At Bluetext, marketing in the language of Washington

Michael Quint speaks Washington for a living.

The co-founder of marketing agency Bluetext “federalizes” the lingo and hype of Silicon Valley firms such as Cisco, Intel, Adobe and Google, translating them into parlance that Washington’s policy-minded decision-makers can understand.

At a time when sequestration means contractors face fiercer competition for fewer federal dollars, it’s become a language many technology companies are eager to master.

“We don’t want to talk technology for the sake of technology,” Quint said. “We want to understand what that technology does and how it can benefit the end customer, particularly the government in this scenario.”

But, Quint said, effective marketing also shouldn’t be unoriginal or boring, words more often affixed to Washington and its federal inhabitants than they care to admit.

When Adobe wanted to draw the attention of federal agencies to its digital government business, for example, Bluetext created a one-minute, 13-second commercial video. It begins with an animated fighter jet taking flight in front of the Capitol, setting off a Rube Goldberg-like chain of events down the National Mall, ending at the Lincoln Memorial, all integrating the company’s messaging.

“You want to create a differentiated message, but you also need to deliver a message that people can relate to,” Quint said. “How is your message to the market a little bit different so people understand the value you provide?”

But in pursuit of creativity, Quint said, one message cannot get garbled in this economic environment: the technology’s ability to save the government money. That’s a marketing staple made all the more vital by the sequester.

Bluetext crafted Web ads that played on the government’s cost-conscious nature when Adobe wanted to sell Acrobat X, a PDF software, to federal clients, asking, “Want to save up to $13,000 per government worker annually?” and “How Much are Better Productivity and Security Worth to Your Government Agency?”

When data storage company NetApp sought help with its public sector marketing, the company first considered firms outside the Beltway. Ultimately, it narrowed the pool to just Washington-based agencies because they understood the ways of the federal city, said Patricia Davis-Muffett, director of U.S. public sector marketing.

“You have to handle the customers differently,” Davis-Muffett said. “You have to understand those sensitivities and be conversant with public affairs offices and ethics and all those things that are [key] to being a professional in the public sector space.”

Bluetext created a digital marketing campaign for Cisco, Intel and NetApp to market the trio’s services around data center consolidation — a topic that’s very Washington and, typically, pretty dry.

The campaign features an IT manager — decked out in khakis, a short-sleeved button down shirt and a tie — competing in the “Data Center Decathlon.” What follows is an almost-ridiculous series of videos showing the IT manager preparing to throw a javelin or clear hurdles, overlaid with a voice explaining the connection to data center consolidation.

“If you come in and are just talking like a technology company that doesn’t understand the context of the federal government in particular, they can tell from a mile away that you don’t understand their environment,” Davis-Muffett said.

Davis-Muffett said the key selling features of software don’t differ greatly for commercial and public sector buyers — efficiency, cost savings and increased productivity. It’s just a matter of marketing.

“They’re still relevant concepts in the federal government, but they’re communicated differently,” she said. “If you say something about greater shareholder value and you’re talking to a customer in the federal government, they’re going to look at you like you have three heads.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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