The Navy has employed public relations and public affairs as part of their communications arsenal for decades. But, they don’t take advantage of the technology available to directly market their message to U.S. consumers – consumers who can give them a temperature reading on the nation’s attitudes towards the Navy. In fact, 25 million of the nation’s consumers are veterans, approximately 5.2 million of those who served in the Navy. They can serve as force multipliers for the Navy.

As communications professionals know, direct marketing has evolved from costly direct mail to very cost-efficient email marketing. Maintaining databases of thousands (or millions) of email addresses is getting cheaper and cheaper. These databases can be segmented by age, veteran status, geography, or interests.

So, why doesn’t the Navy take advantage of this? Sure, all the services are starting to get onboard with social media. The services’ social media strategies vary widely and their use is growing in a haphazard manner, with some four-stars and commands hosting their own blogs or “tweeting” and some services blocking the use of Facebook. Those who are using the tools essentially broadcast to anyone who wants to listen – and that anyone is usually an internal audience. Instead of “broadcasting,” what they really should be doing is “microcasting” to discrete audiences that they deliberately solicit to educate and influence.

Why don’t they collect email addresses from people who attend air shows, ship tours, fleet weeks, ship commissionings and commemoration events to join a national Navy mailing list? With technology today, registrants could opt-in to specialized mailing lists depending on their interest: national Navy news, upcoming ship visits, local base news, or policy issue updates (benefits, gays in the Navy, GI Bill).

The Navy (as do all the services) spends significant resources on media relations – a communications medium that is filtered. They also spend significant resources on community outreach, but that return on investment is rarely quantifiably measured. For example, if neighbors complain about aircraft noise and pollution at a nearby air station, the Navy usually holds community hearings, hosts community leaders at annual air shows and makes speeches at the local chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs. These are worthwhile activities, but they can be expensive and resource-intensive. And how do they know if their efforts have quelled public concern? They rely on television and marketing research companies’ polls or media op-eds or local lawmakers’ actions. Is this enough?

Private sector companies employ some marketing strategies to get their unfiltered message out to their consumers that the Navy could consider, e.g., letters from the CEO in full-page ads in national newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal) or notices sent via snail mail (notices from the CEO inserted in monthly statements or newsletters). But why not start with an email marketing campaign?

Posted by The Bunny in History
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  • Fouled Anchor

    Bunny, very interesting. I would love to see a response from CHINFO. The technology certainly exists…the firms handling recruiting have done direct marketing for years. They pretty effectively target specific potential recruits and their influencers (parents and teachers mostly) for certain career fields. This would put the strategic in strategic communications.

  • Cap;n Bill

    A real fire cracker suggestion. It will be interesting to see what comes of it. Beware “Not Invented Here”.

    Maybe one of our Flags will grab the ball and give it a smart toss.

  • Byron

    You know, the Marines never have a problem with recruiting. Big Navy needs to ask why the Marines don’t have to agonize over a marketing campaign.

    And I’ll give you three guess what the Corps allure to young men and women. First two don’t count

  • Cap;n Bill

    This is a case of different strokes for different folks. The USMC benefits from a steady coherent theme of what it means to be a Marine. Navy seems not to have tried this, perhaps because of the fragmented components of the much larger service.

  • Cap’n Bill – you answered Byron’s point, no reason to make an excuse for the USN.

    The Marines are just as “fragmented” as the Navy. The thing is, they have what you said, “…a steady coherent theme of what it means to be a Marine.”

    That theme comes from the very top on down. I served with more than one Marine who like to joke that the Marines are a cult. Kind of, but in a good way.

    If there is a frustration that the Navy doesn’t quite have that same focus, then we should ask ourselves why and then look for solutions. It is all there, but it takes focus and it takes the senior leadership building that foundation.

    I have sat in on a “CNO Call.” I’ll give you one guess what he lead with in an audience of deployed Sailors. It isn’t THU, so I won’t beat the drum. You want to turn off a gathering of Fleet Sailors – lead with that inside-the-beltway priority. Follow it up with a discussion of shipbuilding minutia and finish with a talk about bandwidth needs …. then ….. well …. it is hard to “…get a coherent theme of what it means to be a Sailor.”

    In his talk, about 20% was right. About 20% very good and appropriate. Our Sailors are our best recruiters. What they tell their families and friends back home are the key to setting the right background buzz about what it means to be a Sailor.

    Give them the right boost and they will sell the product. Deliver what you promise (i.e. don’t tell people you will lighten their seabag and then have they own THREE different types of camo clothing [NWU, BDU, DCU] that require different boots, jackets, etc; yet they still have to get a set of ACU for AFG/IRQ duty because DCU are virtually unsupported by the Navy in both places) Speaking of which …

    You can start with the basics. Why do Marines have the best uniforms from Dress to combat?

    Do Marines stress proven fundamentals, or do they chase chimaeras of transformation (MV-22/EFV an exception)?

    Questions. Always good to start with questions. Big questions.

  • Byron

    I’m just a Socratic kinda guy 😉

    The critical difference between the Marines and the Navy is very simple. From the very first day at boot camp, through every type of training they encounter, Marines are constantly reminded that their history is long, all the way back to Tuns Tavern, their actions full of honor, that Marines must be and are different, and most importantly, once you become a Marine, you are ALWAYS a Marine. Sailors become ex-sailors. Soldiers of the Army become ex-soldiers. Members of the Air Force become ex-Air Force. But a Marine is always a Marine.

    Last but certainly not least, The Marine Corps has buttresed this training and mindset with one simple admonition that is constantly impressed: Every Marine, no matter the specialty, is a rifleman FIRST.

    That’s what the Navy needs to start training towards. As it is, most sailors have the attitude that once I get what I want out of the Navy, whether it be the golden 20, or a certain rank, or training in the repair of jet turbines or radios, they decide to become an EX-sailor. The Navy needs to go back to the future and start teaching them that real Sailors have a lot to be proud of, and making it tough for them to become sailors. I’ve seen way too many sailors wearing warfare pins that really shouldn’t be wearing them. I mean, can you imagine a first class petty officer bos’n mate not knowing what the Goat Locker is?

    Time to Man Up, Navy.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    I wonder if Bunny doesn’t have something there, at least in the addressing of a larger issue. Back in January, ADM Harvey made the point on this here very blog site that there was a big difference between the Public Message/Strategic Comms effort and the recruiting effort. They are related, but not at all the same. One engages the critical element of public support for its Navy, the other is looking for direct participation from its sons and daughters.

    From the recruiting standpoint, I respectfully disagree with the Admiral’s assertions regarding the effectiveness of different “models” between the USN and USMC. The “coherent theme” and pride in the customs and traditions of service should be developed and highlighted.

    But Admiral Harvey’s larger point, that of outreach and messages to the public at large to remind them of the critical importance of their Navy, was absolutely correct. If Bunny’s suggestion can be effective (perhaps more effective than other efforts in the last decade) to accomplish that, the USN ought to give it a serious look.

    If I were to be purely parochial, I would be fine with the shrinking of the Navy as long as the USMC benefited from increased budgets for new rifles, AAAV, training and ammunition budgets, etc. But that would be silly and self-defeating. The US Navy is absolutely vital to our nation’s defense, both before and during conflicts that would threaten our interests around the world. The USN needs to do a better job of making people inside and outside of the beltway are constantly reminded of that.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    *Burma Shave*

    Last line above should read “The USN needs to do a better job of making SURE people inside and outside of the beltway are constantly reminded of that.”

  • Red Sox Marine

    This is my first blog comment on this site.

    All the comments are wonderful, but we are missing the point? I believe Bunny is suggesting that Direct Marketing should not be used with the fleet but with the general public.

    It is a question of educating the public on its Navy and its mission; as we all know the Navy has a problem with the folks in Iowa understanding that this is a maritime nation and it needs a Navy.

    Direct Marketing is just one be one piece of a new PR and Marketing EDUCATION campaign that the Navy needs to move towards.

    The target is the general public. The team is CHINFO, NHHC and the non-profit community supporting the Navy. The message is what the Navy decides it will be – which means that we do not need to worry about “fragmentation” or comparisons with other services.

    Focus on the Navy brand and one clear message and everything else will take care of itself.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Red Sox Marine?”

    You wouldn’t consider hitting third for our boys, would you?

    Excellent point, and one that HAS to be more effective on the part of the BIG NAVY. A challenge, without a major role in the current fight.

  • Direct Marketing is effective but can be quite expensive. I wonder why the US Navy doesn’t harness social media and social networking more. There are millions of Navy Vets in this country that were successful because of the education, experience and discipline learned while in the Navy. Those stories are essential to new recruits.

    It’s the story that sells, not the medium.

  • CWO3/7441/USN(RETIRED)

    I like the days in the Navy when all you needed was a, “GO NAVY”. Pride, Professionalism, Heritage, Tradition, and Teamwork. Integrity and initiative at the core. We don’t need a civilian to tell us what’s great about the Navy. We just need to set our own example, our Sailors are the best recruiting tool we have. We just need to find a way to have their voices reach the uneducated public. It’s a matter of Leadership. The Marines have a great program because it centers around Leadership. Let’s get the Navy’s Leadership back on track, refocus on the important tasks. Do things smarter and things like recruiting will become easy. When you treat your people with respect and emphasize that respect is earned as a component of leadership the team grows stronger. When you group everyone into a generic timeline (high year tenure) you stifle the individual and limit diversity. When you limit the description of an individual’s performance to data points of metric values, you dishonor the individual, you restrict leadership, and reduce the efficiency and capability of the chain of command. Direct marketing is invasive and will just add to the ever increasing pile of junk mail and spam, it will only promote resentment. We don’t need it. Maybe it is time to unify the Navy and Marine Corps training, like the Academy.