U.S. Army Puts Marketing Guns Into Social Media
He explained that the effort comprises over a thousand Army stories written by Army bloggers talking about their lives. "We have been around 235 years -- one year longer than the country. So we are always asked: 'Why advertise? You have 100% awareness.' It's true. We've been in all the big wars," he joked, saying the idea actually came because people ask very basic questions that show that while awareness is universal, understanding is not.
"People ask, 'Can I be married and be in the Army?' 'If I get hurt, will you take care of me?' Less than 1% of the U.S. has ever served in any branch of the military, so young people thinking about serving have no one to go to. The onus is on us to tell authentic stories. We have all these perceptual issues we have to overcome."
Jasurda said it was initially a hard sell at the Pentagon to move media over to social platforms, and not simply because of the reduction of broad-reach efforts. "We presented this idea and how it would mean lots of money out of traditional broad reach. One guy said he was nervous when I presented it" because of what soldiers might say, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I said, 'We ask people to come join our Army: we put them on a bus, give them a haircut and an M16. I think it's okay to put them online.' For us, it's been key that there is authenticity, that we are being totally honest.
"So, we have bloggers from soldiers in the field saying, 'Combat sucks.' Well, yes. But it is better for young people to hear it from someone over there who's really in it rather [our] saying: 'Oh, it's not that bad and we'll take care of you.' We are the ultimate considered purchase: you buy this product, you could lose your life. Right now, you aren't signing up for employment, you are signing up for deployment. So transparency is critical. The thing in Afghanistan is real. The thing in Iraq is real. The chances are very good that recruits will be deployed, so the onus is on us to talk about it in a no-BS way."
The enlistment rate has been good, according to Jasurda, but he argues that attributing the increased numbers solely to the economy is a fallacy. "There's the perception out there that when the economy is bad, recruiting is good," he said. "But only three of ten people who want to serve are qualified. A benefit has been getting that message across."
He said another benefit of taking the program to social media is that, like someone going to a car dealer after researching a vehicle online, people walk into a recruiter's office with a good idea of where the fit is going to be. "It's less about improving the 'close rate' than shortening the time it takes an interested prospect and recruiter to work together to see if there's a match there. The lag time in terms of a yes-or-no decision is a lot quicker."
In terms of traditional marketing activity, the Army got out of sponsorship two years ago, according to Jacurda. "We do partnerships, not sponsorships. When we do partnerships, we will have 41 different target segments. If we do a deal with the Essence Music Festival, we sign a memorandum of understanding upfront, saying this is what we will do, and this is what we expect from you."