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It is better
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John Sumser

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Branding IV
(December 20, 2002) - 
Maybe it's not a surprise that the military is so far ahead of the curve. Military organizations have pioneered recruitment methods for thousands of years. From the good old fashioned 'shanghai' (kidnapping) to forced conscription, from promises of royalty (knighthood) to a share of the plunder, from educational benefits (the GI Bill) to full retirement pay after 20 years, the military has repeatedly set the standard and defined the methods for recruiting.

Faced with a much more difficult challenge than commercial or government recruiting, it makes sense that the military is the standard setter for techniques, planning and execution. These days, the American Military, with generations of success staffing an all-volunteer service, is branching out into branding as a central thesis of membership. According to Forbes, the military is using 'brand power' to name, manage and build loyalty.

Remember the "be all that you can be" campaign for Army recruiting in the early 1980s? It may well be the first example of an employment branding campaign. The simple phrase accomplished the particularly tricky tactic we described in yesterday's article. The phrase is far more about the potential recruit than it is about the Army. As with websites, brands are about the customer first and the company second.

Today's Army Recruitment campaign is sloganed "an army of one". If you perused last week's material on GenY, you'll have a clear picture of this demographic targeting. Appealing to GenY's branding habits and simultaneous desire for autonomy is at the root of the brilliant new messaging. The military is also recognizing that the contemporary battlefield requires independent thought and that may well be reflected in the relaxation of uniform dress at the front lines.

From workforce planning and training requirements development, from loyalty programs to retention strategies, the amazing fact is that this behemoth of an organization is forced, by its all volunteer mandate, to be extremely market-effective. If you are looking for help in turning your company's approach to HR around by focusing on investment and results, you could do worse than to hire an expert from the military. 

The dramatic focus of the military's recruitment and retention machine is made possible by its focus on specific demographic targets. The problem is somewhat more complex for the rest of us. Age requirements for membership in our organizations would bring with them tidy little payments to class-action lawyers. We have to, for good reason, focus on demographics beyond age. But, the truth is that our real demographic opportunities, though not as glamorous as an obsessive focus on a single generational slice are relatively clear. We recruit from the local geography. Our competitors for talent are observable and local.

While the military does indeed set a repeatable standard, the work of bringing that level of excellence into our work requires that we tailor it to the local circumstances. Our brands do not have to reach an entire generation. They have to reach enough people to fuel our continued growth and meet our individual workforce requirements.

- John Sumser

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