Every May, many companies commemorate Military Appreciation Month by rolling out initiatives that demonstrate military and veteran support.
However, the “win-win” nature of military marketing initiatives can fall apart from the start when corporations try to connect with the military community without understanding some of the basics of its culture. Despite our nation’s genuine support of its military, there is a gap between the civilian and military worlds. Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized this gap in his graduation speech to the West Point Class of 2011. Admiral Mullen said he feared the American public, though appreciative, did not comprehend the full burden carried by our service members. He also acknowledged that the military had its own language and unique culture, which made it hard for civilians to understand their world. Later that same year, Pew Research conducted a series of studies that supported the Admiral’s concern.
In our more than 20 years working with the military, SDI has seen companies repeatedly overlook some of the fundamentals to military outreach. Here are five common mistakes companies should be sure to avoid this Military Appreciation Month:
1. Too much show. Not enough substance. Humility is a hallmark trait of service members. Military men and women volunteer to risk their lives with no promise of glory. They can detect a hollow overture quicker than anyone. And thanks to a few companies’ military predatory practices, service members are on high alert for companies not living up to their claims. Be forewarned, brands have a tough time shaking claims that they take advantage of the military.
2. Not speaking their language. Companies do not need to become fluent in the military’s alphabet soup of acronyms, but they should demonstrate a concerted effort to understand the military experience. Corporate responsibility efforts should be focused on issues that really matter to the military community. Companies can highlight the number of veterans they employ, or showcase how company leaders have taken steps to learn more about the military culture. Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, so veterans are always looking for someone who understands their world.
3. Forgetting military families. Approximately 1.1 million service members are married. More than 700,000 children have had a parent deploy at least once. These courageous family members are part of the military community. They have earned and deserve support too. Brands hoping to connect with the military community will quickly find military spouses to be important and effective gatekeepers. Military spouses make many of the household decisions, and they are some of the most passionate advocates for service members and veterans. Spouses maintain a very tight network, constantly sharing helpful tips, information and advice with each other.
4. Reinventing the wheel. Companies should be strategic in deciding how they can best support the military community. The military support sphere is crowded. After more than 11 years of war, thousands of companies and non-profits offer everything from hiring initiatives to career training programs, hand-knit helmet liners to homemade cookies. A company’s military support should be organic to its mission and particular strengths. Be creative and strategic in your outreach, and make it count.
5. Publicizing everything. PR professionals love publicizing a good story, particularly one that pulls at the heart strings. However, some situations require a delicate approach. Service members recovering from injuries or expressing grief appreciate privacy, as we all would at such times in our lives. Military public affairs officers have written and unwritten rules about photographing or videoing service members in these circumstances. In these circumstances, service members and their families appreciate companies that offer military support behind closed doors. Unpublicized demonstrations of assistance may not make headlines, but they have a way of spreading quickly with more impact through the military community network.