COMMENTARY

3 secrets to marketing tech to the government

The government’s IT modernization push has exploded in recent years, taking off during the Obama administration and soaring to new heights under the Trump administration.

This explosion is best exemplified by the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Summit. In 2016, the event drew a huge number of attendees, totaling around 4,000. It’s estimated the 2019 version attracted 20,000 attendees. You don’t need to be a math teacher to know that’s a massive increase.

Of course, that means more competition for everyone, whether you’re an established Beltway contractor, a Silicon Valley behemoth, or a startup looking to get into the game.

The most important thing for tech companies right now in Washington, D.C. is to get noticed by agency leaders making purchasing decisions. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. Here are three secrets to keep in mind:

  • Outcomes-Based Storytelling Works

In my opinion, the most overused word in D.C. is mission. Every slogan, every headline, every press release seems to focus on the word “mission” because that’s the motivation for IT modernization. While this is true, focusing only on the mission misses a key part of the equation – agencies must meet their mission regardless of technology.

As an example, one of the more successful campaigns I led for a client focused on the decidedly unsexy topic of budget formulation. The mission was obvious as every agency must formulate a budget, whether it’s with automated technology, an Excel spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Instead, the focus of the campaign – conducted largely through op-eds – was to explain the positive outcomes associated with shifting to automated technology. The time saved and errors reduced attracted the most attention. Most importantly, the technology enabled a better way to meet the mission.

You shouldn’t ignore the “mission” in your communications, but don’t use it for the sake of using it. Explain how you improve the outcomes related to the mission.

  • Don’t Shy Away From Policy

One month after being elected, President Trump tweeted about Boeing and their stock took an immediate plunge. Although Boeing’s stock ended that trading day up slightly, most only remember the nosedive. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this story retold by nervous executives. “We can’t be Boeing,” they say.

Despite the heightened rhetoric in and around Washington, discussing policy remains an excellent way to raise the visibility of your company and your solutions. IT modernization is one of the few bipartisan issues left in this city, so you should feel empowered to share your thoughts on a piece of legislation or executive order. That debate is the foundation of a healthy legislative process.

It has the added benefit of showing agencies that you care about more than making money. It shows your dedication to improve the entire structure of how the government modernizes technology

  • Feds Are People, Too

The biggest misconception, particularly from tech companies initially entering this market, is federal employees and leaders operate in a different world than the general public. Years of research, particularly by Market Connections, reveals they watch TV, listen to podcasts, and use social media just like the rest of us.

Keep this in mind as you develop communication strategies and identify marketing channels. Don’t ignore podcasts. Don’t forget about LinkedIn or Facebook.

If you keep these thoughts in mind, you’ll be able to develop a communication strategy that delivers the right message to the right audience at the right time.

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About the Author

Sean O'Leary is a vice president with Susan Davis International, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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