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Why Digital Marketing is (Still) the Best Way to Reach Federal Decision Makers

by | Jan 6, 2021

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Federal is an old-school market that requires an old-school marketing approach. Right?

Not anymore. Investing in digital approaches to reach federal decision-makers is more important than ever as COVID-19 teleworking policies push an increasing number of government employees to work remotely and utilize their personal devices; accelerating digital & remote work trends by years in a matter of months. 

That’s one of the key takeaways from Market Connections’ recently released Federal Media & Marketing Study 2020. The report detailed the key trends in federal media consumption last year, showing that 57 percent of respondents were accessing their news content online, which represents an increase of 6 percent over 2019. Over the same period, traditional radio, TV news programs, and news content in print all decreased in usage. 

The Shift to Digital Marketing

The big question is, why? Let’s start by defining what digital marketing really encompasses. Marketo defines digital marketing as “advertising delivered through digital channels such as search engines, websites, social media, email, and mobile apps.” That’s a broad category, but the appeal across these channels comes down to two important factors: targeting and measurement.

The uniqueness of each agency and opportunity requires very specific messages catered to very specific decision-makers, this same strategy applies to targeting those folks online with your marketing campaigns. On any given procurement, there is a small group of people that will ultimately decide which vendor to partner with. Digital marketing allows contractors to identify and engage those folks directly, across channels they already use, through audience targeting options that include title, role, agency, behavior, and location.

Let’s take social media advertising for example.

When asked, survey respondents claimed that their social media usage increased on nearly every platform in 2020, as compared to 2018 and 2019. The reason? Federal workers feel more comfortable browsing content on their personal devices now that they’re not working from a secure government office setting. In fact, 41 percent of respondents said they use their personal mobile device much more or somewhat more since March of 2020. 

It’s clear that social media advertising is becoming more important than ever. It is also highly targeted and effective. For instance, on a platform like LinkedIn, you can serve up a highly relevant message directly to the right people in the right roles at the right agencies at the right location — even if those target audiences are now working from home. 

While traditional digital marketing approaches for location — like geo-fencing government offices and facilities — still work, tools like MAIDs (Mobile Device IDs) can be used to target based on data sent from mobile devices. You can even identify individuals with the help of mobile devices IDs, now that people aren’t working in geo-fenced offices. MAIDs are more effective than traditional marketing approaches that use browser-based cookies because of their ability to personalize communication to a unique identifier with information on cross-channel interests and needs.

So whether you’re going after DoD decision-makers in San Diego or National Park Service leaders in Montana, you’re only paying to reach people that matter.

Real Time Results

The other enormous benefit of digital versus traditional marketing tactics is that you can see if it’s working in real-time. Are people clicking the ad? Opening the email? Finding the website? Downloading the eBook? This instantaneous measurement empowers government marketers to adjust strategies and messages on the fly, double down on what’s working and pivot from what isn’t.

While the importance of digital is growing, marketers need to keep in mind that it is also not the panacea for all your lead generation woes. There is still a place for broader, more traditional forms of government marketing. Branding is still critical in this market, and when you’re building or redefining persona-specific campaigns, utilizing a wide range of channels absolutely plays a role in reaching your target audience. 

For example, although physical event attendance was obviously impacted by COVID-19 and down compared to years prior, webinar participation increased dramatically: 56 percent of survey respondents say they attended four or more webinars in 2020. Still, it is important to be conscious of webinar burnout, which can cause turnout to fall short if you don’t use the correct tactics to properly engage attendees. In this case, consider evaluating whether or not to use a media partner that can guarantee an audience. 

Valuable Content Is Still King

It’s also important to recognize that once you get your audience to log in, you still need to deliver valuable content in a format that commands attention. Content marketing is still a valuable asset even in the federal sphere. For more information on how to host a professional virtual event while keeping your audience engaged, listen to Episode 13 of our Lay of the Brand podcast, “Virtual Event Speaking – Land the Gig, Make it Unforgettable.”

To drive procurement success, the data has spoken, and it’s calling for a customized, RFP-specific approach — built on awareness, thought leadership, and relationships — that begins months (or years) before an RFP hits the street. Digital marketing is the best way to execute this approach because federal decision-makers are just like the rest of us. They’re increasingly consuming information across digital channels and are interested in receiving relevant, useful, and educational content that can help them make smarter decisions. Digital marketing empowers marketing teams to do that more effectively, and efficiently than ever before.

Learn about Merritt Group’s dedicated Government Practice or reach out to me directly at donovan@merrittgrp.com to chat in more detail.

This blog was updated January 6, 2021 to reflect new market data and insights.

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