This is the era of predictable uncertainty. As an economic downturn continues, an anxious public counts on the government, while navigating their own fears, searching for answers to unresolved questions and coming to terms with this state of ambiguity. Businesses across the nation seek to pull back on budgets and make cuts, which too often leads to the question, “Is marketing really necessarily?” Yes, it is important for businesses to take stock of their investments, but marketing is typically the first scapegoat released into the wilderness.
In the private sector, we’ve seen how economic slowdowns can drastically impact consumer behavior, preferences, and purchasing patterns. The public sector is not necessarily immune; governments at all levels (federal, state, and local) must pivot priorities to meet the changing demands of its constituents. However, history has proven that despite fluctuations in the economy, the government must continue to function and provide essential services. While the private sector can be volatile and shaped by customer behavior, the public sector offers a more secure prospect. This is especially true during times of economic uncertainty. As government spending actually increases there comes an overflow of opportunities, and the competition (see Trend 1) grows too.
While uncertainty is inevitable, there is respite. Government marketers can generally rely on a steady demand for their services and products, even in turbulent times. This stability suggests that keeping marketing spend consistent is effective. In fact, 60% of brands that increased their marketing spend during the last recession saw growth in ROI.
So, what are the most effective marketing strategies to maximize ROI and justify your marketing budget when cuts are being made? In between the boom and the bust, how can you actually maintain marketing momentum? What does effective government marketing look like and how can you prepare for the future?
We examined these questions with five GovExec leaders: Michael Mellody, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Digital Operations at GovExec, Allie DeNicuolo, Head of Digital Operations at GovExec, Lou Ann Brossman, Founder and Strategic Advisor of Government Marketing University, Susan Rose, Senior Director of Insights and Content at GovExec, and Jonathan Sanders, Director of Research at GovExec. Let’s dive into four key principles to consider when revising your marketing strategy to meet the times and the budget of your organization.
Do Your Research. Know Your Government Customer.
“Take the time to really understand who the ideal/target audience is. What are their needs? What keeps them up at night? What is truly a challenge they don't have resourcing to solve for?
-Allie DeNicuolo, Head of Digital Operations, GovExec
In a fickle environment, relying on data-driven insights can provide government marketers with a competitive advantage to make informed marketing decisions. However, not all data is created equal, and translating data into actionable steps involves diving deeper than just the name, email, and phone number of your lead.
At GovExec, we understand how superior data and intelligence can provide insights in layers, and that data is incredibly rich and versatile. For example, prospect data can provide insights into your lead’s top interests, content preferences, and event attendance. Agency data can provide a visual around decision team maps and lookalike buyers. Armed with insights and a clear customer profile, marketers can better adjust their strategies to meet the evolving needs of the government customer.
Here are three ways that data can inform a tailored marketing program:
Account-Based Marketing: Brossman stated, “The strongest way for marketing to impact federal sales is by focusing on Agency Based Marketing.” Growing exponentially in the government space, ABM allows marketers to target a select group of accounts that represent enhanced growth opportunities and align marketing and sales. By focusing on specific, high-value accounts, marketers can create highly targeted campaigns that not only engage the right decision-makers, but also address the challenges faced by the public sector, including long sales cycles and complex buying teams.
Lead Nurturing: Lead nurturing and scoring allows marketers to maintain a continuous dialogue and establish trust with potential buyers at every stage of the journey. Nurturing reinforces buyer relationships. Mellody said, “In an uncertain market, focus is key. Lead nurturing and scoring programs can help marketers prioritize leads and equip their sales team with valuable context to help them tailor outreach.”
Brand Assessments: As the largest annual brand study capturing the priorities and perceptions of buying teams across the public sector, Leading Brands helps companies understand their buyers and how they stack against competitors. Sanders shed more light on the benefits: “Whether measuring customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, favorability, familiarity, or associations with key market driving trends, [this] study can help your team bolster its ability to create efficient strategies to better meet your brand promise and the needs of your customer.”
No matter the method, finding clarity in the marketing haze begins with a deep understanding of your target audience to maintain long-term growth. This can begin with something as turnkey as a qualitative survey or a focus group, both of which unlock information that cannot be easily understood in numbers. Rose best encapsulated the power of data: “Regardless of the type of research you do, the outcome is a better understanding of your prospects, where your brand stands, and what you need to do to position yourself for the win.”
Be Responsive and Relevant.
“When the market is stable, there’s more room for error and less scrutiny on ROI for your campaigns. In an uncertain market, it’s the opposite: every dollar needs to drive measurable results.”
-Michael Mellody, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Digital, GovExec
In the constant flux and clutter of the market, every dollar counts, and maintaining brand awareness is crucial. Developing a steady and smart marketing strategy keeps your brand top of mind, even when government customers may not be actively seeking out your products or services. Consistent marketing correlates with consistent spending, especially in downtimes. EIN PressWire reported that marketers who cut spending during a recession risked losing 15% of their revenue.
So, what outcomes can a steady marketing hand produce? The private sector provides some inspiration. Netflix hadn’t relied heavily on marketing in the past, but competition has voraciously sprouted, eating into their audience and profits. When the supernatural comedy-horror TV series Wednesday was about to launch, Netflix maintained buzzy advertising in creative ways, from airport security trays to amplifying the viral Wednesday dance on TikTok. As a result, Wednesday quickly soared as a pop culture phenomenon, becoming the second-most watched English-language series ever. By keeping a stable YoY marketing budget and thinking outside the box, Netflix saw incredible success, bolstering innovative thinking for future programming.
In a similar vein, government marketers should consider their end customers to determine unconventional ways to meet them where they are and stand out from competitors. First, it is critical to maintain steady brand messaging and tone across all marketing channels. Consistency cultivates strong customer ties and reinforces brand identity to ensure that messaging is clear and remains sticky. Second, staying responsive to the changing needs of the government customer means tailoring marketing efforts to address pain points and offer solutions that are relevant to their challenges.
Not only do marketers need to adapt to changing demands, but they should also explore new marketing channels. A multi-channel approach can actually increase advertising impact by 35%. Emerging platforms, like podcasts, create authenticity and a steady dialogue that keeps listeners hooked, informed, and coming back. Immersive content hubs address the need for digital connection and instant gratification, housing a variety of content in a centralized location. In the slowdowns and slumps, consistent marketing is the key ingredient in driving relevancy, connection, and maintaining trust.
Consistency is Important, but so is Quality.
“Rushing marketing efforts out the door without ensuring your creative perfectly matches with exactly who you are targeting can be a waste of marketing dollars. We are all so inundated with brands and products each day, you're only going to capture the ideal audience with the perfect draw for them.”
-Lou Ann Brossman, Founder and Strategic Advisor, Government Marketing University
Surviving and thriving in stagnation requires not a short-term effort, but a long-term strategy. To distribute a solution or raise brand awareness, content needs to resonate. Marketing efforts that are well planned, carefully executed, and convey messaging that is relevant and tailored to each segment of a target audience is critical.
When executed with precision, audiences receive your messaging well and view your brand positively. High-quality, tailored marketing creates a cohesive brand voice, builds familiarity, and reinforces your brand identity. On the other hand, rushed and inconsistent marketing can lead to sloppy or confusing messaging, which can further erode trust and credibility.
Thoughtful marketing campaigns that speak directly to each of your end users – like a branded monthly newsletter, informative whitepaper, or experiential event – allow you to provide valuable insights to your target audience, helping you establish thought leadership and drive long-term loyalty.
Another quality approach is persona-based marketing. This involves creating detailed profiles of your ideal government customers based on their behaviors, interests, and needs. Once personas are determined, government marketers can choose the solutions and messaging that will fit each persona, creating more personalized, super-targeted interactions. Equipped with a clear understanding of the intricacies within your audience, you can deploy campaigns that address their specific pain points, provide solutions, and deliver value. GovTribe, the leading federal capture and bid management tool, has one such example: Buyers. This new feature allows users to build, download, save, and track lists of government people that "buy" or interact within a user-defined market. Based on key criteria, government markets can receive information on the right government workers to drive powerful results, from shaping future contracts and penetrating new markets, to driving higher ROI on smaller, more focused investments.
Rushing marketing efforts may yield short-term results, but it may not sustain in the long run. Adopting a quality over quantity mindset will enable your long-term success.
Strategies When Budget Cuts are Necessary.
“Focus on initiatives that do not cost money. Use marketing budgets wisely versus trying to reach your entire market, which will cost more money.”
-Lou Ann Brossman, Founder and Strategic Advisor, Government Marketing University
Still, economic fallouts will sometimes result in marketing cuts and impacted budgets. While financial pressures can present challenges, it is important to remember the mission behind the marketing. The best approach is to leverage free or low-cost marketing initiatives. For example, social media provides a low-cost option to promote your brand’s solutions, share updates, and drive steady engagement.
Consider a few more solutions from Brossman for effective marketing in difficult times:
Speaking Opportunities: Public speaking engagements provide a platform to showcase your expertise, build relationships, and promote your brand without incurring significant costs. Whether a conference, webinar, or industry event, speaking roles position your brand as an authority in the industry, maintain credibility, and enhance your brand reputation. They also allow you to connect with like-minded professionals, including potential customers, partners, and influencers that can expand your network.
Awards (for your company, customers, and partners): Drive brand visibility by nominating your company, customers, and partners for awards. Awards can showcase your accomplishments, receive recognition, and gain credibility. Winning or even being nominated for an award can drive powerful awareness and earned media through promotional elements like press releases, social media mentions, and more – all of which help you cast a wider audience net. Awards are also a great form of third-party validation, and being recognized by reputable programs can reinforce your expertise, innovation, and commitment to excellence.
Co-marketing: When facing budget cuts, it’s important to tap into existing resources and partnerships. Look for opportunities to collaborate with partners that align with your goals and/or share similar target audiences. Economic recession or not, the benefits are tenfold; you can leverage your partners’ existing network, brand familiarity, and expertise to amplify your own. Together, this creates economies of scale. You do more with less because multiple organizations are contributing a piece of the larger pie.
Staying Ahead of the Competition.
While the world will continue to evolve on unsolid ground, there is a method in the madness when it comes to reaching government customers. The opportunity is undeniably there, like the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, the CHIPS Act, and the Pentagon OSC’s investment in support of DoD operations.
Mapping back to the principles of consistency, relevancy, and an always-on approach will help government marketers forge a path to resilience in times of economic uncertainty. Instead of collecting names and numbers, dive three levels deeper into your leads. Instead of executing the same event every year, consider a new digital alternative or immersive content development. Instead of cutting back on marketing dollars, maintain your marketing momentum. Or, risk losing market share to the competitors who choose to invest.
Big possibilities await the marketers that maintain a marketing-first mindset in the government marketplace. Government marketers, now is the time to hit the ground running.
For more information on creative activations, data strategies and more, reach out to Solutions@GovExec.com.