Branding for the Fire Service

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...

Finally, think about your corporate reputation. What is your department known for in the community? How well do you provide your services? Are you the "Ghostbusters" of your community? Remember the lyrics from the song from the movie Ghostbusters: "When there's something weird in the neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!" When the community calls you because everyone else has turned them down, do you put on the Ghostbusters hat and help them, or do you say "that's not my job?" Or, is your department always in the news for some problem with its leadership, a botched response, poor quality service, or shenanigans by the firefighters? Your corporate reputation is not your corporate brand. Corporate reputation is the image that others see when they look at the fire department, but your corporate reputation will be a major factor in developing and maintaining a positive corporate brand.

Next is brand equity, which is an intangible asset for a fire department. The reason a company wants a brand is to help establish a corporate identity and to develop value and trust in the company's customer base. This perceived value and trust is brand equity. Companies and corporations that manufacture products use brand equity to help sell products, maintain customer loyalty, and increase profits. Brand equity is very important to a fire department, but its importance may be missed or overlooked by fire officers. For years, the fire service had virtually no competition for tax dollars or community support. In today's environment, fire departments compete with other city departments for limited resources and some face the possibility of privatization and/or outsourcing of certain functions, or drastic budget cuts. A fire department can use brand equity in the community to develop trust in the community and develop a support base so that when times get tough, the community remains loyal to the brand and steps forward to support the fire department.

Care and Feeding of the Brand
Now that the fire department has a successful brand, the work is just beginning. Brands evolve. Many external and internal factors can influence, shape, and change the brand. Think about adverse publicity in the press, a careless action by a crew, displayed insensitivity to the needs of your customers, etc. Think too, about positive publicity in the press, a customer who experiences service that exceeds the customer's expectations, care and compassion shown at the appropriate time, etc. These factors influence the brand. This begs the question, who has responsibility for the brand? The answer: everybody! The officers, the firefighter, and the customers share in the responsibility to keep the brand fresh, alive, dynamic and out in front.

Fire officers have direct responsibility for monitoring and guiding the brand. Brands evolve, and the officers have the ability to influence how the brand evolves by monitoring and evaluating feedback on the brand. This feedback comes from the press, the public, and the firefighter. A fire department brand is a service brand, which is a non-traditional area of branding, so a fire department is free to explore new techniques for managing, growing, and promoting the brand. The department must develop a brand strategy and then support and identify with the strategy. The goals, objectives, and mission of any organization should be in line with the branding strategy employed. Here is an example of how a department might approach one aspect of growing and promoting the brand.

Working to develop a strategic plan, the command staff considers what services to improve or provide to further promote and evolve the brand. Some of these services may be community services rather than emergency response services. These services may include teaching Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) courses, holding citizen fire academies, establishing or expanding a free smoke detector program, providing or expanding active public education programs, providing blood pressure checks, providing access to flu shots for the public, conducting blood sugar screening for diabetes, operating firehouse-based medical clinics, teaching CPR classes in schools, providing automatic defibrillator training to the public, managing a Public Access Defibrillator (PAD) program, providing AEDs in police vehicles, conducting CPR training specifically targeting senior citizens, sponsoring physical fitness activities targeting seniors citizens, presenting tobacco use prevention and cessation programs in the schools, sponsoring an obesity screening program for children in schools, teaching baby sitting classes, visiting senior centers to provide health information, providing physical fitness information to elementary school children, etc. These are not traditional "fight fire and save lives" programs, but they provide value added services to the community. They are mostly behavior-based services (translation: we are the good guys who care about the community). Such actions and services build good will and build community equity with the brand.