Military members and their families are willing to make tremendous sacrifices. Most of us don’t expect civilian businesses to go out of their way to accommodate us with discounts or hiring programs. However, the ones that do have a special place in our hearts.
Military spouses are some of the strongest men and women I know. They give up everything they know to marry into this military family and follow the man or woman of their dreams to the ends of the earth. We build communities and friendships fast, because we know they might not last long before we have to relocate again. Military spouses are fiercely protective of our kids and our service members. And we’re loyal, so loyal. Companies know that and they want our business. So much so that big brands are marketing specifically towards the military community.
There are plenty of companies out there that cling to the military cause. They hope to bring in a few more sales, which we get—they are a business after all! But their efforts are meaningless unless they put their money where their mouth is. Businesses that think they can offer a military discount on the third Tuesday of every month and gain the loyalty of military members and their families are way off base. To be honest, a store that offers a military discount is nice to come by, but it’s certainly not the best indicator of whether or not a brand stands behind the military. More often, those brands are just looking to boost publicity if their support only runs that deep.
Here, I’ll break down marketing to military spouses and exactly what we look for in a brand.
What Matters Most to Military Spouses
As a veteran and military spouse, I always look for veteran-owned or military spouse-owned businesses to support before turning to the big brands. This is a tight-knit community, and the majority of the time, military spouses are going to support their own.
We want brands who understand the military lifestyle. Military spouses know the struggle all too well of finding stable employment. A whopping 21% of military spouses are unemployed. 31% are working part-time, but would rather be working full-time. I know too many military spouses who have given up careers to support their active duty spouse. So, if I know a spouse who is also an entrepreneur, I’m going to do all I can to support their business. That means even if the big brand is cheaper. That’s right—I’d rather pay more for a customer experience that feels more relatable, and that I feel good about, than save a few bucks. But then again, that’s not necessarily something unique to military-related consumers.
Marketing to Military Spouses: Customer Experience Is Key
Younger generations across the board are looking for brands that give them a better customer experience. They want brands that make them feel good about their purchase. People today want brands that are committed to things like sustainability, social responsibility, and community impact.
Speaking of younger generations, more than 80% of all service members are under 40 years old. Today’s service members and their families are looking for more than a discount. I want to patronize businesses that have the best interests of veterans and military families ingrained into their corporate policies and practices and translate that into a customer experience that keeps me coming back.
Big Brands, We Love You, Too
Shopping small is my preference, but I don’t know anyone who makes running shoes, coffee makers, or vacuum cleaners. For those necessities, we shop the big guys. Big brands do a lot to support the military community, too. However, I’m not shopping blindly. When I shop the big brands I look for things like the following:
- Do they offer shipping to APO addresses? You would be shocked at how many businesses don’t have a provision to get their products to the nearly 200,000 military members and their families stationed overseas.
- Are their products and services flexible to the military lifestyle?
- Do they actively pursue hiring veterans and military spouses?
- Do they donate to military-affiliated charities such as Blue Star Families, Fisher House Foundation, Dogs on Deployment…etc.?
- Do they volunteer for veterans’ events in their communities? Not all support has to be monetary.
- Are they selling quality products or services? I’m not sending my husband to the desert with deodorant that doesn’t work or socks that fall apart after a few washes. He’s not going to be comfortable enough to confidently do his job and that makes all the difference to me and my family.
We See Your Sacrifice
Aside from those that support the military community with good pricing, customer service, and logistics, military spouses are looking for brands that prioritize service members and their families, as well as veterans. A once-a-month military discount is a cheap way to say, “we support the troops!” without making any actual sacrifice. As a community that makes sacrifices on a daily basis, we know what real sacrifice looks like, and can see right through that kind of cheap marketing. I want to know how they are incorporating military spouses and veterans into their brand identity.
Let’s take Starbucks, for example. The coffee giant is committed to helping veterans and military spouses find careers that are just as flexible as the military lifestyle they live. They’ve already exceeded their initial goal of employing 10,000 veterans and spouses and have upped that goal to 25,000 by 2025. That’s more than just marketing to military spouses — it’s legitimate support.
Verizon is also a contender when it comes to prioritizing military families and veterans in their marketing strategy. They give generous discounts for military and veterans. But, they take their commitment to giving back to service members and veterans a step further. Verizon is one of the leading employers of veterans and military spouses nationwide and is considered one of the Top 10 Military Employers by Military Times.
Starbucks places special patches on the aprons of their military spouses and veterans so that their service is properly recognized. Credit: Connecting Vets.
Marketing to Military Spouses Should Include Veterans
Some days it’s hard to imagine, but life will go on after our spouses have completed their military service. For some families, this can be a harsh reality.
In 2011, veteran unemployment rates were at 9.9%. That was probably a scary time for a lot of former military families. There is always the concern that our service members won’t integrate back to civilian life successfully. Thankfully, the veteran unemployment rate has significantly dropped to 2.5% as of February 2023. The government has instituted some programs to help better prepare service members for the transition to civilian life. However, the real impact comes from the commitment of companies to hire veterans. Big brands and small businesses alike are recognizing the value of making veterans part of their teams.
Veterans have unique experiences and skill sets including:
- Attention to detail
- Adaptability and trainability
- Ability to perform under pressure
- Leadership and followership capabilities
- Doing what’s best for the team
Companies of all shapes and sizes are picking up on this which means finding a job as a veteran is easier today than it’s been in nearly 10 years.
But, does a company that employs veterans inspire loyalty from those who are currently serving and their spouses? You better believe it. Let me give you an example. My husband’s military career recently relocated us to Germany. We were Verizon customers when we found out about our upcoming move and I cringed at the thought of having to call and argue with a customer service rep about suspending our service. Although it’s Verizon’s policy to suspend service for military customers for 3 years while stationed abroad, those phones calls never seem to go as smoothly as one would hope. But, oh Verizon, you proved me wrong this time. I explained myself to the young lady on the other end of the line and come to find out, she was an Air Force veteran who had been stationed in Germany just a few short years ago. It took her about 10 seconds, and no arguing, to process my line suspension and she spent the rest of the time giving me a list of tips and recommendations of her favorite places to visit while we were living in Germany. I had a similar conversation with a Navy veteran when I was dealing with some international calling charges.
All that to say, although Verizon might cost more than some of their competitors, they bring so much more to the table than a military discount. If all they offered the military community was a discount, I’d defect to the next mobile service provider the second they offered a better discount. But, their veteran hiring program and even more so, their veteran employees, have earned my loyalty more than their military discount ever could have.
Family Time Takes Precedence
Family time is so important for military families. We get far less of it than the average family and sometimes we don’t see our service member for six months to more than a year at a time. I love brands that recognize this and give military families options! Two of my favorite vacation brands are Disney and Delta.
I grew up just a few hours from Orlando, Florida which means I grew up loving Disney. But, it wasn’t until I served in the military that I came to respect Disney for what they do for the military and their families. With their Armed Forces Salute program, Disney offers heavily discounted park tickets, up to 30-40% off rooms at Disney Resort Hotels, and discounts on Disney Cruise Line sailings. Thanks to Disney’s generous military discounts, we’ve visited the Walt Disney World Resort twice a year, every year, since we’ve been in the military.
Marketing to military spouses doesn’t just mean giving great discounts. Not only does the Walt Disney Company offer amazing vacation pricing for military families, they’re also a shining example for hiring veterans. In 2012, the company launched Heroes Work Here, a program to hire, train, and support veterans. Disney will always have my business as long as they keep offering such lucrative incentives for military members and their families.
Saying we travel a lot is an understatement. Our families live all over the country, and once we had a baby, we were going home left and right so the grandparents could get in their baby snuggles before we shipped off to Germany. I’ve had my fair share of mediocre airline experiences. However, I have never been disappointed with Delta’s exceptional military customer service.
Delta has a dedicated military desk that active duty service members can use to book discounted flights not available to civilian customers. We have snagged some tickets at amazing prices using this benefit. Delta gets how quickly military plans can change, too. For that reason, they offer military fares that incur no cancellation or change fees. For an industry that collectively nickels and dimes its customers, that’s a move I really appreciate. And I’ve used it on several occasions when our plans changed the day before our flight. Delta also has a generous baggage policy and they’ve always given me free checked bags as a military dependent traveling without my spouse, even though their policy doesn’t explicitly say they offer that. That’s the kind of customer service that breeds loyalty.
We Want to Know Our Service Member is Taken Care Of
Brands that go out of their way to make sure my spouse is taken care of in uniform are always at the top of my list. Oakley is a prime example of this. They have a dedicated line of products that meet military standards. Not only do they put in the work and research to making combat-ready products, they offer a nice discount for good measure. As a military spouse, I feel good knowing my husband is wearing quality products that will keep him safe. It’s a bonus that they don’t break the bank, too.
Similarly, brands like Camelbak, Nike, and Under Armor make military-specific products that make it easier for service members to do their jobs. Sure, the military will issue our spouses boots. But, if I don’t want to hear about his sore feet at the end of every day, we are going to invest in a pair of Nike combat boots. Military members are consumers too and appreciate buying options.
Please, Don’t Make Our Lives Any Harder
Conversely, there are brands that have built their entire imagine and brand identity on supporting the military, but their actions speak louder than their words. The last thing military families need are more hoops to jump through and obstacles to climb. The government gives us plenty of those on their own.
We recently had a less-than-stellar customer service experience with a certain tactical supply company. They sell military uniform accessories such as boots, backpacks, cold weather gear, and so on. My husband is getting ready to deploy to the Middle East and he wanted a new pair of boots to deploy with, so he ordered a pair from this company. They shipped the boots to Germany, but they weren’t the right fit and he decided he was going to return them. But, although this company offers free shipping to APO addresses, they do not offer free returns from APO addresses. The military mail system is really pretty simple; it’s a US address and shipping rates are exactly the same as if you were mailing something from within the continental United States. So why couldn’t they offer free returns for their customers stationed overseas?
Their reply: “We just don’t.” Well, we just don’t shop there anymore. Because although the entire purpose of their business is to supply the military, and all of their branding and rhetoric says that they support the military, when it comes down to customer experience, they fall short. They could have easily accommodated this simple issue, but they decidedly chose not to. Businesses can say they support the military until they’re blue in the face, but if they don’t deliver a customer experience that backs up all of that talk, we’re finding somewhere else to spend our money.
Good marketing is the art of building lasting customer relationships. Relationships are built on trust, honesty, reliability, and loyalty through positive customer experiences. If brands want to win the business and loyalty of military spouses, they need to be transparent and honest about how much they are willing to invest in the military community. More importantly, they need to follow through.