Beyond a Slogan, the Army Needs a New Narrative Strategy

Whether it is increased politicization or the transition out of the “Global War on Terror,” the Army’s public communications capabilities are under pressure on multiple fronts.

The drop in public confidence in the military is one indicator of this, but the recruiting shortfall of 2022 — where the Army missed its goals by 15,000, or 25 percent — puts the challenge into stark relief.

There are steps the Army is already taking, such as bringing back its highly successful “be all you can be” slogan as part of a new marketing campaign. But they are piecemeal. The recruitment crisis is part of a much larger issue.

The Army doesn’t just need a new slogan, it needs a whole new narrative strategy. 

The Army should make a serious effort to retake the communications initiative before the situation grows even worse. In new research from my organization, More in Common, we found that many Americans see the military as too involved in politics: Seven in ten say the military should be separate from politics, but only four in ten feel it actually is.

Absent a change in this dynamic, the Army could easily fall into a vicious cycle where Americans increasingly see it through a political filter. 

With a new narrative strategy, the Army could begin to overcome political polarization and bring coherence to the myriad of communications it sends out. It could focus its storytelling on what researchers call the transactional and the transcendent, or in the case of the Army, pragmatism and patriotism.

And it could build a sense of belonging and purpose across all the audiences it needs to reach. Done well, a new narrative strategy would empower all the Army’s messengers, from a senior leader testifying to Congress to a recruiter talking with parents at the dining room table, to deploy messaging that best resonates with the specific audiences while still telling a common story about the Army. . . . .

. . . . Coverage of the crisis invariably highlights the public debate over whether the military has become too “woke,” yet recommendations from experts tend to focus exclusively on changes to recruitment policy and practice.

The disconnect between a public narrative centered on ideology and proposed solutions centered on practical considerations makes it harder for the Army to take constructive action.

Even though there is little data to suggest concerns about progressive indoctrination are much of a factor in recruitment (more on this later), the Army has to address the public narrative in order to create durable political support for changes to policy and practice.

Effective narrative strategy in this context creates the conditions to successfully implement structural improvements. . . . . (read more on War on the Rocks)

Mission of the Continental Army in 1775:

“Defence of American liberty, and repelling every hostile invasion thereof.”

Mission of today’s Army:

 “To deploy, fight, and win our nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt, and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the joint force.”

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