Each year, approximately one third of the military community goes on the move.
Starting in early spring, when military families learn where they’re headed, they start planning. They look at schools, housing, and jobs. They consider how to travel to their next duty station and routes to take. They look at swinging through hometowns for a quick visit, or taking a family vacation along the way. As they enter this PCS (permanent change of station) season, they are laser-focused on the coming months.
An annual migration on this scale is a valuable opportunity for brands targeting military families. Here are some key facts and trends marketers should remember when executing a PCS season campaign:
1) Not all moves happen in the summer
When planning a PCS special or when working with military families, keep in mind that not everyone has children and moves aren’t limited to the summer months. According to the U.S. Navy, over 65 percent of the moves scheduled for the year occur between the middle of May and Labor Day. The push for a summer move comes from families with school-aged children, so there is as little disruption as possible.
But resources appear more readily available when families travel outside the summer months. Marine spouse Autumn Negron’s family have moved several times over the last 17 years, always during the summer months. They had to fight for a finite number of discounts and services, such as angling for military flights for her family, during peak PCS season.
When Negron’s family moved in February one year, they utilized military rates and discounts that would not typically have been available to them. Fewer moving families meant fewer people competing for resources and discounts.
2) Preparation is key
Preparation for the next move begins as soon as word comes down from senior leaders, often before the family knows when or where they are moving. Families often know the approximate timeline for their next move, and that is when they start researching and preparing.
Military families use websites like PCSgrades to research an area, decide whether to live on or off the installation, and talk to other spouses about the duty station. They want to know about the units they are moving to, the hours of the job, childcare availability, medical options, even traffic patterns. Many military couples and parents will visit e-commerce sites like BaseSalez to buy and sell furniture for their new homes. Partnering with and advertising on websites that cater to the military community is a way to earn support and business from those families.
Sometimes, a military family will plan for one place, only to have those plans change at the last minute. The Russells, for example, were all set to move to San Angelo, Texas, when orders changed and their family moved to Sierra Vista, Arizona. They had to start over, changing travel plans, finding new housing options, even adjusting their plans to foster and adopt a child.
Brands can show their support of moving military families by waiving no-return policies or allowing last-minute cancellations in these situations. Consider communicating with military spouses through an online survey or a focus group and tailor marketing campaigns specifically to them.
3) Hotel rooms within per diem
Not every cost associated with a move is eligible for reimbursement. According to Military.com, military families can expect reimbursement for up to $142 per day for lodging, meals, and incidentals when moving between stateside locations.
Hotels like Best Western offer a Service Rewards Program, making it easier to earn free nights and keeping room costs within the government rate for military families. Military families also favor places that offer suites and kitchenettes to saving money on meals and have a little extra room. Hotels that do not offer a military discount or charge more than this government rate fall off the list of options quickly.
4) Remember furry family members
The military does not compensate for moving pets, which offers a gateway for creative marketers. Leslie Brians, an Army spouse of seven years, has flown her dog from the U.S. to Germany and back several times. When looking at options for travel for her pet, she considers safety first.
“We went with a German airline that had a stellar reputation for handling dogs safely. They offered us a military discount, which was really nice,” Brians says.
Families face the challenge of finding a hotel room to fit their whole family. Several hotels offer a “pets stay free” option, but at others the pet fee is prohibitively high. For example, it’s not unusual for a hotel to require a $100 pet fee and a $100 cleaning fee, and still only take pets under 40 pounds.
Other pets, like fish, reptiles, and birds, are not uncommon. Transporting these animals requires understanding and flexibility. Leaving pets behind is not an option military families take lightly, so they’ll consider most military discounts and offers that’ll make the move smoother for the entire family.
5) When things break apart
Most military moves result in a few damaged or lost items, while some are absolute nightmares, notes PCS Grades.
Overseas moves are the worst when it comes to damaged goods. For example, in 2015 a cargo ship heading from Europe to the United States caught fire. Stars and Stripes reported that there were 461 cars and 204 household shipments on the cargo ship. Salvageable items were detained for inspection, leaving families without their possessions for even longer.
Negron and Brians suggest extending warranties on products that may have lapsed while their household goods were in transit. They also say that companies who offer reduced or free shipping on products that need repair after a move would sway them toward that company.
6) Flexibility goes far
Military spouses spend a lot of time preparing for and discussing techniques that make moving easier. From reviewing moving companies to discussing internet options, they constantly share information in hopes that someone else has the perfect move. By offering services, discounts, and understanding customer service representatives to just one military family, the reach will be astounding.