Memorial Day is a somber day for me and for many in the military community. It’s a day military veterans like myself flip through old photos, reminiscing about the friends we loved and lost. It’s a day when thousands across the country grieve together for the spouses, children, and parents who left to serve their country and never came home.
It’s also a day that, for better or for worse, heralds in the summer season with family barbecues and parades.
Holidays mean different things to many people, and I don’t begrudge people for celebrating the sunny side of Memorial Day. However, when brands mix up those themes when targeting military veterans like me and our families with discounts, it feels a little bit like exploitation.
Here are some best practices for respectfully recognizing Memorial Day that I’ve observed and put into action as a military veteran and entrepreneur.
1) Tailor content specific to Memorial Day–not Veterans Day
Brands frustrate veterans when they confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day in messaging.
Memorial Day pays tribute to those who died serving in the military. Veterans Day honors all who served, with a specific focus on thanking living veterans. The distinction between these two holidays looks small on paper, but they inspire widely different emotions.
When crafting a social post or email, be mindful that the message you’re sending is specific to Memorial Day. For example, ‘Thank you for your service’–a divisive phrase in the military community to begin with–is more appropriate for Veterans Day. A better message for Memorial Day would include honoring or remembering the sacrifices of the fallen.
— Jeep (@Jeep) May 30, 2016
2) Separate the celebration from the remembrance
Wishing military veterans a ‘happy’ Memorial Day can come across as tone deaf, both in marketing emails and on social media. The same goes for asking civilian customers to observe a moment of silence for the fallen…while also advertising a sale on the latest grill.
Seperate those sentiments to ensure all of your Memorial Day posts strike the correct chord. One strategy I see retailers deploy every year is using #MemorialDayWeekend instead of #MemorialDay. One hashtag is clearly about the three-day weekend of sales and barbecues, while the other is about solemn moment of remembrance.
Sure #MemorialDayWeekend is a longer hashtag, but Twitter gave us 280 characters for a reason. Use them.
— Nordstrom Rack (@nordstromrack) May 26, 2017
3) Use accurate imagery
More often than not, military stock photos contain inaccurate uniforms and patches. As a military veteran, it’s jarring when a post recognizing fallen Americans features a model in an out-of-regulation uniform, a guy with facial hair, or a service member from a different country’s military.
A good place to start when looking for Memorial Day imagery are the U.S. armed services Flickr accounts. Military photographers take stunning photos of real American service members in training, in the field, and at ceremonies. These photos are in the public domain and available for use, so long as the photographer is credited and the images aren’t used to claim an endorsement from the military.
Retailers should also look to their veteran customers. User-generated content is a huge influence on customer spending decisions because it is more authentic than branded content. On a holiday like Memorial Day, a photo of real veterans enjoying your product can go a long way.
Happy Memorial Day. Today we honor the brave canine and human heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe.
4) Honor the military community with a military discount
Military discounts are a proven strategy for retailers showing their appreciation of the military–while also acquiring new customers and nurturing loyalty. However, even the best intentioned discount can get dicey if insensitively executed.
Use the best practices outlined above, such as creating messaging specific to Memorial Day, adopting the right tone, and using authentic images, to spread the word about your military discount. Show your military customers that this is a moment to demonstration your appreciation for their sacrifices–not a ploy get their dollars.
Retailers don’t have to force a connection between their military discounts and the significance of Memorial Day. A message as simple as ‘We salute you’ can go a long way.