This article was originally published in 2020, but has been updated to reflect new research and consumer trends. A lot has changed since we first covered this topic, but the value of marketing to the military has not!
The military market is huge—it’s made up of approximately 37 million service members with $1.2 trillion in buying power. Three in four members of the military said they actively seek out brands that offer a military discount and that they have a strong overall trust of those companies.
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:
- Active duty: 1.3 million active duty military members have an average household income of $74,500 per year, proving that there is a huge opportunity to capture revenue for exclusive military offers.
- Veterans: There are currently 20 million veterans in the United States, and the veteran community is projected to spend $43.6 billion annually.
- Reservists / National Guard Members: There are nearly 450,000 members of the national guard, all earning high wages.
- Registered dependents and military families: The US has 1 million military spouses. They represent a large market of multiple age ranges and interests and spend $51 billion annually.
Why Marketing to the Military Matters
Not only is the military a large community that yields quite a bit of spending power, but they also have some unique attributes that make them an excellent group to tap into:
Word-of-Mouth is Huge in This Community
The military is a tight-knit group that is highly connected. Two out of three military members say they feel an immediate bond with other military members. As a result, they will often tell others about brands and offers that cater to the military. In fact, 96% of military members would share an offer with others who were eligible for it. For brands, this means free promotion of your offers.
Military members are most likely to share an offer in-person (53%), but many will also use social media platforms such as Facebook (52%) or forward an email (35%). To encourage word-of-mouth sharing, be sure to promote your offers on the channels that military members are most likely to use.
Discounts Encourage Purchases
Research shows that discounts are an effective way to motivate military members to buy: 90% of the military has used a military discount before, and 74% actively looks for brands that offer these discounts. And if given a discount, 61% would shop with a brand more often, while 58% would try out a new brand.
Military discounts generate goodwill among the community, too. Over 60% of the military community says that exclusive offers make them feel valued, supported, and thanked. This forges an emotional bond that leads to increased purchases and greater loyalty.
Coupons Lead to Off-Base Shopping
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. Therefore, providing special offers encourages military families to travel off-base to stores like yours.
Travel is Big for Military Families
While virtually any business could benefit from a military campaign, travel and hospitality brands should take special note. Due to the frequent time spent apart, military families highly value their vacation time. Military spouses spend an average of $2.1 billion dollars on domestic travel annually, and military members take 3x more vacation time than the average consumer. Plus, 87% report that they are most likely to take advantage of military discounts on travel-related purchases. This offers a prime opportunity for travel and hospitality companies to tap into a community eager to vacation.
Spending Power of Military Members
Military Members Market Size
The military member market comprises 37 million consumers who make the majority of their own purchasing decisions and spend $1.2 trillion annually. Of that, 1.3 million active duty members of the military have an average household income of $74,500. Most military members spend a substantial amount of money: active duty military spend $3.7 billion annually on clothes and shoes, while veterans still spend $3.9 billion on apparel.
A large portion of military families form their shopping habits around businesses that offer frequent military discounts, with 67% 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—between 10% and 20+%. Although the military provides its personnel with financial assistance, most members of the military and their families are 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.
Marketing to Military Spouses
Excluding Veterans and retirees, the number of military spouses falls just short of 1 million. Of the nation’s active duty military spouses, 74% work in some capacity, most of which are women. 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. Ninety-two percent of military spouses are female, so it’s important to understand how to specifically reach female spouses. Better understanding their demographics can assist you in effectively targeting them:
- The average age of a military spouse is 31.5.
- Millennials account for 47% of military spouses, while Gen Z makes up 25%.
- When it comes to electronics, military spouses outspend their active duty partners in nearly every subcategory.
Ninety percent of military members currently take advantage of military discounts, but in the wake of the pandemic, our research shows there still is a desire for more exclusive discounts.
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 allows them to shop anywhere at any time that is convenient for them.
Ninety percent of military members and 93% of military spouses reported that they are active on social media. Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube lead the way as the most popular social media platforms by usage among the military.
Traditional Hubs of Military Exposure
There are hubs of military activity in the US 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. According to the Department of Defense’s data from 2017, bases in California, Texas, and Virginia lead the way with the most active duty and reserve military members, each with over 100,000.
Did you know that military bases have their own newspapers? In fact, these military newspapers are the only publications that the military allows to be distributed to the major work areas used by those living on-base. The circulation of these publications is well-controlled, making these newspapers a hot commodity among on-base personnel.
The military community is notable for taking action on the ads that they see while they are on-base. Studies show that 93% of active duty military visited a website, researched a product, or bought a product after they saw it through on-base advertising.
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 you can 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.
T-Mobile stands as a leader in this regard. They solidified their commitment to the military community by pledging to hire 10,000 military members and spouses by 2023, investing over half a billion dollars in cellular infrastructure at military bases, and funding a free career readiness program for military and veterans.
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
- MCAS Cherry Point
- MCAS New River
- MCB Camp Lejeune
- MCAS Beaufort
- MCRD Parris Island
- Henderson Hall
- MCB Quantico
- Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.
Techniques for Marketing to the Military
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.”
When Targus, a leading laptop and tablet accessory retailer, marketed its military offer, the message to the military was a clear “thank you.” For their specific promotion, they built a landing page just for members of the military. This ensured that Targus’s gratitude for their service was the clear reason for the special offer. In the end, Targus saw conversion rates more than double from 2018 to 2019 for those landing pages that hosted a personalized offer for a group such as the military.
[Read more about how Targus generated triple-digit growth with identity-driven offers]
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 dedicated 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.
Members of the military spend about 2 more hours per day on social media than the average citizen. These are the platforms that military members spend most of their time on, ranked from most time spent to least.
Younger vs. Older Veterans
When looking at the US 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.
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:
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 like Fathead and hold a special contest or sweepstakes just for service members and their families. Participants provide their email addresses to enter. See how smart that is?
Educational resources for understanding the military audience
Seventy-six percent of the military community say they learn about military discounts from word of mouth. 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 others’ 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.
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 Verification Easy
Another important factor to 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, such as keeping the experience entirely in-brand. Only 19% of members of the military would like to be verified for a personalized offer by creating an account on a third-party affiliate site.
As another best practice, it’s best to avoid asking consumers for sensitive information during verification for military status. For example, more than 4 in every 5 members of the military do not want to provide their social security number to redeem a personalized offer. On the other hand, most are willing to provide more privacy-friendly info; 89% are willing to provide their email, and 77% are willing to offer their date of birth to redeem an offer.
A robust, targeted, exclusive military discount that is easy 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.
The home improvement giant Lowe’s made their military offer a seamless part of the shopping process. In a brilliant move, they incorporated their customers’ military status into their loyalty program, making it easier for returning customers to receive their discount simply by showing they were a member of MyLowe’s. Lowe’s nurtured its relationship with these military customers by sending them tailored emails that generated 2x open rates compared to their other campaigns.
Marketing to the Military is More than Discounts
Remember, the military is a large, varied community with a huge amount of buying power. As such, it’s critical that your military campaigns come from a place of genuine caring. If the discounts you offer come across as nothing more than lip service, it could actually alienate customers in this community rather than please them.
This means striving to create genuine connections and honoring their work in a way that is sensitive and honest. Be sure to express gratitude and be conscious of the sometimes traumatic experiences military members go through. For example, it’s better to say “Day of Remembrance” instead of “Happy Memorial Day.”
Rather than taking a blanket approach to marketing to the military, recognize all the diverse experiences represented here. There are many branches of the military and many different situations. As such, it’s important to learn about this community and what may be considered offensive. For example, don’t use images in which the flag is flying incorrectly. In addition to learning about the community, you can also go above and beyond discounts by doing things such as donating to military organizations when customers redeem your offer.
Military members are often incredibly loyal customers. But to earn that loyalty, you need to put in the due diligence to craft military campaigns that are thoughtful and genuine.
Military Verification Services from SheerID
With SheerID’s verification service technology, military members can redeem their gated, exclusive offers seamlessly. Our instant, configurable military verification service delivers the most robust, authoritative solution in the industry.
Interested in learning more? You can continue learning how to gain loyal, lifelong military customers in our military ebook. Or get started with a tour of SheerID’s Identity Verification Platform through a free demo. SheerID can help you boost conversions, get better data, and reach the communities that matter most to your brand.