What Civilians Can Learn from Army Marketers

Patti Renner As we pause to celebrate Memorial Day and honor those who served the U.S. Armed Forces, I was curious about the military’s use of digital marketing and social media for the recruitment of new soldiers. Of course marketing a product or service can be challenging, but the idea of shaping a message so powerful that it inspires people to make significant life changes – risking their own safety and the happiness of their family to serve their country – well, that’s a tall order. I’m incredibly grateful for those who answer the call of duty to protect and support our American way of life. It’s interested to see what messaging may have influenced them to get off the couch and into the recruiter’s office. Here’s a look at a few of the weapons in their marketing arsenal.

“Soldier-Focused” Messaging – We’ve spent some time highlighting the value of Custom-Focused Messaging, but what about the military? Perhaps the best way to tap into the hearts and minds of future soldiers is to simply ask them what messaging works for them and how they would improve it. In Sacramento, local recruiters host focus group-style forums called “Future Soldier Panels” to get feedback on their marketing approach, to make sure it resonates with the target audience.

Relevance by Generation – A look at the U.S. Army messaging over the years and you can see how it’s evolved to remain relevant to the needs and emotions of each generation targeted. “Uncle Sam Wants You” was perfect for The Greatest Generation, who are comfortable with authority, taking orders, and believed it was both a privilege and responsibility to serve others. “Be All That You Can Be” targeted today’s Baby Boomer generation, and could still serve as a mantra for their core beliefs and desire for personal success and excellence. Transition to the Gen X messaging where the people are more self-reliant and independent and you can see how “Army of One” would be appealing. Today’s young people (Generation Y) ask more questions and need to understand the reason behind the task. They also tend to have close relationships with their parents. So, for the first time ever, the Army’s messaging has shifted away from the individual to include the influencers with “You Made them Strong… We’ll make them Army Strong.” It’s all about relevance – connecting on a personal level in a meaningful way with their audience.

Social Media – Last week the Air Force released an updated guide for social media use. Created for use by Airmen and their families, the resource offers some valuable guidelines and recommendations that can be used to inspire and enhance private-sector social media policies as well. The 22-page guide, entitled “Navigating the Social Network: The Air Force Guide to Effective Social Media,” is available as a free download. It’s good stuff, and if you don’t currently have a social media policy within your organization, the Air Force approach may be a good place to start.

Recently, Rev Media Marketing identified the U.S. Army as one of the best and most effective users of social media to get their message out to the right demographic. In the article, they explained, “Unlike many private companies, the Army makes full use of a whole host of sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo; Pinterest, Google+, Flickr and more. Not only does the Army have a presence on these sites, they regularly post meaningful and relevant content there as well. Granted, their messages are more or less themed toward self-promotion and recruitment, but that is their job after all.”

In my own research, I was impressed by how well the Army uses Pinterest to share its brand awareness, values and activities. You can check it out here: http://pinterest.com/usarmy. It includes pins on training, family, veterans, “chow” (patriotic recipes and care-package tips) and more.

Special thanks to all the veterans, and to all who serve in the United States Military – especially the hard-working marketing officers. Happy Memorial Day!

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