convenient and yield great results — often faster than other methods — there is much that goes into conducting them in a manner that meets your goals.

Next week in Part 2 of this miniseries, we will discuss why it often makes sense to use panels in online research.

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