B2G marketers are used to having more than a little bit of envy when it comes to seeing what their private sector counterparts are able to do with their marketing campaigns (not to mention their budgets). But in this new piece from noted government marketing advisor, Mark Amtower, he argues that while disruption and ‘out of the box’ thinking might be attention grabbing, successful GovCon marketing campaigns don’t need to follow suit.
Here’s what Amtower has to say about what makes for a successful marketing campaign for GovCon marketers.
What is “outside of the box thinking”?
I have been in too many meetings where an executive will say something like “Our marketing is stale. We need some outside the box thinking.” Often this is the result of seeing or reading about success B2B or B2C marketing in a book or business magazine, or in one instance I can think of, a CEO sitting next to a business author on a cross-country flight and learning about tools that the Feds have yet to adopt. It could also be the result of seeing a disruptive campaign from a competitor, and your exec is the one who is “disrupted”.
They are looking for something that makes a big splash, something that brings lots of attention to the company. Most marketers know that a big splash, being disruptive, is not a requirement for creating a program that drives leads into your funnel, or a campaign that creates mindshare among those you need to influence.
Largely GovCon is not designed for outside the box thinking. Contractors do not make the procurement rules, define agency missions, or assign government personnel to specific roles, like PM or KO. We are often in a reactive mode with pre-defined venues.
Further, feds are institutionally slow adopters of new ideas and technologies. Very few want to bleed on the cutting edge and use tools that are not tested elsewhere. Feds were notoriously slow in adopting both email (1990s) and social networking (2000s).
Feds in positions of authority also seem largely immune to disruption.
So what’s a GovCon marketer to do?
Creativity does not have to be disruptive. Over the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to sit in many market planning and brainstorming sessions to help determine a new marketing path.
Sometimes a great idea in GovCon marketing is brought on by an off-hand remark, understanding one small nuance, then taking apart the box and constructing a new one. Research on your buyer/influencer audience also helps.
For example, many people are look at the growth of OTA (other transaction authority) as “thinking outside the box”. It isn’t. It is taking existing rules, albeit esoteric procurement rules, and leveraging them. OTA is not found in the FAR. It is authorized through the NDAA, starting in 1994. For many government program managers, OTA can make life easier because once awarded, they cannot be protested.
Here are a few marketing programs I have observed or participated in. None are brain surgery, and I will let you decide if they required “thinking outside the box”.
Deconstructing the box
Back in the 1990s when direct mail was still big, Bob Gosselin of STG Marketing devised a mail package for his client, Lotus, the only significant competitor to Microsoft and Office. The package that evolved was brilliant in its simplicity: it had the Lotus Suite (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.), their contract information, a government order form, and a step-by-step process on how to place your order.
The common assumption was that government employees knew how to place orders. That assumption was wrong.
While this was a novel approach, is it out of the box? Lotus and STG had taken three parts of the box (the procurement process, their contract, and their product) and put the box back together in a unique way- and it paid significant dividends.
It was a brilliant program in its simplicity.
An off-hand remark
Also in the early-mid 1990s I was contacted by the Postal Benefit Plan, an insurance provider for government employees. I was called because I was a leading expert on direct marketing to the government.
The response to their mail package was abysmal and they wanted to know why. I explained that I did not get involved on what I perceived to be the consumer side of government.
They told me they’d pay my normal fee in advance if I would just look at the package. I told them I was going away for the weekend with my wife and if they could FedEx the package with the check, I would look at it over the weekend.
I got the FedEx in time for our weekend getaway. At that time my wife was a career Fed at EPA, so when we got on the road, I asked her to open the FedEx and look at the package. She opened the FedEx, looked at the Postal Benefit Plan envelope, and said “No.”
“What do you mean no? These guys are paying me a lot of money to look at this.”
The upper left corner of the envelope said: “Postal Benefit Plan: Insurance Information Enclosed.”
“I don’t need to look at it. It doesn’t have anything to do with me, it’s for Postal employees.”
Non-postal feds were not even opening the envelope! I was ecstatic. When I got back Monday, I faxed (remember faxes?) a one pager: Do NOT put your name on the envelope. Use the acronym “PBP – (and say) Open to All federal Employees.”
Momentary insight from a non-postal Federal employee led to a very successful campaign for PBP. Though PBP got acquired, the slogan is still used today, 25 years later.
Targeting by necessity
ABM, account, or agency-based marketing seems to be all the rage. It seemingly migrated from B2B to B2G as a marketing concept a few years back, probably after someone wrote a book.
Want to finish reading the article? You can do that on LinkedIn where this article was originally published on April 20, 2021.