How to Market to the Military

Posted on Oct 12, 2018 · 13 min read

The military market is huge – in 2017, there were approximately 37 million service members, veterans, and spouses with $1 trillion in buying power, with over 90%  saying that have greater trust and consumer loyalty towards brands that directly target their community.

Offering a military discount is an effective way to show support for our military and can help expand your business and customer base. The first step is to understand the military audience, so you can develop a thoughtful marketing effort that captures their attention.

Defining the Military Community

The military community as a whole can be broken down into smaller, targeted segments:

$1 Trillion

Buying power of military members in 2019

Why Market to Military Members

There are numerous reasons to focus your interests on acquiring military customers:

Earned Income: The military community’s income is 35% higher than the national average, and their focus is on online spending, because of mobility and relocation.

Vacation and Travel: Members of the military and their family members spend a considerable amount of time away from each other. This means vacations and travel increase in significance, as more than 55% look to visit family one to two times each year. These military families also travel for leisure, and nearly 60% take vacations one or two times per year. In fact, military members spend almost three times more than the national average on vacations and related expenses. Moreover, more than half of these families plan their travel around the availability of discounted pricing for service members.

Buying and Selling of Homes: Military members change addresses twice as often as the average family. In addition, over 250,000 military members transition back to civilian life each year, meaning they are in need of many everyday necessities like a place to live, furniture, clothing and food.

Brand Loyalty: 95% of active and retired military personnel say they are more likely to shop from a retailer who offers a military discount. A closer look at this number reveals that 40% want the discount and 50% appreciate the sentiment. Eighty-four percent say they prefer to shop at retailers year round if they offer a military discount during military holidays like Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Fourth of July. Ninety-four percent say they notice when companies are “military-friendly,” and that they have a positive impression of those companies.

Spending Power of Military Members

Military Members Market Size

The military community is a lucrative segment whose spending habits reflect their unique circumstances and lifestyle. Almost two million active duty members of the military and their spouses earn over $40,000 a year. Discharged military personnel spend more than $700 million annually on apparel, after retiring their uniform.

A large portion of military families form their shopping habits around businesses that offer frequent military discounts, with 70% of these families saying they would be willing to travel almost 15 miles to buy from a store or business that offers a strong military discount. Even though the military provides its personnel with financial assistance, most members of the military and their families are often budget conscious. They have to move from base to base every two or three years, making it hard for military spouses to maintain a job. More than half of military spouses are unemployed.

While a large percentage of military families shop for necessities like groceries from on-base military commissaries, 80% have to travel off base to find products that are typically sold from major retailers.  Families that choose to shop off base prefer to bring coupons, relying on a mix of digital and print coupons.

37 Million Consumers

The size of the military community in 2019

Marketing to Military Spouses

Ninety-three percent of the nation’s 1.1 million military spouses are women who, on average, are 35 years or younger and have two children under the age of five. They are at the whims of the military scheduling and location transplanting, and move, on average, every 2.9 years. Because they regularly move their homes, these spouses have an increasingly difficult time maintaining consistent employment. While not all military spouses are women, it’s important to understand how to specifically reach female spouses. Understanding their spending choices can assist you in effectively targeting them:

  • Women own over 85% of military families consumer purchases
  • 75% consider themselves the primary shoppers for their household
  • They account for 58% of all total family spending that occurs online
  • 22% shop online at least once a day

Online Shopping

Nearly 68% of military members currently take advantage of military discounts, but the fact that many discounts are in-store-only keeps that number low. 71% of the military market say they would use a military discount “way more” if it was available online.

Active duty military are often stationed abroad. Many military families live on bases or in small towns near bases. The downside to these locations? They’re not in close proximity to malls, superstores, or your brick and mortar shop. The upside? It’s easier to target your marketing efforts and meet the military market where they are, whether that’s on base or online.

Keep in mind that many military families don’t live within a reasonable distance from your store. This means that active duty GIs or non-enlisted parents who are holding down the home front while their loved one is serving are often living in a remote location and don’t have a lot of free time on their hands. Making your military discount redeemable online removes two big barriers for these customers and allow them to shop anywhere at any time that is convenient for them.

Traditional Hubs of Military Exposure

There are hubs of military activity in the U.S. where you can get your military offer seen by a high percentage of the military community. Texas, California, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida have the highest concentrations of active duty military and veterans. Norfolk, VA, Washington DC, Colorado Springs, CO, Houston, TX, and San Diego, CA are also good places to concentrate your efforts on active duty members.

On-Base Advertising

Did you know that military bases have their own newspapers? Not only that, but surveys commissioned by the Air Force and Army indicate that active duty personnel prefer reading military newspapers, making them valuable places to advertise in.

Become Part of the Military Community

Immersing your brand in military communities is a highly effective way to reach them. You can take your existing, traditional PR or marketing campaigns including print ads, radio ads, billboards, and newspaper press releases, and geo-target them towards these cities that have Navy, Army, Air Force, or Marine bases. Or go the extra mile and host or sponsor an event or publication.

Keep in mind that your entire campaign needs to be relevant and genuine. Is there a Veterans Day event near you?  Is there a local charity that focuses on military issues? Get involved and show the men and women of the military community that you truly care.

List of Major Military Bases


  • MCAS Yuma


  • MCLB Barstow
  • MCB Camp Pendleton
  • MCAS Miramar
  • MCRD San Diego
  • Mountain Warfare Training
  • MCAGCC 29 Palms


  • MCSF Blount Island


  • MCLB Albany


  • MCB Hawaii

North Carolina

  • MCAS Cherry Point
  • MCAS New River
  • MCB Camp Lejeune

South Carolina

  • MCAS Beaufort
  • MCRD Parris Island


  • Henderson Hall
  • MCB Quantico

Washington, D.C.

  • Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.

76% of the military community learn about discounts from word of mouth.

Techniques for Marketing to Military Members

As with any customer segment, your message needs to be relevant and genuine. This is particularly true for the military community because many scammers pursue military veterans and retirees with franchise “opportunities” or real estate “deals,” causing many in the military community to view some special military promotions with suspicion.

The solution is to keep your promotion simple and honest —  offer a discount and a sincere “Thank you for your service.”

Provide Relevant Shipping Options

Make sure to have a shipping option that ships to APO/FPO addresses, and don’t over-charge for the option. The military community needs to save when they can, and appreciates little gestures that show the brand they’re buying from understands their position. Speaking with veterans from your own organization before you begin this process is a great way to ensure you understand their needs and perspectives.

Social Media Outreach

When you’re looking to reach a targeted audience like military members with news about your company’s gated offers or special messaging, social media is an effective technique. It’s cheap, it’s speedy, and the results can be great – but it requires that you know exactly where to go to reach your intended audience.

It’s easy to make assumptions about different social media platforms like ‘Pinterest is mostly for women’ and ‘teenagers don’t like Facebook anymore’. But in truth, customer segments spend their time across all platforms, and data should be the only determiner for which platform best serves each audience.

There are surveys, studies, and articles all dedicating to helping marketers find their desired customer segment – but to reach a more targeted audience, you have to go beyond broad generalizations about gender or age. Instead, think about how and why your audience uses social media. Some of the main reasons military members use social media include:

  • Staying in touch with family and friends.
  • Communicating with a deployed spouse.
  • Promoting an individual’s own business or services.
  • Staying connected with favorite brands.
  • Participating in selling groups.

76% of the military community say they learn about military discounts from word-of-mouth. The second highest ranking medium is print ads at only 30%. Military members have close-knit social connections, therefore, you should pay special attention to the power of word-of-mouth within this community. Members of the military community have strong bonds and trust each other’s opinions – to such a degree that they can be suspicious of outside offers. This is why, when marketing to the military, it’s essential that your offers and promotions are thoughtful and generous.

“Close to half of millennial veterans frequently visit military-specific websites.”

Younger vs. Older Veterans

When looking at the U.S military veteran population, there is a vast difference between young, 18-34 millennial veterans versus their 35+ Veteran counterparts – especially when it comes to media consumption patterns.  Millennial veterans trust and use traditional media, but tend to favor digital, social and streaming media vehicles. Millennial veterans may have entered the civilian world, but they continue to engage in military-specific content in a variety of ways.  After leaving service, almost half frequently visit military specific websites – a rate three times higher than veterans who are 35 years or older. In terms of print, half of younger veterans are heavy readers of military-related magazines, and they tend to be much more likely to read these publications than older veterans.

Ranked by popularity, the social media platforms with the largest military community are as follows:

  1. Facebook
  2. Snapchat
  3. Instagram
  4. Twitter
  5. LinkedIn
  6. WhatsApp

In addition to mainstream social media sites and blogs, the military community also turns to military-specific online resources to look for information and connect with others. Currently, the top three military resources are:

  2. Military Times
  3. Military OneSource

Stay in Touch

The best way to encourage members of the military to become repeat customers isn’t going to be through direct mail or in-store promotions. Keep in touch with your military customers by collecting their email addresses and creating a monthly e-newsletter. Remind them regularly that you offer a military discount, and be sure to give them a heads up about any special sales or promotions you’re running for holidays like Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

You can collect email addresses through your online shopping cart with an opt-in (another great reason to offer your discount online). Or you can follow the lead of savvy companies and hold a special contest or sweepstakes just for service members and their families.  Participants provide their email addresses to enter.

Educational resources for understanding the military audience

Military Marketing Trends to Watch

Techniques for Offer Promotions

Now that you have a strong offer and a bold, far-reaching marketing plan, don’t forget about the press. Reaching out to the military market with a “Thank you for your service” is something that the news likes to talk about. Even if you are a company that doesn’t normally do a lot of press, this is a sure-fire win for your company to receive good press and great buzz.

Time Your Promotions

If press is one of your tactics for announcing your military offer, timing your press push before a “military” holiday is important. Many editors turn their focus to military issues around Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day. May is Military Appreciation month, which makes it a great time to announce a new military discount.

Send your press releases early so reporters know that you want to be included in the discount lists that are published. Then follow-up as the date gets closer. If your discount doesn’t get picked up at your launch around Veterans Day, send another release in May, and another at the end of June. Eventually, you will get noticed and published along with big names.

One technique to consider is press auditing – it’s extremely helpful to find all the articles you can about military discounts and create a spreadsheet of the journalists who wrote them. Then, when you are ready to talk about your military offer, send personalized messages to that list. Do the same with publications and websites who tend to cover military concerns.

Making your Military Discount Easy to Redeem

Another important factor in implementing a successful military discount is to ensure the process for redeeming it is simple and secure. As with any customer, you should be aware of basic best practices and not ask them for any unnecessary information or make them join an extra mailing list or “community” just to get your discount. If they suspect anything improper, the word will get out quickly and dampen interest in your promotion.

On the other hand, a robust, targeted, exclusive military discount that was easy for them to redeem will generate great buzz. Make your product, your marketing, and your special offers relevant and unforgettable, and ensure that your buying process is simple. That loyalty and positive word of mouth will expand your marketing exponentially.

Targeting the Military with Verification Services from SheerID

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Read our e-book: Best Practices for Connecting with the Military Community

Tony Coray by Tony Coray
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