Marketing to Soldiers: Why Ecommerce Platforms Should Develop a Campaign for Military Members

Posted on November 13, 2009. Filed under: Amazon, eBay, Paypal | Tags: , , , , , |

Recently I read a great story written by Richard Brewer-Hay of eBayInk Blog titled Dog Tags: A Veteran’s Day Story.  The video was well done and I can’t imagine anyone who could watch the video and not feel something.  The emotions Americans have about our soldiers are very powerful. 

Later in the day I got to thinking about the video and about eBay and about the military.  And I had to wonder why none of the third party platforms, like eBay or Amazon,  have had a marketing campaign focused on military members and their families.   While I was waiting on an appointment yesterday afternoon, I jotted down a list of reasons why I think the third party ecommerce sites should develop a military marketing campaign. 

 

1. Small possibility of alienating non-niche group

Sometimes marketers target a niche group without really thinking about the impact that an advertising campaign could have on those who are not part of the target group.  For example, I recently bought a Betty Crocker cake mix that has baking instructions on the package  in Spanish as well as English.  Okay, not a big deal to me.  Frankly, I could really care less about what they put on the outside of the box but I personally know people who would be offended by this packaging.  I ended up at an auto body shop one time with someone who refused to do business with the shop because there was a customer service sign posted in both Spanish and English.  And a few months back I was in the grocery store and  overhead a grandmother become very agitated that she could not find a specific type of toilet paper on the shelf.  What was she looking for?  Well, the brand of toilet paper she buys comes with different packaging — some have a white baby on the outside packaging and some have a black baby on the outside.  She couldn’t find the packaging with the white baby and refused to buy the other.  Now, I think that is just crazy but the consumer votes with dollars and there is no universal requirement stating that their votes have to be logical.

Regarding marketing to military members and their families, there would likely be very little backlash from a campaign which rewards military members for their service.  While there is a wide range of opinion in this country regarding the appropriateness of our military serving abroad, the overwhelming consensus is that the individual soldier should be supported, thanked, and rewarded.  So any company who gives discounts or prizes or special treatment to the miliary would not be looked upon unfavorably.

2. The miliary is a concentrated and often captive audience

Military members are physically located in concentrated areas.  Often times, military members and their families live on base so that not only do they work together but they see each other after work and associate with each other on the weekends.  This is a unique aspect of a group that is not shared by many other target groups other than perhaps college students who go to school together and live on campus together.

And soldiers who are deployed overseas are very much a captive audience. 

3. Deployed soldiers are more open to subtle advertising especially since they are not bombarded by TV advertising

Not only are deployed soldiers a captive audience but they are generally not bombarded by TV advertising.   The Military Channels Network does not have consumer-type commercials and any regular programming on the US Forces Network (with programs that we here in the United States watch on a daily basis) has commercials that are in other languages.  So, soldiers generally do not hear television advertisements in English. 

4. Word of mouth recommendations are common and are respected

Soldiers generally trust other soldiers to give them good advice about purchasing.  Think about the soldier and family who move from one state to another which is a common occurrence.  They are new in town.  How do they learn quickly about where to shop, what to do for entertainment, etc?  There are places directly on base where soldiers can get “information” but the informal network is where the real information is. 

For example, while Home Depot publicly advertises that they give a military discount around Veterans Day or the Fourth of July, it is not public knowledge that Lowes offers military members a discount every day.  I’ve been multiple times to 6 different Lowes in 2 different states and every single time I ask for a military discount I have been given one.  Every time.  It’s not posted anywhere or advertised anywhere so how did I know about it?  Word of mouth.  And did you know that soldiers travelling on orders can visit most airlines’ Red Carpet clubs in airport terminals?  Again, I learned about this by word of mouth.   Word of mouth recommendations and sharing of information is very powerful in the military.

5. Military not likely to be laid off (unemployed) for their service term

Soldiers sign up for a specified period of time.  During that period of time, the soldier knows he/she is employed and is going to remain employed for the duration of the orders.  With this guarantee of a job, one would expect the spending habits for soldiers to be different from anyone employed in the civilian community who is fearful of losing their job.

6. Single and/or deployed soldiers typically have disposable income

Newly enlisted soldiers who are single are not paid well.  However, Uncle Same always makes sure they are clothed, fed, and housed.  Single soldiers have disposable income and many of them spend it all every payday, without fear, since they know their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter will always be taken care of.  And deployed soldiers receive their pay tax-free in addition to extra pay for things like hazardous duty.  So a deployed military member has more disposable income than when they are stateside.

7. Almost every military member has access to the internet

Young soldiers spend their money on a variety of things but one thing is for certain – most of them want to the coolest latest technology gadgets.  Many soldiers have laptops and/or iPhones.  And those who don’t have their own laptops often borrow their buddy’s laptop.  In addition, most bases have recreation rooms filled with computers where soldiers can access the internet for personal use.  Today’s soldier is very connected to the internet.

And deployed soldiers are much more wired in than many people think.  Even my business partner who lived 2 years in a tent in the Middle East had daily access to the internet at work from the day he arrived.  A few weeks after his arrival he even had internet access in his tent where I could webcam him for hours on end to discuss business.  Of course, I got to see how he lived and after a while I even got used to the things crawling around inside the tent and I learned not to let them distract me as we carried on a conversation.  Now, his tent was beside a runway so we had to time our communications in between the busy flight schedules and only twice did he have to disconnect in a hurry because there were shots fired.  But we were able to stay connected.  Today’s soldier is connected… around the world as well as at home.

8. The group of military members and their families is a large group

There are millions of active and retired military members, National Guard soldiers, and reservists.  Add in the family members and you have a nice size target group.

Which ecommerce platform could BEST market to the military?

Personally, I think Amazon could be the clear winner but I doubt they have any desire to market directly to the miltary. 

First and foremost, Amazon has the number one necessary criteria — a consistent buying experience.  The deployed soldier has much more on his/her mind to worry about than what to do with an item that was received significantly not as described.  It has to be right all the time, every time.  No deployed soldier can mess with returning an item.

And Amazon is already good at offering items that deployed soldiers most often want.  Deployed soldiers order electronics, clothing (deployed women order civilian clothing prior to going back stateside for a visit or when rotating back stateside), and consummables like toiletries and junk food.

Which ecommerce platform SHOULD be marketing to the military?

Without a doubt, eBay should be marketing to the military.  eBay has an army of small sellers who already support the military in their business model with things like free shipping to APO/FPO addresses.  And there are eBay small sellers who can and will give individual personalized service to military members.  eBay already has a history of trying to establish itself as a company who cares by going green and by programs such as world of good.  So, it wouldn’t be a stretch for eBay to market to military members and eBay has the resources to do so.  And, of course, many soldiers and their families are already familiar with an eBay owned company called Skype.  Lastly, one of the biggest reasons eBay should market to the military is because of PayPal.  The opportunities for PayPal with the military are so off the chart.  But the subject of PayPal marketing to the military would be enough to fill a whole new blog post.

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2 Responses to “Marketing to Soldiers: Why Ecommerce Platforms Should Develop a Campaign for Military Members”

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Um, MilBid. At it since 2008-

http://www.milbid.com/about_us,page,content_pages

But I’d say this sums it up quicker:

THANK YOU so very much for the info! I learned something new and interesting today.


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