6 innovative marketing strategies for government contractors
- By Brian Lustig
- Aug 14, 2014
When it comes to marketing and communications, government contractors and public sector IT providers face a set of unique challenges.
For one, the customer base of federal, state and local decision makers responsible for purchasing technology products and services – ranging from CIOs and CTOs to program managers, IT managers and procurement officers –represents a finite group that can be difficult to reach.
Compounding this predicament is the fact that government contractors must not only market their brand, products and services, but also time these marketing efforts strategically. This means building awareness far enough in advance of a contract award, and then sustaining marketing and PR efforts throughout what can be a multi-month or multi-year process from pre-RFP to the contract award – and even beyond due to potential contract protests, delays and budgetary obstacles.
Marketing to agency decision makers is just one piece of the puzzle. For small to mid-sized contractors, awareness building efforts must often extend to larger contractors and primes in order to ensure these lesser-known firms are on the radar when primes are assembling teams to pursue contracts.
Large contractors, for their part, must also market needs and capabilities to smaller partners that might hold an elusive product/service, market expertise, status or agency relationship.
While there is conceivably no limit to marketing and communications strategies that contractors and IT providers can employ to reach decision makers and win business, the same cannot be said for budgets.
Prioritization is key, and below are six marketing and PR strategies resonating in the market today.
Leverage responsive landing pages
Responsive design is a critical website approach for providing target users – in this case government decision makers – with a seamless experience across all device screen sizes. With a responsive website, government contractors and IT providers can be in front of buyers at every step of their online journey.
A user viewing a website on the go via a mobile device can have the same powerful experience as when sitting in their office.
Responsive websites provide continuity between different viewing contexts, remaining completely agnostic to the type of device used and the size of the screen the user has.
Responsive websites also rank higher in search engines’ rankings, as Google recommends responsive web design because having a single URL for desktop and mobile sites makes it easier for Google to discover content and for Google’s algorithms – which are constantly changing – to assign indexing properties to content.
Extend reach and share cost burden with partner campaigns
While going it alone from a marketing and public relations perspective provides a company with more control over a campaign, it also can be costly and restrict the reach and impact that could otherwise be achieved by aligning in an innovative way with industry partners.
We are seeing technology/contractor partners align marketing team efforts for several scenarios. For example, IT providers that offer agencies a “converged” infrastructure stack where each company’s product/technology is a component of that stack can actually find it counterproductive to embark on independent campaigns.
This is due to the fact that it places the burden on agency decision makers to understand how the offerings connect together, and reconcile any overlapping or contradictory branding and messaging.
Create compelling digital experiences to reach decision makers
The web has become a go-to resource for decision makers to research products and services prior to purchase. Product sheets, white papers and other pieces of collateral can be useful supporting documentation for government decision makers at some point in the buyer journey, but will hardly help contractors stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Recognizing this, government contractors and IT providers are creating dynamic, immersive digital experiences that can more effectively engage target constituencies and impact the decision making process. These experiences can range from a digital briefing center designed to provide a virtual experience for website visitors on part with what they might experience if visiting physical offices, to multi-touch digital and physical marketing campaigns that not only communicate a firm’s solution, but help to better educate agencies on the nature of the challenge the solution addresses.
Highlight customer innovation
No matter how large or well-known a government contractor is, gaining approval from an agency to speak publicly about a technology project is often mission impossible. Agencies must understandably be careful not to appear to endorse a specific vendor in public comments or a press release quote, and for that reason vendors often have their hands tied on how to showcase a successful project so that other agencies – or even other decision makers within the same agency – will take notice.
The fact is that there are innovators across the government driving breakthrough IT projects – efforts that certainly warrant attention. An approach that can bear more fruit involves shining the spotlight on an agency leader or the agency itself through awards and speaking opportunities.
Multiple editorial publications and associations hold annual award programs that showcase outstanding IT projects and agency leaders at the federal, state and local government level. Agencies tend to be more open to sharing an IT story through an award because it demonstrates innovation, can assist with employee morale and retention, and comes off as less of a vendor endorsement.
Beyond award programs, there is also significant benefit in generating media coverage and awareness of state and local customer projects. Non-federal customers tend to be more amenable to participating in public relations campaigns, and drawing attention to these projects can demonstrate capabilities to prospective federal customers as well.
Develop targeted campaign to pursue a specific contract
As contractors and IT providers know all too well, winning an agency contract requires a very different sales cycle than a small business user signing up online for Dropbox or a similar “as-a-Service” software offering.
At some level, there will always be marketing activities designed to reach decision-makers across multiple civilian or military agencies – and in some cases both segments.
These external efforts may involve communicating product capabilities, service chops, or the expertise of the contractor’s team. But in today’s hyper-competitive market for agency contracts, developing innovative, targeted campaigns in pursuit of a specific contract or that are designed to reach decision makers at a particular agency, can make the difference between a game-changing contract win and a devastating loss.
More contractors are looking beyond traditional advertising and marketing in pursuit of specific contracts, and instead leveraging innovative branding and outreach campaigns that can sustain interest throughout what is often a contract pursuit process of unknown duration.
Focus on agency challenge, not yourself
Dramatic changes in staffing and mission of government IT media outlets means that the days of getting a product reviewed or corporate profile written are for the most part a thing of the past. As such, contractors and IT providers must get far more creative when it comes to communicating capabilities.
Government IT press don’t want to hear about products. They want to hear about trends and challenges sweeping through agencies, and how contractors and IT providers are developing solutions to solve those challenges. The product/solution message is delivered by default once the challenge is defined, and avoids outreach programs built around a solution searching for a problem.
Brian Lustig is a partner at Bluetext, an integrated marketing, branding and public relations agency based in Washington, D.C.