How national brands can market to the military

About Derek Blake

Derek Blake is Vice President of Marketing and Military Programs for La Quinta Inns & Suites, headquartered in Irving, Texas. Since joining La Quinta in 2006, Derek has fostered mutually successful marketing partnerships with dozens of national and global companies from the travel, retail and financial segments, each focused to drive demand to La Quinta’s 850+ hotels across North America. Derek is also responsible for managing the company’s co-branded credit card – the La Quinta Returns Visa Card. In addition, Derek is responsible for architecting La Quinta’s company-wide strategic efforts to embrace the military with specific focuses on: Human Resources/Hiring, Sourcing, Community Outreach, Operations, Franchising and Marketing/Loyalty. As a part of this effort, Derek has forged relationships with the Fisher House Foundation, Operation Homefront, Armed Services YMCA, the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Military Service Initiative, the US Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes program, JP Morgan’s 100K Jobs Coalition and more. Derek is currently serving as Co-Chair of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Military Spouse Employment Advisory Council where he works with other national leaders to promote military spouse hiring and career progression. In late 2014, Derek began to work with the US Chamber on their recently-formed Recovering Warrior and Caregiver Council to support wounded warrior and caregiver hiring. Derek began his professional career at American Airlines where he worked for 13 years across a variety of financial and marketing positions and departments, including the airline industry’s preeminent loyalty program – AAdvantage – where he led a team focused on strategic partnership creation. Following his tenure at American Airlines, Derek worked in the marketing department at LSG SkyChefs. On a personal note, Derek has served the homeless for the last 20+ years. He started and continues to guide a ministry at his church where he leads over 300 volunteers to serve meals each month to the less fortunate of Dallas. A Texas native, Derek earned a BBA degree from Baylor University and a MBA degree from Southern Methodist University. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas.

Establish credibility

Have you ever thought about marketing to the military to drive transactions with your brand and expand your customer base?

We began with this idea at La Quinta Inns & Suites three years ago.  We started creating a marketing plan, but fortunately decided to first gain some insight from a few companies who best knew the military. Among others, we reached out to USAA to seek input.  What we learned changed our plans and ultimately helped us build a strategy that would change our company’s culture.

Our simple idea to market to the military shifted to the creation of a holistic, enterprise-wide strategy built upon six pillars.  Marketing became one of the last pillars.  What we learned is that we first needed to build credibility with the military.  And, the quickest way to do that was to start hiring veterans, military spouses and military caregivers.  That became our first pillar and key driver in our strategy.  Over the last few years, La Quinta has hired over 500 veterans and military spouses.

Deciding to hire members of the military community was an easy decision.  Lieutenant Colonel Justin Constantine (@Constantine_Jus), US Marine Corps, Retired, a wounded warrior, inspirational speaker and leadership expert, provided us with this insight:  “Hiring a veteran or military spouse gets your company a trained and proven leader, an exceptional team player, and someone quick to solve problems with innovative solutions.”

Build an enterprise-wide strategy

An enterprise-wide strategy requires a strong foundation.

A Community Outreach program was one of the first pillars established to build meaningful partnerships with the military.  La Quinta selected a handful of military non-profits to support – including the Fisher House Foundation, Armed Services YMCA and Operation Homefront – by donating time and in-kind support.  The idea was to give back at the local level – having our 10,000+ employee base volunteer with these (and other military) non-profits.

Tish Stropes, Director of the Fisher House “Hotels for Heroes” program, stated “La Quinta figured it out right off the bat – getting employees to volunteer and support the military in various communities.  It helped them build credibility with the military community which in turn benefited them in countless ways.”

Additional pillars were created including sourcing from small veteran-owned and military spouse-owned businesses.  And, La Quinta worked with a Department of Defense program called Vet Fran, to create pathways for veterans to become La Quinta franchisees.

After building out these pillars, La Quinta implemented their military marketing efforts.  We created a unique tier within our loyalty program called “Military Rewards” offering veterans, active duty service members and military spouses a variety of benefits including a 12% discount.  The final pillar is a recognition program whereby every hotel-level employee is expected to say, “Thank you for your service,” to the military members that stay with us.

Credibility equates to brand loyalty

So, here’s a quick recap about embracing the military:

  • Get senior level buy-in at your company and create an enterprise-wide approach giving every employee the opportunity to participate in the effort.
  • Start off with hiring veterans, military spouses and caregivers. Their talent is unparalleled.
  • Find ways to give back to military non-profits or veteran service organizations in your local communities.
  • Expand your initiative to include other parts of your business –including the marketing team.

So, the question may be – why the military?  The simply answer is:  it’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

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