Sandboxx recently conducted a survey to identify news, social media, and shopping trends among hundreds of service members.
Members of the military and their families are one of the largest consumer groups in the U.S. — with a spending power of over $1 trillion annually. Many brands take great care and effort in telling their stories to this loyal community — with specific product lines, marketing campaigns, and discounts that encompass a broader military strategy than merely a singular Veteran’s Day Campaign.
Although some military spouses have had their employment impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the military is one group of consumers that have not had their paychecks impacted in recent months. Benefits such as housing allowances have also insulated military families from being among the 32% of Americans who are behind on their rent and mortgages.
Sandboxx has over 2.5 million service members and their families using the platform to stay connected and up-to-date. We regularly speak to our audience so that we can keep up with the latest service member trends and understand how we can best serve them. For the first time, we are making our internal survey findings public to help other brands understand how best to engage and serve this audience.
There are about 1.3 million active-duty American military personnel. Roughly two-thirds are under age 30.
The latest survey included 436 members of the military from all branches (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard), and from pay grades ranging from E-1 to O-2. The majority of those surveyed were within their first six months of service, meaning that they had at least 3.5 years left on their contracts.
When asked how military service matched their expectations, the majority (57.3%) said that it was as expected, while 33.3% said that it was better, and only 9.4% said that it was worse than expected. This may indicate that recruiting commands and their agencies are promoting a realistic view of the military lifestyle to potential recruits.
When asked why they chose to serve, the largest primary reason given by those surveyed was to better their career opportunities (35.3%), followed by feeling called to serve their country (18.1%), and benefits such as health, education, and housing being given next (17%). Other reasons included wanting to support family, follow in parents’ footsteps, and adventure.
Social Media Usage Among Service Members
While TikTok has captured headlines in recent weeks due to videos of members of the military appearing on the platform and an executive order from the Commander in Chief, the app is used by less than a quarter of service members surveyed (23%) on a daily basis. This compares to higher numbers for Snapchat (72.7%), Instagram (69%) and Youtube (57%).
TikTok’s penetration of the military is still a considerable achievement given its relatively recent 2016 launch, ban on government phones, and Defense Department guidance not to use it on personal devices.
When asked if they would delete TikTok from personal phones if requested by their commands, 92% said that they would. Twitter (15.6%), Reddit (9.4%), Linkedin (1.1%), and Quora (0%) had relatively low usage amongst this generation of service members.
On August 6, President Trump signed an executive order imposing broad sanctions against TikTok, meaning the service could be banned for national security reasons. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Officials worry about China potentially amassing vast amounts of personal information on Americans.”
Only 23% of survey respondents said they check how a company uses their data before signing up, despite the fact that respondents were active internet and social media users.
92% said they use social media for keeping in touch with family and friends -– more than news (51.1%), online shopping (40.4%), dating (12.8%), or any other reason. It’s important to consider how many of them use social media and other digital platforms for connecting with family and friends who are far away. Those serving in the military have an increased need for ways to stay connected due to being away from home for long periods of time.
Shopping Habits of Military Personnel
While 48% of service members indicated that they have an Amazon Prime subscription, the largest group (37.6%) do “most of their shopping” at the military Exchange. The Exchanges include AAFES, Nexcom, MCX, and CGX — online and physical stores that are part of the Department of Defense and located on military installations. The Exchanges attract service members, families, and retirees as they offer military pricing, tax-free shopping, and profits are reinvested into on-base services such as childcare centers and gyms. Amazon (25.2%) was the next largest shopping provider, followed by in-store other (22%) and online other (15%).
The majority of service members subscribe to some online services. Streaming services top the list (91.6%), followed by the aforementioned Amazon Prime (48%). Although service members generally have to workout and shave every day, fitness apps (12.2%) and grooming service (7.1%) subscriptions are significantly lower than online streaming. Notably, twice as many respondents pay for meditation apps (3.4%) such as Calm and Headspace, compared to music apps (1.4%) such as Spotify and Apple Music.
Gaming Trends Among Service Members
Most brands are adding gaming channels to their marketing mix recently as the time spent playing across platforms continues to increase. The Army itself has launched a esports team over the past year as part of their recruiting strategy. It has also come under scrutiny for how it has executed on this campaign, but it does appear that this is a channel that is capturing the attention of prospective recruits as well as service members.
Although most respondents (52%) say that they are gaming less than prior to joining the military, 28% still game daily with 75% gaming at least monthly. Playstation (44.6%) just trumps Xbox (41.3%) as the favorite platform, followed by PC (27.3%) and Switch (17.1%).
While 60% said that they do not use any social gaming platforms, a minority do use Discord (27.4%), Steam (24.6%), and Twitch (20.4%).
News Consumption Trends among Service Members
Examining where audiences consume news can give an insight into where brands should try to reach them. Unsurprisingly, social media (80%) trumps TV (51.8%), newspapers (18.8%), and magazines (5%) with where respondents go to get their news. Other online sites such as Sandboxx News and Buzzfeed are referenced by 46.3% as channels for regular news consumption. 67.5% read military specific news at least once a month.
These young service members represent a unique facet of the American culture, split between the civilian lives they recently led, and the military life they just began. The preceding data should assist in developing military-specific campaigns that engage this next generation of service members, as well as their families, in an authentic way that honors the reality of the service experience.
Feature image courtesy of Dayton Ward, U.S. Army
Shane McCarthy is the chief marketing officer of Sandboxx, a platform that connects over 2,5 million service members and their supporters throughout their military journey via content, technology, & products enabling the military ecosystem to thrive. He regularly briefs brands and government programs on how to best engage the military community. You can stay up-to-date with Shane on Linkedin and Twitter.