All firefighters are touch points for the fire service and have direct responsibility for being the personal face of the brand.
If I say "white dog with a red spot on his eye," do you think Target? If I say "golden arches," do you think McDonald's? If I say "Maltese cross," do you think fire service? Most likely, the answer to these questions is yes. This is an example of identity branding, where a simple symbol gets one to think about a specific product or company.
Branding is important to the fire service. In his Firehouse.com article Fire Department Brand Equity: You are Us!, author Ben May states that the public is always watching the fire service and talks about managing the brand and brand equity.
But what is a brand? Is it a logo? Is it a symbol? Is it a marketing slogan? In his article Building Your Brand for Wealth, author Harish Chauhan affirms: "Your Brand is not your company name, logo, website, or advertisements. A brand is what your customers, suppliers, investors, employees, business members and the public think, say, believe and champion about your company. It is your 'corporate reputation'. And because it is reputation, there are things that you can and cannot control."
Let us break this definition down. Every department has customers, and everyone that a fire department comes in contact with is a customer. Fire departments have external and internal customers. It is important to identify the external and internal customers. Some external customers are obvious: those that call the fire department for help in an emergency. Others are not as obvious, or become obvious as a department identifies and expands services. Examples of these customers include the public education audience and those who receive special services, such as CPR students. External customers include suppliers, business members (fellow firefighters from other departments), the business community, and the public.
Internal customers include your employees and others directly connected with the department. I like to think of internal customers as investors. Who are your investors? If you are tax supported, then the elected officials are internal investors in that they approve your budget. The city administration or governing body is an internal investor as well by delegating to the department the power and authority to protect life and property in the community. The public is an investor through taxes paid for most municipal departments and fund raising campaigns or subscriptions for some departments. The point is, there is a wide range of internal and external people that have a stake in the fire department, and each group has a different viewpoint and different needs and expectations. To have a successful brand, a department must identify its customers and comprehend the different needs and expectations of each customer group.
Next, think about things that you cannot control and how that can affect branding. Let us use trans fats as an example of an external influence that one cannot control and the effect this may have on two groups. In August 2007, the Indiana State Fair banned the use of trans fat oils in the deep fryers used by food vendors. Think for a moment about this event. This is a state fair, the home of fried everything, from pickles to Oreos, a bastion of bad (for you) food (like funnel cakes and my favorite, fried Snickers bars), yet the fair leadership banned trans fat cooking oils. In addition, the Indiana State Fair officials gave a workshop on trans fats in the fall of 2007 at the national convention of state fair administrators. Think about how this decision will affect other state fairs and the manufacturers of cooking oils, what they might do in response to this action by the Indianan State Fair, and how this will affect their brand.