Last week, Merritt Group and our event partner, research services company Market Connections, hosted the second Federal Content Marketing Research conference. The event reviewed trends in the B2G marketing space through the lens of a survey of government employers and contractors both inside the Beltway and around the country.
We sat down with our own Matt Donovan, vice president of Merritt Group’s Government Practice, to get some insights on the current state of federal content marketing.
Stay tuned for our upcoming ebook, which dives into the data on exactly how your company can get mindshare in the federal buying process.
Vice President, Government Practice, Merritt Group
What have you found is valuable to government decision-makers at different parts of the marketing cycle?
If you are going to prioritize building a piece of content, it should be something that helps a federal decision-maker do their job better. They are looking for educational content and best practices. They’re looking to learn something about the market or a technology that they didn’t know before. Whether that’s in the form of research or thought leadership, I think that’s what’s most valuable, especially at the front end of the buying cycle.
How important is flexibility between desktop and mobile options for clients in the government space?
It’s really important because, federal decision-makers are consuming content outside of work on their mobile devices. Even if there are restrictions on social media sites or restrictions on HTML email, they are consuming content on their commutes or while they are watching TV at night. We can’t ignore these channels, and we have to prioritize mobile optimization because when federal personnel aren’t in the office, they’re consuming content like the rest of us.
What gaps have you found between what the government finds as valuable in the marketing space versus contractors?
The data showed a pretty big gap between how contractors are prioritizing social channels and blogs and how much value federal decision-makers are finding in those channels. But I think that will rapidly change over the next three to five years, especially as younger people enter government agencies. We’re seeing very solid traction across federal paid social campaigns and consider it to be a critical part of a comprehensive marketing strategy.
What types of content have Merritt Group’s B2G clients been most receptive to?
It goes back to if you can tell them something they don’t already know that helps them do their jobs better. We’ve found that research is fantastic, thought leadership that provides a different perspective or insight into an agency pain point — that’s the content that lands, drives traffic and gets shared.
What are some best practices with paid digital campaigns in B2G?
We’ve seen paid social work extremely well because of how targeted and cost effective those campaigns can be. The level of granularity you can get to — by agency, by title — is really impactful in this market. SEM has it’s place — we know Google is where people go to search for solutions, but that’s when somebody already knows generally what they are looking for. Market Connection’s Aaron Heffron made a great point during the event when discussing our federal marketing survey — there is incredible value in reaching a federal decision-maker with a solution they didn’t even know existed or didn’t know the value of. That’s why the combination of a targeted paid campaign driving specific buyer personas back to educational content is so powerful.
FCMR 2017: Getting Federal Content Marketing Down to a Science With Market Connections
Last week, Merritt Group hosted the second-ever Federal Content Marketing Review, in conjunction with our partners at Market Connections. A research services company with 20 years’ experience in B2B and B2G market research, Market Connections and Merritt Group polled federal decision-makers and B2G marketers to find out what marketing content is landing best today and which channels are proving most effective.
Aaron Heffron, executive vice president of Market Connections, sat down with us to discuss his company’s fact-finding mission to reveal some truths about today’s federal content marketing landscape.
Aaron Heffron, Executive Vice President, Market Connections
What are some best practices for performing surveys that inform the B2G marketing cycle?
You have to make sure you are reaching out to folks who are involved in all stages of the process. Many people make a mistake in trying to reach only those who make the final decision. We have found that there are so many influencers along the way, while only one person says the final “yes,” there are many along the way that can say no. You need to make sure you hear from them all.
What kinds of data are important to gather for these types of studies?
You need to get indicators that will help you all along the marketing funnel, from awareness metrics to behaviors, and everything in between. Establishing a clear measure of how the perception of you as a contractor/solution provider changes is key to making sure the data at the end is actionable in some manner.
What are some important factors to control for to create the most accurate survey possible?
We make sure that the questions are consistently worded and don’t double barrel the respondent. Common mistakes in questions include asking the survey taker to give a single answer to what are essentially two questions, such as, “How important are accuracy and timeliness in the specifications you receive?” Which are you asking about, “accuracy” or “timeliness”?
How often do your survey results surprise B2G clients, and what are some areas in your experience where perception hasn’t matched reality?
Surprising a client is both a blessing and a curse in our business. While you always want to come up with that one thing that they didn’t expect, many times it raises more questions than answers. Clients begin doubting your work if it completely contrasts with what they have been doing to this point. We often see this when commercial companies are trying to make inroads into the public sector space. They find it hard to believe that things are so different.
How can good data inform B2G strategies, including rebranding, positioning and content?
It really helps in two ways: One, It can help highlight an area or need that you may have not thought of before. We love the “a-ha!” type moments, where the data takes the client down a logical path, confirming what they know, and comes to a slightly different conclusion that casts things into a different light. Second, the research can be a nice safety blanket that allows you to feel comfortable that your hunches, experience and various anecdotes actually came together in a way that makes sense. While that isn’t always the case, it’s easier to go into a new campaign with confidence — and justification for the CEO — that you are moving the right way.
What are some best practices for turning numbers and infographics into meaningful actions?
It’s all about telling a story. While I don’t support the old adage that if you put enough stories together you create “data,” I firmly believe that data without a story is worthless. Research results have a beginning, middle and end, just like any great novel. The best webinars, white papers and infographics lay the groundwork by presenting the challenges facing the audience, taking them through their ride, highlighting their pain and concerns, and then bringing it to closure at the end with the moral that, “You are not alone.”