What’s Good For Veterans Can Be Very Good For Businesses

It started in the early 1980s: The nation began to repent for what was commonly viewed as the shabby treatment of Vietnam War veterans. It caught speed in the early 1990s upon completion of the Gulf War. Later that decade, in a cultural movement that included the publication of The Greatest Generation and the release of “Saving Private Ryan,” the country kicked off a long celebration of its aging World War II vets.

These days, veterans occupy a spotlight that is brighter and more sustained than was the case throughout most of the 20th century (for various, complicated reasons that are best left to other articles). Civilians in airports or on airplanes often go out of their way to thank uniformed service members for their service. At sporting events, concerts and other public events, veterans are celebrated via a variety of methods, whether modest monologues from the stage or spectaculars that include fireworks and jet flyovers.

However, as the nation marked Veterans Day this weekend (and the Western world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I), new research from the world of payments and commerce showed how businesses could properly honor veterans  and do so in ways that are both lucrative and genuine, instead of cheesy.

Vet Purchasing Power

At least, that is the view of former Army Ranger and Iraq Combat Veteran Blake Hall, founder and CEO of identity verification firm ID.me. In a new PYMNTS interview with Karen Webster, Hall talked about the role veterans can play for businesses, and how businesses can make those consumers — 47 million Americans, counting veteran spouses and families, with a combined purchasing power of $1.4 trillion — feel important and respected.

According to a poll by ID.me of some 6,300 military veterans and 2,000 active service members, 95 percent of those surveyed “perceive brands [that] offer military discounts as patriotic and/or caring about veterans.” Beyond that, 89 percent feel “honored” to receive such discounts.

As Hall told Webster, “‘Honored’ is a really cool emotion for a brand to evoke in the feelings of a customer.”

No Cynicism

This may all come across as cynical, a story about gaining revenue by finding the perfect marketing message to appeal to another customer segment. Sure, that’s part of it, no doubt. However, veterans tend to know when they are being used, or when the message — that “thank you” in the airport or those kind words from the stage — is less than sincere. (They’re not like other types of consumers who can’t spot a cheap con.) The ID.me research would seem to confirm that veterans are indeed responding to honestly grateful communication and discount offers — and that’s good for businesses.

ID.me found that 95 percent of those surveyed search for exclusive military discounts before making purchases online, and that 97 percent had taken advantage of military discounts within the past year, with “more than half having redeemed discounts as least once every other month,” the report said. For Veterans Day, special military discounts were sought out and used by 90 percent of active service members and 93 percent of ex-service members. (Pro tip: Marine veterans don’t usually like to be called ex-Marines, but “inactive” or “retired.”)

It’s not only discounts, though. Under Armour sells branded gear that enables athletes to show their appreciation for veterans, and runs a year-long 10 percent discount program for veterans as well. That also helps increase customer loyalty among veterans.

Customer Relationships

Those findings point to the benefits of businesses meeting consumer shopping preferences, as well as having “emotional- and relationship-based” customer engagement with veterans, Hall noted. “Marketing is where business meets customers,” he said, repeating a lesson from a favorite Harvard professor. If a business finds a way to make that veteran feel respected and honored, and offers discounts to back up those sentiments, then that business might do a good a job of customer acquisition and retention.

Hall told a story about being in Las Vegas and having his status as a veteran confirmed via ID.me technology — as he told Webster, many veterans don’t carry documentation that proves their former military status. After that, he was upgraded in customer status, and enjoyed preferred treatment, discount offers and a loyalty card decorated with the image of the U.S. flag — all of which went toward producing what he called a “really cool experience.”

“That is really smart, because you are talking about a community here,” Hall told Webster. Think about it: Military members and families are usually part of a tight-knit society, one with its own language, culture and history that is increasingly separate from the wider world of civilian life, according to numerous sociologists, historians and other scholars. Not only that, but those members talk to each other often while on duty (say, on an aircraft carrier out at sea or an infantry company deployed for war) as they count down the days for their return home. That’s a powerful method of word-of-mouth marketing.

“You see the same effects with students and teachers,” and other such consumer segments tied together by similar work or values, Hall said. As for veterans, “they all share a common bond of service,” and as the ID.me research has shown, any business that can tap into that — and in a way that feels genuine — stands ready to make marketplace gains.