Learn About the Government Market

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In uncertain economic times, many companies reconsider targeting the federal government, as it is virtually recession-proof. During the past 20 years, I have advised business-to-business direct marketers on their entry into business-to-government.


Over time, I have observed patterns and created a set of ground rules for intelligent market entry and growth. I've written an e-book on the subject, "Clear and Present Opportunity: Amtower's Laws of the Government Market," which should be available next month. So here are a few trade secrets that can help:


Law #1: The government market offers clear and present opportunity for those who enter properly educated. Twenty-five percent of the GNP is government spending. There are more than 80,000 governments in the United States - states, counties, townships, municipalities, special district governments and Indian tribes. It is a big market, but education is needed on the front end. There are no instant big hits.


Law #2: The Web rules. For the second year in a row, a study by Market Connections, Fairfax, VA, tells us the Web is the first place most feds go for information on products, services and vendors. Your Web site needs the following:


· Government-specific Web pages.


· Current pricing information.


· News on your niche.


· Easy response mechanisms.


· Government credit card (SmartPay) logo.


· The ability to print Web pages cleanly on 8.5-by-11-inch pages.


· Links to good government information sites.


Change the content regularly. Know the hot buttons for your niche in government. Often they parallel the private sector, but they might be your longevity in business, how long you've done business with the government or if you are a small or woman/minority-owned business.


Law #3: Feds like and respond to mail, at least mail that is germane to them. Direct mail to government works. The niches in government are the same as in industry, except the job title may not reflect the functional area, so finding the right list may not be simple. Working with a list broker or consultant with deep experience in this market is a must for the elusive incremental growth. The less experienced the broker/consultant, the more elusive the growth.


Products and services costing less than $2,500 are perfect for the federal SmartPay card, a federally issued Visa or MasterCard used for "micro-purchases." Use the government SmartPay logo wherever you have credit card logos, and especially use it on your government mail pieces.


Knowing when to mail is equally important. The federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30, while many state governments end June 30. Spring and summer are critical times to be in front of your public sector audiences. November and December tend to be slow for the public sector. Mail in envelopes also works better in the public sector, even for catalogs.


Don't omit APO and FPO addresses. Overseas addresses for the government are often omitted out of hand, but this means that they receive less mail. Mail from the homeland has a longer shelf life and greater pass-along. You also are not usually responsible for overseas shipping, especially to the military. You ship to a spot inside the United States, and the military takes it from there.


Law #4: Spam is good for toast. Stop calling me to ask for BTG e-mail lists. I have no opt-in e-mail lists, and the few e-mail addresses I have (fewer than 50,000 federal e-mails out of 270,000 names we own) I won't rent or sell because they are not opt-in. If you wish to become toast, continue spamming.


A more thoughtful approach is to identify opt-in e-mails you can sponsor. Publications, associations and others have such lists that target niche audiences. From this evolve your own opt-in program. Once you have an opt-in program, limit the size of the e-newsletter, don't use heavy graphics, auto-links or pop-ups and keep them short (two or three pages). You also may want to avoid mailing on or immediately before federal holidays.


This is a great market, with the only secured money stream available - tax dollars. Should you decide not to enter, so much the better for your competitors. There will be more for them. But don't enter the fray without heeding my advice. Violate my laws at your own peril. I've been doing this a long time, and I've been involved in and watched hundreds of great, near great, stupid and really silly things occur.


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