business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

While there are a wide range of motivations for the stories that we choose to feature here on MNB, the most important and consistent one is that we believe there are countless interesting insights and lessons to be gained by looking far beyond retail. At times we reach far and hard for those lessons, while at other times they are readily apparent, just requiring all of us to look at a bigger picture.

Last week, for example, Kevin wrote about how Marriott hotels is looking at the burgeoning market of home sharing clearly in hopes of not surrendering younger generations to Airbnb for coming decades. The lesson is clear in terms of understand the forces of changing competition and consumer desires.

Yet another example, far from our field, comes from the US Army and the dramatic changes being made in recruiting to fill the endless need for more young people by better connecting with them and their issues.

The Christian Science Monitor dove into this issue recently, examining how the military is shifting its recruitment focus to social media, especially Instagram, to better connect with young people and to inform them more fully about the career opportunities enabled by military service.

The parallels to retail - both as a destination for shoppers and associates - are numerous.

For instance, military recruiters have come to recognize that old methods are being rendered useless by new technology. For example, cold-calling prospects is far less successful in a day when caller ID is so widespread, stopping cold calls in their tracks. Instead, recruiters are using a wide array of interest building posts on Instagram to establish a beachhead with potential recruits. As one recruit explained, those posts - featuring memes of Rihanna, Spider-man and pugs - managed to both snag her attention and get her thinking about the military in a different way.

Recruiters says social media - all current problems aside - enables them to tell a deeper story about the range of job skills recruits can learn during military service going well beyond, as they say, “busting doors down in Iraq.”

In all honesty, I’m not a big Instagram user, but neither am I a target for military recruiters in any way and haven’t been for decades. But whenever I am on a college campus young people constantly remind me that Instagram is a widely underused tool.

Just like the Army, retailers can and should use the social media site to expose potential recruits to the enormous array of jobs, careers and skills that may start with working in a store. And unlike the military, we can use image-heavy sites like Instagram and Pinterest to feature enticing food photos and recipes to energize and engage shoppers.

Here’s the thing: it’s hard to imagine any organization more intractably bound to past practices than the military. As they say, generals are always fighting the last war.

But necessity remains the mother of invention, or at least new thinking. The necessity of finding recruits is driving the military to creative marketing solutions and with some success. That strikes me as a creative and winning battle plan that retailers may need to copy especially as the labor market tightens thanks to falling unemployment rates.

It’s also a reminder that technology is neither the solution nor the substitute for everything we do today. In many ways, technology is a partner or a tool to be used. Social sites like Instagram and Pinterest can be used to improve communications to existing and potential shoppers and associates.

Seems like an idea worthy of consideration, being run up the flag pole and and maybe getting a salute or two.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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