Insights from 2020’s Leading Brands in Government Study

Frank Salatto, SVP, Brand and Strategy at GovExec

Now in its 7th year, Leading Brands is the largest study of its kind, analyzing brand perception among government leaders of the top government contractors in the marketplace, and capturing the priorities and perceptions of buying teams across civilian and defense agencies.

Last year, the study covered 85 leading public sector companies with 2,832 respondents. Companies selected to be tested were determined by a number of factors, including competitors, current business in government, major contracts, and level of familiarity.

The past year has brought unique challenges to the government market as the public and private sector alike moved to an almost entirely virtual environment. At this year’s report reveal, GovExec will highlight the market shifts and strategies that are taking place in this new norm. But what are some foundational lessons can brands implement to have maximum impact among government buyers based on historical Leading Brands trends, including findings from 2020’s report?

Polarization Comes to the Government Market

A brand’s favorability, how much the people that know you like you, is one way the study measures brand equity. In our 2020 study, we saw some of the biggest shifts in the overall study in this area, with the move in remote work and political polarization influencing how respondents rated brand favorability.

One example of this is Palantir, which has been closely affiliated with the Trump administration for several years. As the political waters have become more stratified and controversial, we saw a significant drop in their favorability, a 67% decrease year over year. The political stances of companies are playing directly into the favorability of the government customer, something we’ve never seen before. Politics are now starting to play a much bigger role in the individual work of government managers than ever before.

Brands Committed to Government Market Grow the Fastest 

We continued to see brands challenged in building familiarity. Familiarity is essentially brand awareness—we ask how familiar people are with your brand as it relates to work in government.

Familiarity is one of the most difficult metrics to build, especially if it’s through advertising alone. Our research found that public sector brands with consumer elements and/or commercial businesses tend to have an easier time moving their familiarity rankings. In particular, companies that grew in revenue and maintained a sustained focus on their government divisions grew faster than those that had inconsistent commitment to the market.

The COVID-19 Impact: Remote Providers Lift Results

As the public sector transitioned to a remote workforce, how did brands stand up to help government meet its crucial mission, and how did they adapt?

In March of this 2020, we launched our Leading Brands in Government study to a remote government workforce, the first time in the study’s history. While the full economic impact of COVID-19 remains uncertain, the 2020 data indicate that certain brands weathered the economic impact better than others by embracing a digital-first posture. For example, Cisco moved from 3.47 to 3.57 in the Innovation attribute, Google moved from 3.63 to 3.82 in Customized Products, and Verizon moved from 3.34 to 3.70 in Value (with 5 being the highest point value a respondent can rate an attribute).

Sustaining Growth and Building Trust 

Over our years conducting the Leading Brands in Government survey, we’ve been able to identify case studies of what drives high growth of a brand in government. Since 2018, we’ve seen Salesforce make gains in familiarity as well as favorability through their commitment to four factors: sustained revenue growth in government, commitment to government marketing, consistent brand awareness, and government messaging around major platforms. By being consistent in brand campaigns, avoiding broad-based messaging that’s commercialized, and messaging around government’s mission, brands can make large gains in the federal as well as state and local government space.

While favorability can be difficult to build, our research has shown that it is easier to take tactical action to move the dial on favorability by taking action on some of the highest rated attributes among leading government brands, specifically experience and expertise. Additionally, value and customer service were the largest differentiators for this year’s leading brands.

The Leading Brands in Government report began as a marketing tool, but has transformed into a valuable strategic and planning tool on how the government customer views the market. For more high-level trends and analysis, register for the Leading Brands in Government: 2021 Report Reveal here.