By Stacey Piper
Often when we’re heads-down focused on our personal and professional lives, it’s hard to notice progress and differences, to recognize we’re in a different place than last month or last year. Milestones like birthdays and anniversaries cause us to reflect on the change that has happened right before our eyes. When I left corporate life and founded my consulting firm six years ago, I started with a team of one. Today Piper Strategies’ engagements sustain a team of more than fifteen experienced designers, technical writers and copywriters, digital marketing managers, public relations experts, marketing operations professionals, and project managers. The bookkeeping alone forces me to notice our growth every time timesheets close.
The government contracting industry is always in flux too, and I’m thankful for organizations like Market Connections and GovExec for surveying FED and SLED employees and keeping an eye on B2G marketing trends that are hard to see when you’re living them. In fact, I’m still absorbing and pivoting based on outlooks and takeaways from their Marketing for the Public Sector (M4PS) breakfast this past summer in Tysons, Virginia.
Don’t Rely on AI as Your Brand Voice
AI seems to be a part of every marketing conversation, possibly even creating the conversation itself. As we all work toward forming guidelines and identifying responsible use of AI-generated content, authentic storytelling can’t be replaced by a shortcut. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for AI in content development.
At the M4Ps breakfast, Lisa Sherwin Wulf, founder of LSW Marketing, discussed creating impactful content that resonates with your audience. Anyone who has used a ChatGPT tool is familiar with the way AI restates the same concept in a variety of ways. Given the inaccuracies and redundancy of the AI “voice,” smart storytellers are using AI to:
- Generate outlines
- Unlock writer’s block
- Extract meta data for search engine optimization
The danger of relying on AI as the primary writer is the tone deafness of a machine-driven voice to represent your brand. Whether an AI detector can pick it up or not, your customers can sense authenticity.
Networking is the Most Important Part of Your Event
The pandemic not only impacted in-office work, it impacted post-pandemic event planning. While in-person attendance is returning, today’s top deterrents are cost, location, schedule conflicts—and offering a virtual option. According to Stephen Ellis, director of Public Sector Marketing for Palo Alto Networks, the term “webinar” is outdated since we were inundated with virtual events during lockdown. While still in high demand, webinars are now differentiated as digital briefings, trainings, lunch-and-learns, and more.
Today there needs to be a compelling reason to bring people together. Even speakers and booths can be experienced online. Savvy event planners and marketers know that networking is now the most important part of any event. When planning an event, whether it’s a breakfast or a multi-day conference, it’s essential to create varied opportunities for connection and collaboration, including receptions, coffee breaks, roundtables, breakout groups, adjunct events, and hands-on experience with products. Data shows that people are not investing time and money in in-person events unless there’s ample time to interact with others or new technology.
The Age of the Enlightened Customer is Now
It’s no surprise that the pandemic accelerated the use of online research as part of the government buying process. Data from the Spring M4PS study on the behavior of federal, state, and local government buyers with a median age of early 50s supports this. One-third obtain industry news from LinkedIn for news related to their industry and two-thirds regularly listen to podcasts.
While we are all warned about government firewalls, 53 percent of FED and SLED employees are willing to provide their email address to receive relevant content, oftentimes receiving it on their personal devices that sit next to their work devices in their home offices. However, survey respondents indicated they do not want to enter a sales funnel based on one download. “One short, free download paired with a longer, detailed piece can build trust before you ask for their contact info.”
The sales- and RFP-driven model buying model has changed. Customers are conducting their own due diligence, delaying conversations with product and service suppliers, which results in less face-to-face with the customer during the buying process. Instead of sales or business development informing the customer, your content needs to speak for itself. New buyers want to spend more time educating themselves before contact from a company representative.
Creating Varied, Meaningful Content is Always a Good Investment
The B2C space is a model for what B2G needs to be doing now:
- Elevating the customer experience
- Mapping the customer journey
- Anticipating the customer’s stage in that journey with relevant content
- Engaging directly only after the customer is ready
According to the M4PS survey, federal, state, and local government employees said that almost 60 percent of content used to educate and inform their buying process came from their own searches versus being provided to them directly. More than 50 percent of respondents said their biggest pet peeves are marketing content that:
- Is poorly written or designed
- Contains misleading or inaccurate information (see “Don’t Rely on AI as Your Brand Voice” above)
- Comes across as a sales pitch
It’s more important than ever to have a pointed presence no matter where a potential customer experiences your company: website, social media, an event, a white paper, even a banner at a sports arena. Through content layering and surround sound marketing techniques, you can ensure message alignment no matter where the customer is in the buying journey. Breakfast speaker Monica Mayk, who leads U.S. Public Services marketing for Tata Consultancy Services, described this strategy as “everyone singing from the same sheet of music.” Otherwise, your message just seems like noise.
As we plan our 2024 marketing initiatives, it’s important to remember that content isn’t a sales tool, it’s a connection tool, a way of engaging with your customer based on relevance, need, timeliness, and usefulness. Think of every piece of content as one of your capture managers that together form a chorus hard at work to sing your company’s gospel, delivering accurate information, developing your reputation, expanding your network, and reinforcing your brand in today’s hybrid work environment.