Marketing across channels has been decidedly veteran-focused this week as brands offer their yearly thanks to veterans. That got us thinking about the work we’ve done with veterans and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Veterans are often discussed more as symbols than as people. Depending on the talking point being supported, veterans can represent sacrifice, freedom, American ideals, patriotism, war, trauma, or any notion, positive or negative, that serves the speaker’s goals. What we see far less often is a thoughtful discussion in which veterans are real people with real experiences and needs.
In the past couple of years we have worked both with specific branches of the military, veteran-focused organizations, and organizations hoping to serve veterans. Throughout these engagements we’ve sought to understand the experiences and needs of veterans and military from their own perspectives. We’ve sought to bring their voices into the conversation. In honor of Veterans Day, we’d like to share the top three insights we’ve uncovered in our research.
1. Serving in the military is a job, and a difficult one at that
While there is a certain honor and distinction reserved for the military, it is still a job. As a job, it’s pretty brutal. Military members sign up for little pay and tough hours. They sign their bodies up for grueling training, their minds up for intense amounts of stress, and their families up for frequent moves and months of long-distance separation. Many choose this path, but not without understanding that these costs come with a host of benefits. Military members are promised quality health, educational, and financial benefits to counter the toll that a military life takes on their bodies and minds. These benefits and services provided to veterans are not bonuses, they are repayment. One doesn’t have to agree with the ways that the military operates to agree that people deserve to be compensated for the work they do, and far too often, the physical and mental toll of military service creates numerous cracks through which veterans fall. The resources provided to veterans, by public and private organizations, help lift veterans back up and seal those cracks.
2. More isn’t always better
Creating resources for veterans is a popular idea for brands, but we’ve been impressed by the ways that clients we’ve worked with want to make sure that the investment they make goes towards actually improving the lives of veterans. After natural disasters, food banks often find themselves flooded with food donations but without the financial and manpower resources to distribute food to victims. Similarly with veterans, sometimes the biggest need is not in creating more services offering more benefits, it’s investing in connecting veterans with the resources they need when they need them. This kind of structural investment isn’t flashy, but it’s vital when the goal is to meet the needs of veterans.
3. Actions speak louder than words
The veterans and military we have talked to across our research engagements are well-aware that it is popular and easy to tell them you support them or thank them for their service. These sentiments are of course appreciated, but what is even more appreciated is when they see concrete action taken to improve the lives of veterans. They feel that a person, organization, or brand truly appreciates veterans when they are out in the community building homes for veterans, serving food to veterans, or even just spending time with veterans. Veterans have real needs, so hearing that they are appreciated is nice, but actually trying to understand their experiences and help meet those needs is so much more impactful.
These lessons are not profound, they’re common sense, but they are far too often forgotten in the midst of pronouncements about who veterans are and what they represent. In the end, it’s important to remember that veterans are people, not symbols. Do something this Veterans Day to improve the life of someone you know who has served in the military, not because of a vague notion of freedom or service, but because, in their position, with their experiences, you would want someone to do the same for you.