Healthcare Marketing to Veterans is Going Retail

By Tom Aiello

When we researched veteran healthcare needs in 2016 and then military shopper behaviors in 2017, we did not expect a convergence of the two in 2018.  But driven by factors like more (non-VA) care options and digitally empowered patients, healthcare marketing for veterans is shifting from B2B to B2C. As this trend grows, there are a number of key implications for healthcare marketers.

Overcoming Marketing Restrictions to VA Employees Means Patient-Driven Communications to Veterans

The rules are fairly strict around B2B marketing at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Companies can only enter a VA facility when they have a scheduled appointment. They can only meet with that VA employee and cannot wander the halls hoping to get an additional appointment.  Only educational materials are allowed, and vendors cannot leave promotional materials or food after their meetings.

Moreover, each VA site has a facility director establishing the policies for his or her location and it’s not uncommon to see more stringent rules at some VA centers.  These steep B2B restrictions have created the need for B2C marketing to veterans and their caregivers.  

“Veterans Choice” Creating a Tipping Point

In addition, increased outsourcing of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is incentivizing marketers – including pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, hospital networks, health insurance companies, and senior care providers – to step up their marketing.

While the VHA is the nation’s largest integrated health care system including 1,243 health care facilities – community-based care is becoming more of an option, fueled by the passage of the Mission Act in 2018.  Securing Veterans Choice funding for another year, the act set two important steps in motion, ensuring that the accessibility of community care for VA patients will become easier and that there will be better training of VA staff.

A final step: the VA will prepare to audit VA care alongside community care options to see what the best mix is for veterans’ healthcare moving ahead.

Veterans Have Options

Even before these changes, only 1 of 4 veterans receive healthcare at the VA. And, increasingly veterans are combining private healthcare with the VA based on their needs. Rising healthcare costs and increased access to VA-paid community care power this trend.

For example: Veterans have a family physician through Blue Cross, see a specialist through the VA, and get VA prescriptions filled at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, or the VA. The key will be to keep this experience streamlined for veteran patients to know their options and use the best one for their situation.

So, regardless of the Mission Act, the veteran healthcare conversation must include non-VA alternatives. 

The Veteran Patient Journey

To apply shopper marketing principles, marketers use the purchase funnel, or in this case veteran patient journey, to become the foundation for patient marketing. The study, Veterans: A Significant Force In The New Health Economy, shows that veterans have different patient journeys than the average American, because of the alternative options for care.  In addition to technology, which has enabled greater access to health-related information, the veteran patient options and conditions have shaped the journeys, which can have significant implications on diagnosis and treatment.


These patient journeys can become the blueprint for successful communications for veterans. Understanding them enables marketers to influence the Veteran Patient Journeys and activate programs along them. 

Implications for Marketers

Because of the digitally-empowered patient journey to wellness, marketers can now apply a consumer-centric approach to media planning.  Veteran specific media channels must be evaluated to include military publishers, social, programmatic, and addressable media using proprietary veteran and retiree lists.

Better patient insights, including cultural insights and important nuances of how to access their healthcare options, mean that military-specific creative will be more relevant to veterans.  Sometimes insights will vary by era of military service.  Content marketing around veteran-specific healthcare and lifestyle are proving successful with educational-focused communications for veteran patients.

Social channels enrich the customer experience, and also provide a powerful channel for veteran educational-based campaigns.  It’s often hard to reach veterans with specific conditions but the veteran community is strong at pass along and is able to get the right message to veteran patients.

Influencer campaigns are on the increase with military spouse, and military lifestyle bloggers.  These provide credible media channels to reach patients and also supply important feedback loops to identify and correct issues with products, service, and access before they become full-blown problems.

Finally, just as there is a democratization of healthcare for veterans, more patient-centric marketing serves to inform veterans about better healthcare options, which can improve outcomes.  Data-driven marketing coupled with field teams are better equipped to respond to this changing environment and will see measurable results.

What’s more, understanding the veteran healthcare journey is becoming paramount to effective marketing – similar to what we’ve seen in the shopper marketing world.  The collision of these two worlds will continue at an even faster pace and marketers need to adjust for future success.  To be most successful, the time is now for making those adjustments.  Let’s get started.

About MARCH Marketing, LLC

MARCH Marketing provides best-in-class military and veteran expertise to inform strategy, marketing, and services to commercial, government, and non-profit clients.  With offices in Chicago, the agency is one of few that provide these type of world-class marketing and consulting services, and the only with deep expertise into the military and veteran audience.  When it comes to strategy and communications to military and veterans, MARCH is the agency to call.  For more information, visit us at