The Personal Face of the Brand
The marketing term "touch points" refers to all the ways that consumers contact or experience a brand. Marketing professionals work to make certain that every touch point, such as product quality, packaging, customer service, and advertising, conveys a consistent and positive message. A consistent, positive message creates a stronger brand.
All firefighters are touch points for the fire service and have direct responsibility for being the personal face of the brand. This happens by default and the responsibility is tremendous. Consider the latest Harris Interactive poll for most prestigious occupation (in no way do I mean to imply that volunteers are not part of the fire service profession, but Harris uses the term occupation in the poll). Harris Interactive conducts market research to help companies make decisions and strengthen corporate equity. In 2003, Harris began using the occupation "firefighter." In 2003 and 2004, firefighter were in second place. firefighter tied for first in 2005, and then were in first place in 2006 and 2007. In fact, firefighter was the only profession to score above 60 percent both years, and in 2007 led the second place profession by 7 points.
There is tremendous responsibility and excellent possibilities associated with this prestige. Unlike apples in a bunch, one bad firefighter can spoil the whole bunch in the eyes of some. A firefighter who tarnishes the badge can create bias in the eyes of the public, and this bias can affect the way the public perceives all firefighters. The public may view the group of firefighters as having undesirable traits or behaviors. Once set, such bias is very difficult to overcome, even if other firefighters do good things. That is why all firefighters must be constantly aware that firefighters, as individuals, are perceived by the public to represent all firefighters.
What should firefighters do? Remember the cliche "You never get a second chance to make a first impression?" A basic rule is, be aware of your appearance at all times and always make a good impression. Look like firefighters. Be neat and well groomed. Be professional. This applies to all ranks. Fire chiefs, as the policy authority, must set a fair policy concerning dress, appearance, and conduct. The policy must be understood and all ranks must be aware of the policy. Company officers must enforce the policy and make sure personnel are well groomed and wear clean, neat uniforms. According to Ben May, fire stations provide the highest visibility and are a focal point in the community for the fire department. Keep your station and apparatus clean. Keep the tools and equipment clean and in good working order. These simple items and behaviors are 90 percent of the public's image of firefighter.
Next, know your job. This applies to all ranks. Rookie firefighters need to learn the basics and gain experience. Experienced firefighters need to hone their skills and pass on tips to the rookies. Firefighters aspiring to higher ranks must prepare through advanced training and education courses. Consider college degree programs, your state fire academy, and the National Fire Academy. The fire service is a business, and a good business needs skilled leaders and managers. Start working your way to the top. Company officers need to improve their supervisory and management skills and be mentors to their personnel. Company officers need to keep the crew sharp by constant training. Training does not have to be expensive or dull, and there are some excellent resources, such as the U.S Fire Administration web site Coffee Break Training at http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/nfa/coffee-break, to provide quick and useful training ideas that serve as a springboard for further discussion.
Chief Officers have a vital role in promoting the brand. They do this by monitoring corporate culture, and living and leading by polices and values that promote the desired positive image. In other words, they know the path and they walk the walk. Chief officers must maintain an open communication network that promotes the free flow of information and ideas. Open communication improves teamwork and propagates the positive values of the organization. Most importantly, chief officers have a responsibility to stay current on leadership, management, strategic planning, and human resources skills to promote growth in the organization. Chief officers are mentors by default. For example, a department has but one fire chief, so all firefighters will look to the fire chief to see how the chief acts. All chief officers must assume active roles as positive mentors, promoting behaviors and skills in their personnel, so that the personnel keep the brand fresh and positive.