Got an F-16 in your marketing budget? I don’t either. But the National Guard does, and knows how to use flashy military hardware — and the Web — to recruit. A recent air show left me deaf from screaming jet engines, but with some good lessons about marketing.

Know Your Customer: For the armed forces, the "customer" they are after is young men (mostly) and women of recruitable age. The air show, and the accompanying exhibits, was full of stuff that was big, fast, exploded or made a lot of noise. There were Hummers blasting rock music, race cars revving their unmuffled engines, fighter jets screaming by and even a mock battle complete with explosions and helicopters landing amid the smoke. But that’s only the first step. The second was to:

Capture the Contact Info: Giveaways are an established trade show trick for capturing information about prospects. The guard, for example, offered free photos of visitors standing in front of a racecar. After the photo, each visitor got a "dogtag" replete with advertising for the National Guard and a password for downloading their photo from a National Guard Web site.

Qualify the Customer: For the guard, this means young people of a certain age and physical condition. At one trailer, the guard was giving away race car T-shirts — but only to people 16 years of age or older who could do 40 or more push-ups. This was clever, on-the-spot qualification of leads.

Follow-Up: The Web site that promised the photo of my friend and me in front of the race car repeatedly rejected the password on my "dog tag." Was it because my birth date showed I’m too old, or because my picture showed I was too out of shape to be of use to them? We’ll never know. But if you go to the expense of staging a big promotional event like this — even without the airpower — make sure your follow-up systems are ready to handle customers when they log in.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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