It’s almost January again, already! With 2017 almost behind us, amidst the holiday cheer and eggnog, it’s also time to reflect on 2017. It goes without saying that today, changes in digital marketing happen within the blink of an eye. There’s simply no better strategy for your business than a continual adaptation; the years of resting your laurels with time-tested methods are long gone. What works best with digital simply changes too fast, and nothing is really stable.
With that in mind, we know how busy you are this time of year, so we’ve gotten together and brainstormed what we believed to be a list of the most important digital marketing trends for 2018. It’s a big list, but we’ve narrowed it down to just a top four. We invite you to take a look — if only to just keep up with the ever changing modern media environment.
Last week Bluetext served as a sponsor for the 2017 GAIN government marketing conference, and it was great to connect with and hear from some of the DC region’s leading government marketers – including some of our own clients.
As part of her presentation on effective thought leadership, Rita Walston, immixGroup Senior Director, Marketing Programs, quoted a government Chief Technology Officer as saying the following: “If you wait until you’re in front of me to tell me how your company can help me, you’re way too late. I’ve already made up your mind.”
Thought leadership is a core piece of the b2g, b2b and b2c public relations and content marketing programs we develop and executive for clients. But often we are asked by clients to about the value of thought leadership (byline articles, blog posts, conference panels) relative to more traditional media coverage around customer deployments, product launches, and trend stories. This is due to the fact that with byline articles, the content cannot be self promotional.
But the government agency CTO comment underscores why thought leadership is a critical top-of-funnel piece to the buyer’s journey. Government decision makers ingest information from several sources prior to any sales meeting. Without exposure to your brand, an understanding of your expertise and clarity on your capabilities, the opportunity might be lost before your sales team even walks in the meeting.
Thought leadership can support your B2G sales efforts in several ways:
Communicate your core competencies
If your government sales team walks into a meeting and the decision maker doesn’t already: 1) believe you understand their pain points; 2) understand how your solutions can address these pain points; and 3) have a sense of why your company is uniquely qualified to solve their pain points, chances of winning the business go down considerably.
Thought leadership in the form of byline articles and blog posts present an opportunity to lay the foundation for this part of the buyer’s journey by demonstrating your expertise across core competencies, whether it’s cloud computing, mobility, cybersecurity, data analytics, or some combination of the above. While this content doesn’t directly address how your products and solutions deliver capabilities in these areas, it communicates you are players in the space.
Establish brand awareness
If you are a large or established vendor in the government market, brand awareness may not be a problem. But perhaps you have brand penetration with certain agencies and not others, or a recent acquisition has added capabilities that agencies are not yet aware of. Advertising can accomplish this, but it can be expensive and must be sustained over an extended period of time.
Byline articles position your brand with government decision makers hungry for content that offers actionable intelligence on how to address pain points they face every day. Vendors and contractors can associate their brand with current and emerging trends, while reaching decision makers in a targeted fashion, whether it’s civilian, DoD, or specific branches of the military.
Fill momentum gaps
Marketing to government agencies requires a steady drumbeat of activity. Not every vendor has the budget for a sustained advertising campaign, and there won’t necessarily be announcements and opportunities for media coverage on a weekly or even monthly basis. Thought leadership can fill these gaps to ensure brand momentum throughout the year.
Lets your sellers ‘sell’
Circling back to the agency CTO comment referenced earlier in the article, the ability for your b2g sales team to enter a meeting able to focus squarely on closing the sale is vital. If the agency decision maker enters the meeting with limited awareness of your brand or competencies, his/her buyer’s journey may be too far along to make an impact.
Successful digital campaigns need to connect to its audience while simultaneously getting the company’s message across. Digital marketers spend a huge amount of time analyzing their target market and audience before building a campaign and crafting an implementation strategy for seamless execution. Here are five tips to help your company create a successful digital campaign.
- Know your personas. Personas are fictional characters representing a company’s potential customers. Each persona has its own role, goals, challenges, company, job, skills, preferences, and so forth. Understanding your personas and building a detailed profile for each is a key step in creating an effective digital campaign.
- Analyze your competitors. Keep an eye on the public-facing marketing efforts of your competitors to understand how they are targeting their consumers. By gaining a better understanding of your competition, it provides insight to how you should position yourself in the market to stay ahead of the competition.
- Optimize your SEO. Understand the keywords your personas are searching for on search engines and integrate those keywords in your digital campaign’s SEO strategy. Optimize the meta data of your campaign by integrating your target keywords in your campaign’s title, content, meta description, URL, and image alt text.
- Set an offer strategy. Once your digital campaign has successfully captured a consumer’s attention, you need an offer strategy to draw them in. A common approach is through the promotion of gated premium content. Understanding the content that appeals to each of your personas will direct the premium content offer that should be tailored for each. A complete profile for each persona will guide a company’s content creation and fill any gaps in its content offerings.
- Create a lead strategy. Although generating leads is the goal of a digital campaign, it is not the end goal. An internal strategy needs to be in place to continuously inform and engage a lead, whether through email or other mediums, with the end goal of transition a lead to an eventual customer.
A successful digital campaign requires a significant amount of planning before it can be built, tested, and implemented. Developing an adept understand of the market environment alongside a solid SEO and content strategy are the key factors to launching a successful digital campaign.
Rebranding is not to be taken lightly. It demands a commitment of time, energy and resources to be successful. There are many things a company should consider and analyze before the decision to rebrand is made. As the world grows increasingly digital, more and more aspects of people’s lives are affected by the instantaneous nature of information. This needs to factor in to the direction the brand needs to take. The accessibility of information at people’s finger tips has changed the mindset of consumers, posing significant challenges:
Where are your consumers? It is difficult nowadays to find someone who does not own a smartphone with the ability to access the internet anytime and anywhere. As consumers spend more time on smaller screens, companies must optimize all aspects of their websites and platforms to perform on these devices— or risk hurting their brand with hard-to-read and poorly-rendered webpages. Companies either need to rebrand and keep up with the times or risk becoming obsolete.
Are you targeting effectively? With the rise of the digital age is the emergence of social media platforms and numerous new ways for a company to reach the people they would like to target. Each new medium requires a different strategy to navigate and not all companies are equipped to immediately do so. A company’s current messaging and image may not have the ability to capture the attention of its target audience. These obstacles are a clear sign that a company needs to revamp its brand to maintain a strong market presence.
How flexible is your current brand? A company’s graphics and visuals must be scalable and adapt to different mediums. Brand assets in the modern era are used for web, mobile, print assets, social media, icons, and the list goes on. All these elements must be taken into consideration starting at the core of a brand’s design for the company to grow along with its consumer base. When a company is unable to effectively utilize its brand in new mediums, a brand redesign is needed before the company falls too far behind.
As the digital age brings new challenges, it also brings new opportunities. An increasingly responsive world may cause initial difficultly for a company adjusting to adapt, but by rebranding doors are opened for the new brand to reach its target audience like never before.
Looking for agency help? Contact us
Top branding firms focus on a variety of factors when rebranding a company. A brand refresh is a large undertaking that involves individuals at all levels in an organization to successfully implement. With the aid of a branding firm, the process can be smoother than expected. Here are 5 more things top branding firms to consider when rebranding your company:
What is your company’s reputation in the market? A company’s reputation can precede it in the market place and form impressions in the consumer’s mind even before they have exposure with your brand. If your company has less than a positive reputation within the market place, rebranding will provide you the opportunity to start anew with a clean slate.
Are you planning to expand your business abroad? There are many adjustments for a company to take their business into the global markets, and a rebrand may be necessary for a company to ensure they appeal to consumers in the global markets past cultural and social lines. Top branding firms are experts in helping companies navigate this tricky terrain to achieve growth in international business ventures.
Has there been a drastic change in executive leadership? A change in a company’s top leadership positions may cause enough organizational changes that the current brand no longer resonates with the company’s new direction. Rebranding the company becomes necessary for the company to maintain a cohesive voice and image.
Is there the need to further develop a corporate identity? As a company grows and develops overtime, the preliminary guidelines set for the brand at the beginning may no longer be strong enough to define the brand as a whole. Without a standardized visual style or extended color palette for example, the company’s corporate identity quickly becomes muddled. Top branding firms set disciplined brand guidelines to ensure uniformity company wide.
Has there been a change of company ownership? When a merger or acquisition occurs, or if a company shifts from private to pubic, there is the immediate move to rebrand the firm. In the case of a merger or acquisition, rebranding fully integrates the new portions of business under one corporate identity to maintain uniformity in the market. When a company shifts from private to public ownership, the company now must comply with legal requirements and top branding firms can be a key player in aiding this transition.
A brand refresh is more often than not a necessary marketing strategy as a company grows and undergoes changes. Top branding firms aid companies of all industries in making this critical change and continuing achieving success in their respective markets.
Looking for agency help? Contact us
There are many factors top branding agencies focus on when rebranding a company. Typically, companies rebrand every 7-10 years but what motivates them to do so? Rebranding often involves choosing a new standardized color palette, a new logo, a new voice, and even a new name. Company dynamics shift to embody the new image and it can be challenging for everyone involved. Here are the 5 things top branding agencies to consider when rebranding your company:
How does your brand stack up to the competition? When placed next to your competitors, how does your company measure up? Do you appear modern and cutting edge? Or do you appear outdated and in need of an upgrade? Visuals aren’t everything, but the first impression a potential customer has of your brand may be a lasting one and ultimately sway their decision in a saturated marketplace.
Are you reaching your target audience? Companies utilize different strategies to appeal to different consumer groups. What appeals to millennials may not capture the attention of older generations. If your company’s goal is to reposition itself in the marketplace to win over a new consumer base, a brand refresh from a top branding agency may just be what your organization needs to reach its goals.
How are the markets changing? Technological advancements have caused major shifts in many industries that have required companies to adapt quickly. The rapid pace of digitizing society has meant companies need to keep up with the times or find themselves left behind. Top branding agencies specialize in positioning their clients for success by implementing best practices in the digital space.
How has your company grown? As companies evolve and increase the offerings of their goods and services in different sectors of the market, the original brand may no longer resonate with its diversified consumer base. Such disconnect between the brand and its offerings may begin affecting the company’s marketing efforts of outlier products or services. Top branding agencies work with clients in such growth dilemmas to find cohesiveness in their organizations and create a new corporate visual identity to tie everything under one brand.
Are there inconsistencies within your company? Are there many different versions of consumer-facing assets used within the company? Is the company voice disconnected from one product or service to another? Are consumers unaware two of your products or services are offered by the same company? If so, rebranding may be a necessary strategy to help both the consumer and company connect the dots of a fragmented brand.
A company rebrand from a top branding agency is more than just aesthetics. A fresh new look and feel is noticed by consumers and works as a strategy to bring more cohesion to the company while simultaneously drawing attention from the market.
Looking for agency help? Contact us
If your digital marketing agency team doesn’t have a SMAC roadmap, you may find your company drifting off-course in 2017 and beyond. Here’s brief refresher course on SMAC.
Social Media continues to evolve. Platforms rise and fall by the year vs the decades of old. Some new trends we see emerging that we see potentially continuing to gain momentum.
1. Snap’s Evolution Will Result in Interesting New Opportunities.
2. Twitter Fatigue Will Worsen.
3. Users Will Crave More Vicarious Experiences.
4. New Areas of Communication Will Emerge.
Mobile devices are the cornerstone of how new business is being built and legacy businesses are reinventing themselves. Mobile devices allow users to constantly update their profile, stay aware of deals and promotions, and track locations and buying habits by virtue of connecting to various wireless signals and near-field communication (NFC) devices.
Some new trends we see emerging that we see potentially continuing to gain momentum.
1. Consumers redefine purchase boundaries; mobile marketing, brand partnerships deepen
2. Department stores, mobile marketing partners tackle the ‘Amazon Effect’
3. Programmatic accelerates: brands, tech, marketing continue to invest
4. Next-generation creative, video redefine mobile engagements
As databases have grown larger and processors and memory have become capable of chewing through hundreds of millions of records in a short time, we have begun to see how analytics can do more than just track clicks. Analytics can establish links between entities and make intelligent predictions about customer behavior based on knowledge a system has about a customer — knowledge that has been informed by social networking.
To keep up with the explosion in Big Data, companies and corporations are beginning to invest in BI projects and more and more sophisticated analytics infrastructure. Some new trends we see emerging that we see potentially continuing to gain momentum.
1. Multi-channel Attribution
2. Focus on ‘Return on Analytics Investment
3. Monetization of Data
4. Exciting new players in the MarTech arena to complement the core analytic platforms
The cloud element of SMAC refers to the capability a business has to spin up vast amounts of capacity that are paid for by the minute or hour. Businesses do not need to spend millions of dollars building another data warehouse – they simply rent it from a cloud provider, do their work and turn it off. When the business environment changes, they simply spin up another cluster in the cloud, pay another few hundred dollars and continue building insights.
Some new trends we see emerging that we see potentially continuing to gain momentum.
1. Artificial intelligence (AI) will make personalization a reality in 2017.
2. Self-service will be the new normal.
3. Enhancing the Buyer Journey
4. Google Tag Manager and other granular analytics modules being the norm
With buyer sophistication growing daily, marketers need to deliver increasingly smarter strategies and campaigns. Are you taking the time to measure how your efforts are working and think about how you might enhance your efforts, or do you find yourself quickly moving from one campaign to the next?
A lot happens every 60 seconds online across digital platforms. In fact, a staggering amount of posts, uploads and emails take place in the space of a minute – every minute of every day. By looking at this data in detail, and comparing trends over the past three years, marketers can glean a lot of useful insight as to where to focus their brand’s attention when developing media programs – whether for specific targeted campaigns or for ongoing outreach.
A collection of these stats across the most important platforms was recently published by SmartInsights, and it reveals some significant trends. First and foremost, the 800 pound gorilla platform in terms of activity isn’t Twitter and it isn’t email. It’s Facebook. While there are nearly 450,000 Tweets every minute, there are 3.3 million Facebook posts in that same amount of time. In fact, if you said that Facebook literally dwarfs the other contenders, that would be accurate.
Except when it isn’t.
As the stats show, the outlier that is the largest by far is What’sApp, the free cross-platform app that can do just about what every other app does, and encrypt it in the process – with more than 29 million messages sent every minute. It’s widely popular around the globe (although not so much in the United States yet).
And who owns What’sApp? Facebook, of course. See a trend here?
60 Seconds Online: Where to Focus?
So where to focus your media campaigns? Look at some of the trends for what’s growing the fastest, and what’s being left behind. For example, Twitter’s 2014-2015 growth line came way down for 2016. Yes, there are more Tweets than a year ago, but not by much. Facebook shows no growth from 2015 to 2016 – which could mean that it has reached its upward potential. On the other side of the spectrum, YouTube and Instagram have increased their activity significantly.
Let’s not forget – Facebook also owns Instagram, while Google owns YouTube. So the upstarts are really just growth opportunities for the giants who continue to battle it out for dominance.
What does all of this mean for marketers? We tell our clients to look at where the growth is, not what was hot two years ago. Twitter is great for sports, entertainment and politics, but not so strong for b2b marketing. Instagram, on other hand, is expanding its reach across demographics, and can reach new target audiences that may have not been a focus of previous campaigns.
Having worked with Drupal 8 in a production setting at one of the top development agencies for the last 15 months, I feel that I can responsibly say that Drupal 8 is ready for prime time. In fact, given all of the great improvements that the platform has to offer, it’s hard to think of an scenario where I would recommend Drupal 7 to a client. These include a standardized Symfony2 framework, a twig templating system, partial page caching, configuration management, layouts, and much more.
To learn more about Drupal 8’s new features, I spent a day recently at DrupalCon Baltimore, an experience that has heightened my excitement about Drupal and the future of the platform. Here are the takeaways that we got from the conference:
- Focus on Lowering the Barriers of Entry
- Core initiatives targeted at improving content authoring
- Revamped Release Cycles
- Drupal maturing in large enterprise
Opening the Flood Gates
The Driesnote was amazing as always. This one was more exciting than usual as there was a strong emphasis on the community and the shift for Drupal to become more user-friendly and lowering the barriers of entry. From a technical standpoint, the standardization on the Symfony2 framework and the addition of the twig templating system make working with Drupal more attractive to PHP developers, opening the platform up to a much wider developer market. From the content side, Dries highlighted the work being lead by Keith Jay to provide a better out-of-the-box experience to all users.
Content is King
In an ever changing market, it is important to stay ahead of the curve and adapt your organization to meet the needs of your client base. We validated a big shift that we are seeing in the market where the decision-maker is no longer the IT team – It has shifted to the marketing team. It is great to see Drupal follow this trend with the strong focus on the new core initiatives around UX, such as layouts and in-place editing. Dries also highlighted Cristina Chumillas for her work in improving the UX of several core pages.
Maintenance made easy
Another exciting announcement was around the revamp of the Drupal release cycles to make core upgrades for both minor and major versions of Drupal easier. The new 6-month cycles have been running great, and I for one am excited to see it. In this new model, functionality will slowly be deprecated (instead of removed) throughout the minor release versions as new functionality is added. This will give module developers an extended period of time to upgrade. Major releases will go one step further and remove the set of deprecated functionality to start the codebase off on a clean slate.
Climbing the Corporate Ladder
Drupal continues to gain traction in the large enterprise space with organizations and marketing teams looking to spend more of their budgets on content and campaigns rather than recurring subscription fees. This can be validated by the uptick in features and functionality that the community is providing for Drupal 8. As the market changes, so should the technology. The greatest thing about Drupal and the community around it is that we are the ones choosing the direction of the platform. We have thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people validating this platform in the market and pushing the direction of the platform forward.
Bluetext continues to grow its commitment to Drupal and the Drupal community. If you are considering Drupal for your digital platform, please contact us. We would be happy to help you think through your approach to ingesting this powerful platform to power your growing digital ecosystems.
So, you want to sell to the federal government?
Good. Every year, Uncle Sam and his army of acquisition specialists have money to spend to achieve the critical missions of the federal government. In 2014, the most recent data available, the federal government spent nearly half a trillion dollars on contractors.
But there’s still another question left.
Who are you selling to? And I don’t mean which agency or which department. I mean, who?
Every contract issued by the government has a signature on it, an actual person who has selected your company to provide a product or service. Behind the signature are a small group of influencers. So, of that half-trillion dollar enterprise, your opportunity probably has been shaped by fewer people than are on an NFL roster.
So we ask again, who are you marketing to? Are you marketing to The Government or are you marketing to those who matter?
Why Personas Matter
Federal contracting is its own subspecies of marketing. We don’t have the intense feedback cycles or as many point-of-sale validations.
At Bluetext, we’ve helped dozens of clients reach the right government customers with carefully designed strategy backed by creative that makes an impact. It’s not always the same as business-to-business marketing or business-to-consumer, but one area that never changes is persona creation.
The government is not a single entity. It comprises agencies and departments, which in turn comprise directorates and activities and program management offices and thousands of personnel who play a role in acquiring products and services on behalf of the government.
How you reach them all won’t be the same. The avenues available to market to a program manager in the access-controlled world of the Intelligence Community, for example, won’t be the same as those available to reaching a director at the National Institutes of Health. Their missions aren’t the same, their needs aren’t the same, and their pain points aren’t the same.
Even within your target opportunity, your approach must vary.
Unlike traditional commercial services marketing, where you may aim for a thousand buyers of a million dollar contract, in federal marketing you’re more frequently aiming for one sale of one 100 million contract influenced by a dozen people. Not only does the persona exercise of understanding who your buyer is matter in fed tech, it matters even more.
Government Personas, in Four Broad Strokes
Directors and Deputy Directors and High Ranking Government Executives
This is typically the big ideas crowd. They’re usually looking for what’s next. Their interest is less day-to-day and more focused on how to better achieve their agency’s mission. Major changes begin at this level, whether it’s a product like a weapon systems or the federal cloud-first mandate, which has reshaped federal IT since its issuance by the then Chief Technology Officer of the United States. In the Intelligence Community, the largest IT transformation in its history began as a plan issued from the Director of National Intelligence.
Be bold and be visionary. If you want to radically change the government’s mindset, this is where you enter the bloodstream. Personnel in these positions aren’t always technically savvy and often have a more generalist approach to their departments, but they’re always eager to find the next great idea. They’re intensely focused on mission achievement, so help them understand how your solutions helps them better achieve the department’s goals.
Contracting Officers & Program Managers
What is a contract for your company is a career decision for contracting officers (COs) and program managers. On most acquisitions, the PM and the CO (or KO, as it’s often abbreviated, particularly in defense) are the most important decision maker. The program manager will be responsible for oversight of all the requirements in the proposal and of its execution once underway. The CO/KO can later modify the contract to add scope.
While PMs and COs appreciate the big idea, they are also intensely interested in the nuts and bolts and your capability to deliver. Every contract is an act of trust between these two positions and your company. These are experienced government personnel with whom you’ll want to build a long-term brand relationship. Depending on the size of the contract, they may not be subject matter experts in all technologies involved, but will likely understand enough to separate contractor-speak from actual capability.
For competitive bids, acquisition is done through an evaluation board which helps advise the source selection authority on its choice. Acquisition influencers are often subject matter experts and will be interested in the details. While their interest is in the proposal before them, your marketing should include this group as well. Are there third-party validations you can include to bolster your technical credibility, such as CMMI appraisal or AWS or Microsoft organizational certifications? Is your accounting system approved by a government auditor? Can you demonstrate applied expertise in your area of work, through white papers and blog posts? The big idea is great, but this is the group that will pop your marketing balloon if your big idea is all hype and no substance.
The role of a federal contractor is never simply IT for IT’s sake or product for product’s sake. It’s about empowering the end-user to achieve agency mission. And while the end-user, be it a help desk technician, a service member or a scientist, won’t sign a contract, their opinion of your product or service, particularly once it’s in use, will heavily influence whether it continues to be in use. Prior to acquisition, a groundswell of support could be cause for a pilot program. Market to the end-user’s pain points, rather than a technology-first view.
Every contract is different and Bluetext has helped dozens of clients craft specific marketing strategies by agency and by opportunity.
But like all marketing, it doesn’t just start with the what, it starts with the who!