The Military Car Buyer Journey: From Discovery to Purchase | Refuel Agency

At Refuel Agency, we invest in our proprietary research to discover what makes our audiences tick — what their lives are like, how they consume media, what they believe, and what they are looking to buy next. The military audience segment, in particular, has been a huge part of who we are since the origin of our company. And our most recent Military Explorer SeriesTM uncovered the complete ins and outs of the military car buyer journey — every step of the way. 

Why should your car brand advertise to the military community? What advertising impacts them the most? When are they looking to purchase a new car, and what are they looking for in their purchase? Let’s find out.

First things first: Who is the military audience, and why should you advertise to them?

At Refuel, we’ve been working with the special military consumer audience for over 30 years. This audience, made up of 42 million military personnel nationwide and possessing $1.2T in buying power, can be split into the following categories: 

  • Active duty military
  • Reserve/guard
  • Post 9/11 veterans
  • Veterans
  • Retirees
  • Military families

Successfully marketing to this community means connecting your brand with millions of brand-loyal customers wielding trillions in spending power, with a 35% higher income and 3 times more vacation time than most civilians. This is a powerful audience for your brand — but you’ve got to get it right. 

Here’s your guide to the military car buyer journey, from start to finish.

Timing: When are military personnel looking to purchase a new car?

When it comes to targeting the military for their next car purchase, there’s no time to waste. According to Refuel’s Military Explorer Series™, a large percentage of military personnel and veterans are planning to purchase their next car within 12 months. Additionally, the military audience indicated that buying a car is a top financial priority for them, and that 95% of this audience would rather purchase a car than lease one. 

Auto and maintenance is the top spending category for active duty, guard/reserve, spouses, post 9/11 veterans, and retirees. This goes to show and auto purchases are top of mind for the military market, and that they prioritize taking care of their military cars. 

Read next: If You’re Wondering What Authentic Military Marketing Looks Like, This Is It

Discovery: Where is the military discovering your brand?

The segments within the military audience each have their own distinct lifestyles, shopping patterns, and media consumption habits — and understanding the differences will enable your brand to launch military advertising campaigns that land exactly where your target audience is looking. 

Active duty

For active duty car buyers, TV ads and online ads are the most powerful sources for learning about new products and services. Over half recalled seeing OTT ads, email ads, or online video ads that resulted in website visits. With these results and the rise of OTT and mobile usage, a spread of TV and digital media is needed for maximum exposure. 

Additionally, on-base out-of-home and military print have proven highly effective for active duty military car shoppers. Our research shows that 46% of active duty military have seen posters or billboards on-base, and as a result, 37% have visited the website and 33% have researched the product. And 48% of active duty military have seen base newspapers, resulting in 52% visiting the website and 65% researching the product. 

Post 9/11 Veterans

For post 9/11 veteran car buyers, TV, social, and online video ads are the most powerful sources for learning about new products and services. Three out of five recalled seeing any OTT ads, social media ads, or online video ads which resulted in website visits. Additionally, they are 49% more likely than the civilian population to click on an ad on social media, and 37% recall seeing base newspaper ads. 

On-base out-of-home and military print are effective for post 9/11 veterans, as well. Our research found that advertising on military bases works — 36% of post 9/11 veterans saw on-base ads for cars, resulting in 29% visiting the website and 28% researching the product. And 38% reported seeing base newspaper ads, which resulted in 42% visiting the website and 60% researching the product. 

Active duty family

For active duty spouse car shoppers, TV, social, and online ads are the most powerful sources for learning about new products and services. Over half recalled seeing any email ads, online video ads, or social media ads which resulted in website visits. They are also 68% more likely than their civilian counterparts to click on an ad on social media. Additionally, 41% recall seeing base newspaper ads, and 36% recall seeing on-base OOH ads. 

For military spouses, on-base out-of-home ads and base print ads are very effective — especially print ads. Our research found that 45% of active duty military spouse car shoppers have seen posters or billboards on base, and 35% have then visited the website and 34% have researched the product. For print, the numbers are higher than either previous military consumer segment. We found that 48% of active duty military spouses have seen base newspaper ads, and then 52% have visited the website and 78% have researched the product. 

To advertise to the military during their car buying process, utilizing an omnichannel marketing approach is the best way to ensure repeat impressions and campaign results. Our omnichannel solutions include: 

  • Militaryscapes™
  • Digital out-of-home
  • On-base media 
  • Off-base media
  • Military digital and social media
  • Military print marketing
  • Military experiential marketing

Read next: Military Discounts Drive Brand Loyalty. Here’s How to Implement Yours

Consideration + Purchase: What is the military audience looking for in their next car?

When it comes to the kind of brands the military audience supports, this is an audience made up of brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to service of this country — so naturally, they are loyal to brands that recognize and honor their service. Refuel’s Military Explorer Series™ found that the military community is brand-loyal, and they look for quality, made-in-American products with military discounts. They support brands that support the troops. 

Additionally, the military audience is full of families, many that start much younger than the general population. Our Military Explorer Series™ found that over half of military members are currently married. Military members are 24 on average at the time their first child is born, and military families have an average of two children. Given these demographics, military personnel are looking for cars that will accommodate their existing or planned families — practical, spacious, and safe cars that will get them and their families where they need to go.

And finally, the military are car hobbyists, and they care about the cars they drive. Findings from the 2020 Military Explorer StudyTM indicated that beyond the fact that the military community prioritizes their auto purchases, that they are also auto hobbyists. Active duty visits the on-base auto skills better 2.7 times per month on average, followed by guard/reserve and post 9/11 veterans. Military spouses and retirees are also likely to be found attending on-base auto shows.

What are the most popular military vehicles?

Our research discovered that among the top 10 most popular cars among service members are:

  • Honda
  • Ford
  • Chevrolet
  • GMC
  • Toyota

Read next: Your Brand’s Guide to Advertising During Military Appreciation Month

At Refuel, we’ve been working with the military audience for over 30 years, and are experts at delivering highly effective, targeted military advertising campaigns that drive results. Are you ready to get started with your military advertising campaigns? Contact us today.

Liz Carmo

Liz Carmo brings over 14 years of experience with Refuel Agency. While an expert in all Refuel’s core markets, she quickly formed a passion for the military division. Liz has been a pioneer in the military space with building our partner relationships that allow us to keep competitive pricing and top industry knowledge. Her passion towards the military market, creativity, and deep consumer insights help Refuel’s key brands grow their business.