Headshot Licie Leite By Anna Chiang & Licie Leite

How Technology Providers Can Engage with the Federal Government in Spite of Pandemic Challenges

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have all become more reliant on the Internet. In fact, OpenVault’s Q1 2020 Broadband Insights Report noted that broadband data usage increased 47 percent over Q1 2019 just in the U.S. and Europe. That’s undoubtedly largely driven by the massive shift to remote work.

Federal government employees in particular are experiencing a significant shift in their work environment. Market Connections’ July 2020 report, “How Has COVID-19 Affected Your Federal Customer?,” found that nine out of 10 federal government employees surveyed are currently teleworking, and approximately six in 10 are working outside of normal hours and clocking longer hours. 

Simply put, federal workers, like most of us, are spending more time online than ever before. At no time since the advent of the computer have technology providers had a more captive audience. This creates a great opportunity for companies to market themselves directly to federal decision-makers. The question we get on an almost daily basis is how to best capture the attention of potential federal buyers. Given that most companies are working on tight marketing budgets, we have counseled many of our clients to first and foremost know their audience by building targeted buyer personas. Then, once those are established, invest in two high-value, high-return areas: educational and thought leadership content, and social media campaigns (earned and paid).

Know Your Audience and What Matters To Them

It’s essential for every company to know their audience, but for those aiming to sell products and services to the federal government, that is an understatement. The July 2020 Market Connections “Federal IT Personas” report notes that “the federal market requires marketing that is layered, and tailored, to the version of that market that is of interest to your company. It is not the monolith that the government was 30 years ago. Altogether, it is the largest buyer of technology products and services in the U.S. You wouldn’t market to a large company with only one message and through one channel.” So to break this down, you need to look at the following: federal market, agency type, job responsibilities and decision maker personal values. 

Understanding how the federal government buyer procures technology, appreciating the intricacies of the contracting vehicles and recognizing agencies’ IT agendas are all critical to success in this marketplace. Further, the federal buyer is typically working to adhere to mandates such as Cloud Smart, Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM), Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and the new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) just to name a few. Developing messaging that hits these hot buttons, as well as investing in and creating brand awareness, are critical to demonstrating that your company understands the unique needs of the federal government.

It is also important to recognize that federal agency buyers use different words and phrases than commercial buyers. Agency buyers are focused on “supporting the mission” versus commercial entities that are focused on “value to shareholders.” It pays to be attentive to the slight nuances; for instance, what other industries refer to as “remote working,” government employees refer to as “teleworking.” Understanding and incorporating the correct federal government verbiage will help inform content development and paid social efforts, especially from an SEO standpoint; this will boost relevancy on organic Google search and social media algorithms. In plain terms, without knowing your audience and speaking their language, it will be hard for any content to reach them. 

Strengthen Credibility and Brand Awareness with Content Development 

Content development helps companies increase credibility, authority and leadership among their intended audience. Whether blogs, articles, whitepapers, videos or podcasts, content allows you to demonstrate an understanding of the audience’s pain points and can position your organization as a thought leader. The federal government in particular is challenged with IT modernization, digital transformation, budget, mandates and changing legislation, so the best approach is to write about those key topics in order to garner their attention and emphasize your expertise.

It’s important to note that content should not be product-centric or overtly promotional. The traditional marketing assets like product sheets are still relevant later in the sales cycle, but when writing for publications and your own blog, thought leadership is what will resonate with federal workers. It’s about how to help them solve a problem, instilling trust and credibility in your ability to do so.

Companies should also pay attention to the way content is presented or displayed. Market Connections’ “Federal IT Personas” study noted that 49 percent of federal IT workers prefer watching as their preferred learning method, while 37 percent favor reading. Video content should be utilized whenever possible, either as a standalone asset or paired with written copy. 

Generate Brand Awareness and Leads with Earned and Paid Social Media

Government-facing organizations should leverage content through both earned and paid social media campaigns. As mentioned, content must speak the language of federal government workers through the use of relevant keywords and correct terminology. The next step is getting it in front of the right audience. 

Earned media is one strategy to increase the visibility of organic content. Successful earned media efforts result in higher ranking on organic search through a strong and consistent SEO strategy and increased engagement from social media promotions. Organizations should strive to develop a steady stream of thought leadership content, upload it to their website with SEO incorporated, and create a social media promotion plan to drive viewership toward website links. 

Another strategy to consider is paid social media. According to Market Connections’ “Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS),” the top two social sites among federal government workers are Facebook and LinkedIn, with four out of 10 alone visiting Facebook daily. Therefore, it makes sense to utilize these two social media platforms for targeting federal government decision makers. 

Facebook offers a function for creating a lookalike audience, where a new list of individual Facebook users can be created based on similar interests and attributes of the contacts in a company’s existing CRM list from Salesforce or HubSpot. This feature expands the targeting and offers the potential to reach new customers. 

LinkedIn, on the other hand, has targeting capabilities that can pinpoint specific attributes such as companies, job title, seniority and member skills. Government agencies are categorized as companies under LinkedIn targeting – so, for instance, if your audience is the Department of Defense (DoD), you can select specific federal agencies under that department. 

Paid social media advertising can be used for different campaign objectives. For brand awareness, organizations can use paid social to promote website landing pages for instance to drive registration for a virtual event or share a new whitepaper. Paid social can also be used as a lead generation tool when promoting gated content. Any leads generated can be nurtured through email marketing campaigns or direct outreach. Paid social media can work alongside earned media efforts and result in a well-rounded campaign to engage federal customers. 

Our team at W2 Communications recognizes that our clients need to amplify the impact of their content and digital marketing spend now more than ever. We’re ready to help your company launch effective campaigns that reach your target federal audience and fill your sales funnel. If you want to learn more, fill out the form below! 

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