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Firefighting's Marketing 'Challenge'

"There are Fortune 500 Companies that would kill for the marketing advantage the American Fire Service has, and that's mainly due to the fact that the public trusts us."

The potential inherent in this excerpt from the preface of Rick Lasky's book, Pride and Ownership, paints a picture that could be a marketer's dream. But it is only potential until it yields results. There is no single more potentially effective marketing mechanism today for the fire service and the companies it represents, than the Firefighter Combat Challenge. The only reason I use the term "potential" is because it can be so great and it can affect our entire country - all for the good.

Get ready folks: it's on its way; and you heard it here. An article in the Wall Street Journal "Grace Under Fire" by Mark Yost, just a few weeks ago, called it "the Olympics of Fire Fighting." It is far more than that. It will become the gold standard of marketing for the fire service - not just for commercial marketing, but for positive behavior change in our society. It can be that powerful.

About 15 years ago, as fire commissioner in Woodinville, WA, I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Paul Davis, the CEO, of On-Target Communications. We have been friends and colleagues ever since. I first met Paul when he was sleeping in firehouses to save money as he traveled the country, building his enterprise. I remember how excited we both became the evening we met. Here was a man who understood the strength of the marketing effectiveness inherent in the fire service.

Paul has grown the "property" of the FFCC to be one of the most effective marketing mechanisms the fire service has as a platform to show our own society, and the world who we are. He has figured out how to connect at the community level directly with the firefighter. So he continues to build his own following with the firefighters while he helps Scott and the other sponsors build their brands "at the point of sale."

Paul continues to learn and employ new ways to make the FFCC even more effective. He has honed it into a significant marketing instrument, not only for the benefit of Scott and the other companies that participate, but for the entire fire service. You may think I am speaking in hyperbole to make a point. Not so. When one takes the time to dig into each aspect and plank of the FFCC's structure, the potential it represents rivals any sophisticated and effective sponsorship today. The Combat Challenge delivers for Scott, the firefighters who participate in it and for the fire service.

The Efficacy Of Experiential, Interactive Sponsorship:

One of the most difficult challenges facing any organization or company today is the ability to communicate a message effectively. What does effective mean? It means that the target demographic audience understands, retains, discuses and, perhaps, acts on that message. Each day, this goal becomes more challenging because of the proliferation of messages, the masses of available information and the instantaneous access world-wide to this information.

Consider that in the United States alone, according to the National Advertising Association, the average American receives approximately 4,000 commercial messages daily. Nobody could even begin to act on this quantity of messages even if the person were interested. The efficacy of television advertising diminishes as the proliferation of information outlets increases. The attention span of the average citizen and consumer continue to diminish as so many messages vie for attention. And the web is not the only solution to this problem because of the multiplicity of those messages. There is no single answer. The other key issue is one of relevancy. What does this product mean to me, my department and how can it contribute to the safety of our firefighters, and the citizens we protect economically?

The Effectiveness Of The Combat Challenge

The Firefighter Combat Challenge is experiential marketing at its best, not to mention that its potential as a social marketing platform is staring American society in the face: the model of the firefighter's physical health to show society how to combat childhood obesity. One of the most effective ways to satisfy the objectives of message retention, discussion and action is kinesthetic learning in an environment conducive to receiving the message. This is the kind of learning that comes from manipulating something in a format that makes education and entertainment seamless.

The human being can only process one thought at a time. There are three ways to grasp a thought: aural, visual and kinesthetic. Scientifically conducted surveys show that kinesthetic learning yields 85 percent of retention while aural (listening) and visual are just over 50 percent, and diminishing. The other key factor is message reinforcement. This is can be done quite effectively in small groups -- family groups -- playing games. However, this is not enough. As effective as this planned communication mechanism may appear, it is still just potential by itself.

Brand Reputation And Trust

There must be three other key factors. The first is brand reputation. It is easy to project and market a brand's image. That is an inside-out job, and in the end, it can be meaningless. This is espeially true in light of public cynicism and the proliferation of brands. John Gerzma in his seminal book, The Brand Bubble, notes the loss of brand loyalty as more brands continue to proliferate. It is the image and the reputation of Scott that has enabled it to continue to flourish. That reputation is comprised of the precision and effectiveness of the product in life and death situation for which it was designed. Reputation is also comprised of honest and thoughtful actions: integrity by the company and its representatives. Reputation (and all effective marketing communication) is an outside-in job.

It is at this point that we add the third crucial ingredient: a compelling story. Humans understand their world best through story telling. The story, the image and the reputation of the American firefighter is the epitome of an effective story - one that many people want to be a part. The fourth and final part of this effective equity is the Firefighter Combat Challenge itself. Here is the point which demonstrates the efficacy of the product at the point of trial and sale. It is the perfect combination which delivers the result. It has been proven time and again that people make decisions based on their emotions and use facts to justify those decisions. The value of the Firefighter Combat Challenge represents one of the highest quality, effective interactive sponsorships of its type in any industry. Quality of product, brand reputation, integrity of the company and the firefighting profession create the demonstrable results that we can all admire.