25 million Americans have served in the U.S. armed forces, and you just need to look online or watch TV to see how advertisers are increasingly pursuing them. However, most companies don't understand the veteran market segment opportunity and fewer understand their target insight. While it is not an exact analogy, thinking of military veterans as a part of the multicultural advertising mix gives marketers a framework to think about how they might act with this important market.
Why You Need To Take Notice
If you thought we were formidable wielding million-dollar weapon systems, wait till you see 25 million of us standing shoulder to shoulder. So mutually supportive are veterans, we've started to call them "Generation V".
The military affinity audience, including active military, National Guard, Reserve, veterans, and their families, represents roughly one-third of the U.S. population. Veterans have almost $1 trillion in spending power -- for comparison that is greater than the LGBT market and somewhere below the Hispanic market.
The military retail market in the base exchanges alone has 12.3 million patrons and $19.8 billion in sales annually. Active military family income is twice the U.S. average and much more recession proof.
Veterans alone number over 23 million with median earnings $5,400 more per year than non-veterans. Often they also receive military retirement in addition to a second income.
What is Military Affinity?
86 percent of active military and veterans say their military service experience influences the decisions they make in their life. Military affinity is that insight and bond forged through a common (and sometimes extraordinary) experience.
The power of military affinity runs deep. 95 percent of active military and veterans say they would take time to talk with a veteran who reached out for help, for example in finding a job.
I challenge you to find any other group of 25 million people in American with that common bond.
The power of military affinity is one of the strongest bonds and insights in society, yet few organizations understand how to effectively leverage these bonds to connect and communicate with Generation V.
There are companies like USAA who understand military affinity, but more organizations need to refine how they communicate and provide products and services to the veteran population. In doing so, they will better serve this market and veterans will respond in kind.
Military Affinity Wins Over Age
Increasingly, you see organizations make the misstep of over emphasizing a particular age group of military veterans. The fact is that 89 percent say their strong kinship with other veterans exists regardless of age.
Many employers looking to hire veterans and even some veteran charities over emphasize their targeting of just the younger veterans. As a result, we've seen stark criticism of those brands in social media both from the general public and the veterans they want to help.
There are more subtle ways to achieve needed targeting and messaging to different age groups of veterans, while maintaining engagement from the military community as a whole.
Military Veterans Are Already a Part of The Multicultural Advertising Mix
Within veteran-targeted media, many advertisers are already using creative that caters to the military audience (even though many whiff on the insight and creative execution). This direct "B2V" (Business to Veteran) advertising generally drives the most results, but it's not the only approach.
These days fewer advertisers are doing pure multicultural advertising and more are doing total market advertising that includes multicultural insights. This bears out a good learning where advertisers use total market advertising but lead with military veteran insights. They achieve effective advertising to military veterans and their brand still benefits from the military halo.
No one can forget the memorable Budweiser ad of returning troops walking through an airport, just to be greeted with spontaneous applause. It sent a direct message of gratitude to troops while creating a positive impression for their brand to all viewers.
More recently Zillow's "Coming Home" ad followed a family through their house hunt while the husband was deployed around the world. It struck insight with the military target through long-distance communications, the mom constantly on the go, and, of course, the surprise coming home. Zillow was able to effectively speak to the military and veteran audience, demonstrate key product attributes, while striking an emotional connection around homes that all viewers felt.
Do Not Miss On Veteran Insight
This door swings both ways. I recently met with an online retailer that stated when they implemented a military affinity program it quickly became their best-performing affinity program in their company. Certainly over 85 percent of active military and veterans seek to buy from businesses that offer military discount over those which don't.
However, military veterans are taught to always be on the lookout for intel. We are looking at details and other information to formulate our attitudes toward a brand or company.
To be clear, waving the American flag or flashing "Military Pornography" (cool images of military hardware) does not make effective, insightful communications to military veterans. We are deeper than that.
Insightful B2V communications are critical. Over 50 percent of military veterans reported being turned off by communications pandering to veterans with overtly patriotic, disingenuous, or unauthentic messages.
Moreover, 67 percent said they are less likely to consider buying a product or service if military images within an ad have obvious errors, for example hair too long, uniform not to regulations, or not physically fit. Generation V can spot a poorly executed "veteran wrapper" in no time flat.
A final word of caution. Advertisers know to not only talk to the Hispanic audience during Hispanic Heritage Month or the African American audience during Black History Month. Don't fall into the trap of only communicating to veterans during Veterans Day or Memorial Day.
Despite all this, some advertisers are making advances in advertising to military veterans. Some advertisers are even able to leverage military veteran hiring and community programs into their military veteran communications strategies... but that is a topic for another blog.
MARCH Marketing provides best in class military and veteran expertise to inform strategy, marketing, and services to commercial, government, and non-profit clients. With offices in Chicago, the agency is one of the few that provide these type of world-class marketing and consulting services, and the only with deep expertise into the military and veteran audience. When it comes to strategy and communications to military and veterans, MARCH is the agency to call. For more information, visit us at www.marchcorp.com
Footnote: Research cited in this blog was a veteran and military omnibus study conducted by MARCH Marketing to 7,509 respondents to achieve statistical significance across different age groups and military status.