Six ways to do more with less when marketing to government
- By Toby Eckhardt
- Aug 28, 2014
Government industry has changed forever, and it’s a cold, cruel world out there.
Operating amid ongoing budget cuts, pricing pressure, lower margins and fear of future sequestration is the new status quo. The competition for new business – that is, whatever remains funded after further cuts are made to government agency budgets – is at an all-time high. Contract award delays are ongoing, and wins are frequently protested. The demand for top talent continues to be one of the biggest differentiators and toughest challenges in the space.
“What makes our company unique? To be honest, we’re no different than anyone else.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this, even among senior executives.
If your organization follows this philosophy, it’s game over – turn out the lights, time to go home. If this is the perception within your company it is almost a certainty that it’s the perception outside of your company as well – and who wants to do business with or work for a company that’s no different or better than its competition?
The bottom line is, regardless of the company, there are things that make it unique and different. Things that matter to prospects and customers. It’s more important now than ever before to clearly understand your company’s message and communicate it in the most efficient and effective way possible.
It’s very likely that, as with most organizations in government industry today, your marketing budget has been cut. A natural tendency is to pull your head back into your shell. But this is the absolute worst time to do so. Smart chief executives and government marketers know their brands need to stay visible to stay viable.
The more your target audience – customer acquisition teams, review boards, policymakers on the Hill – see and hear about your brand in a positive manner, the greater the chances you’ll be remembered favorably during decision-making time. This is especially important for small to midsize companies, whose success is dependent not only on customer relationships and customer visibility, but on visibility among prospective partners and new talent.
Everyone is cutting back, which means you need to think smarter with every dollar. Here are the top six ways to spend your limited resources to get the biggest return on your investment and create the greatest impact on your target audience.
Define yourself. Make sure you start with a crystalized message. Spend the time to uncover what it is that makes you unique and different and why your target audience should care. Your message needs to be succinct and must enable readers, listeners, and viewers to immediately understand who your company is and why they should hire you or work for you. Your message should be strategic – don’t just talk about what you do and who you want to do it for, but combine the emotional and rational aspects of who you are and why you’re unique compared with all the rest of the “government solutions providers.” Without this, any money you spend on the rest of your marketing or communications efforts will likely be wasted.
Prioritize your website home page. Once you have your message down, share it. Make sure it’s communicated through every contact people have with your organization. The most important place to make that start is on the home page of your website. Your home page is where most prospective customers and employees will first see and learn about your company. First impressions are powerful and lasting. If resources aren’t available to redo your website, reskinning it to incorporate your new message will go a long way. That’s a simple yet powerful place to make an important investment.
Carry through consistently. To take the next step, consider all the touch points you have with your target audiences where there is an opportunity to consistently carry through your fresh and unique brand message. In terms of new business, review and refresh your presentation and sales slicks, proposal language, and trade show materials.
If you’re an organization looking to maximize visibility around key capabilities, make sure to weave brand messages through bylined articles in trade publications and white papers or through speaker presentations. For employees, share the message in frequent emails from leadership and managers; celebrate it at open houses and all-hands meetings; and update recruiting ads, welcome kits and employee manuals. This requires only modest resources to ensure that you are carrying the new brand message through everything you share externally and internally.
Brag a little. You’ve defined your message; you’re communicating it effectively on your home page, in marketing materials and to employees. But how do you get more people to know you even exist? How do you let them know you have extraordinary talent in various areas of expertise? Everyone across the government marketplace, from billion-dollar companies to small businesses, has a lot of news to share. It doesn’t matter how small or large you are – you’re newsworthy, and the industry and local business media need to know you exist. But everyone is so busy and focused on getting new business or managing projects that they often fail to realize the news value of your actions.
News can be one of the most powerful and economical ways you can amplify your brand and gain visibility with target audiences across the marketplace, in key geographic areas and around specific areas of subject matter expertise. News coverage provides a third-party testimonial that you are legitimate, you are successful, you are growing and you’re a great place to work.
Engage your cheerleaders. Build brand ambassadors using simple, cost-effective employee communications such as newsletters, brown bag lunches and town hall meetings. Get people together; keep them informed; send emails from the CEO regularly. It’s critical that your team is on board with your message. All the great news that you have to share needs to be shared internally as well. We find that the most successful companies we work with have some type of consistent, ongoing process for sharing information with – and even more important, receiving information from – their employees. Internal communications are especially critical for fast-growing small to mid-size businesses that are adding large batches of staff quickly or expanding offices into new geographic areas.
The more spread out your team is, the greater the challenges of keeping everyone up to date, in sync with corporate culture and feeling good about where they work. Making sure your company brand message is part of all these communications is critical. Remember, every interaction with your customers, prospects, partners, and prospective hires is an opportunity to enhance or destroy your brand. Cheerleaders can project your message to a large audience for a relatively small amount of money.
Go social. Government industry was probably one of the last markets to get on board the social media train. However, within the past five years it certainly has become fully engaged, and now it is rapidly advancing. Most government agencies, including many CIOs, are actively using social channels, and social recruiting has become a major force in talent search and acquisition. For those in the government technology space, the demand by federal customers for social media and APP-driven solutions is increasing. It’s especially important for companies in the GovCon space to make sure they have a social marketing strategy as part of their brand outreach. However, if you haven’t yet done the rest of the basic brand building, we don’t recommend starting with social media.
Ultimately, you should be actively engaged with the major social media channels, particularly Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. An executive or corporate blog can also be an effective way to showcase thought leadership, subject matter expertise and showcase strong management teams. Blogs also can positively influence search engine optimization around your brand. Contrary to popular belief, although it’s very cost-effective, to do it right, social media is not free. It does, however, require a relatively low investment to reach an audience of hundreds of thousands.
There’s a lot more that you can do to drive home your organization’s message and build its brand, but considering these six steps is a smart place to start.
Toby Eckhardt is CEO of Focused Image, an award-winning branding, advertising and public relations agency in the DC area that specializes in government industry and technology.