Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Market Connections’ President Aaron Heffron for a webinar on Differentiation in a Crowded Marketplace. A look at some of the top government contractors’ cybersecurity services web pages (language, colors, fonts, imagery) revealed that few companies are clearly differentiating today.

It’s not surprising. The government contracting marketplace started in the 1920s filled with innovation. Today, it’s a mature market, with many companies touting the same services, certifications and customers. As David Gardner, industry executive and thought leader, puts it, “With very few exceptions, the mature government IT market is more evolutionary and not so revolutionary these days.”

Earlier this year, I interviewed Dennis Boykin, an industry thought leader with DB4 Consulting, LLC. His take on how difficult it is to differentiate in a mature market is this: “If you do line-level staff augmentation, then it’s extremely difficult to differentiate your company. If you provide technical solutions, it’s moderately difficult. If you provide a unique or leading-edge solution or a brand new approach to an existing problem, then it’s easier, but still not easy, to differentiate your company in a mature market.”

In short, it’s tough to stand out when everyone is saying and doing the same thing. So, I’d like to shift the conversation away from differentiated marketing to authentic federal marketing. Born from an unbiased reflection on your company’s essential strengths, weaknesses and customer value, authentic marketing may be your best bet for marketing effectively in a mature market.

Research. Honestly.

Too often, leaders are reluctant to spend time or money on research, since there are always more pressing concerns – like figuring out why the company isn’t winning new contracts. Or creating opportunities to educate customers about new solution sets. Or reconciling how a highly satisfied customer could select a new contractor for the recent recompete.

In truth, these business challenges are beautifully suited to research. A price-to-win expert can provide insight on your proposals and pricing – in the context of what’s happening in the market. Effective customer surveys can provide qualitative and quantitative feedback on your company, let you know whether customers are aware of your full capabilities – and tell you what they really think of your competitors. Competitive analysis conducted by an expert third party is almost always revealing, discerning and invaluable.

Internal assessments rarely deliver the results you need. And CPARS are not enough, since government customers are providing only a narrow assessment of your performance on a specific contract. Research can help you discover the subtleties of how the market perceives your company, services, pricing, team and value – in relation to similar others in the market.

Start from the Top

Once you have outside clarification of where you stand in the market, document your position. What do your clients truly value about working with you? What do you do really well, every time? What kind of customers do you help the most? What do you stand for?

Then, review and revise (if needed) the brand platform that presents your organization to federal customers. Assess both the visual (logo, website) and verbal (slogan, tagline, messaging) aspects of your brand to see how well they support your market position. When you’re ready, signal the market with your updated presence:

Before you change anything, though, start from the top. Traditionally educated marketers and graphic designers adhere to a strict hierarchy of information. In this case, your slogan or tagline may be the top-most, unifying phrase that defines the essence of who you are.

In Boscobel’s review of the Top 100 Government Contractor Slogans, we found that business-to-government firms often use slogans and taglines interchangeably. But your slogan should convey what you do, what you deliver. It’s your marketing “soul.” (For example, Carasoft’s slogan is “The Trusted Government IT Solutions Provider”). Taglines don’t say what a company does; they evoke emotions. They’re inspirational. (Think of Nike’s “Just do it” or CACI’s “Ever vigilant.”).

For authentic marketing, be sure your slogan accurately captures your mission, values and customer benefits. Then, build the messaging, graphics and content that support that position. Keep your top-most message on its own, to frame core messages in conversations, on websites, in proposals, etc.

Back Up Your Claims

A mature industry is a more educated industry. However, all buyers may not be – especially in the U.S. federal government, which is (finally) experiencing an uptick in retirement, leaving less seasoned personnel behind to make buying decisions. That’s good news for federal marketers, who have opportunities to position their companies and experts as thought leaders and go-to resources.

The key is to be intentional and authentic in your thought leadership and voice. If your organization is really, really good at identifying and resolving cyber threats on mobile devices, your core messaging, blogs, byline articles and executive interviews should reinforce that point of expertise and its value to customers. Back up your claims with customer case studies, testimonials and industry awards. But focus your efforts. Don’t get lured into marketing opportunities that are too broad, too commercially focused or too crowded for your team to stand out. You’ll only waste money, be overlooked, lost or (worse) lumped with a large group of undifferentiated competitors.

Likewise, be sure to invest in those opportunities that support your claims. You say you’re innovative? You need industry awards and past performance to prove it.

There’s a lot that goes into successfully marketing in a mature government contracting market. But the rewards can be enormous.

Are you looking for assistance with crafting your authentic federal marketing plan or executing on your thought leadership program? Just let me know. We’d be pleased to support your team!