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Each of us has a variety of roles in our lives. We are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, business people and public servants, skilled technicians, career and volunteer firefighters, paramedics and EMTs. We can add to this list the variety of duties we perform within our fire departments and the responsibilities we have to each other and to our families.
Sometimes, in this fast-paced society, it is difficult for us to understand how other people, especially those with whom we associate every day, see us. But in our role as â€œfirefighter,â€ people have an expectation of us. The difference between us and others in society is that we have taken an oath to protect the right of every citizen in our community to be safe and secure. This does not just mean knowing what to do when we respond to an emergency, but teaching our citizens what to do to take care of their families when we canâ€™t be there.
As firefighters, we are watched by the public all of the time. We attract attention whether on a call or performing non-emergency duties that put us in the public eye. You know how you feel when youâ€™re wearing your fire department uniform. You have pride in knowing that you represent the very best of the human condition. Think about how other people feel when they see you in that uniform. They expect what you project, so what would they think if they receive less than your uniform tells them to expect?
When you appear in uniform, our citizens know that you are going to take care of them. That is the promise of the brand â€œFire Department.â€ You are that brand. You are always a firefighter. We must never take for granted the strength and value of that brand. Many generations of firefighters have created the strength of our brand. (I introduced this branding concept in my December 2003 column, â€œThe Brand: Fire Department. The Brand Is Us, The Brand Is You.â€)
Managing The Brand
Among the various tactics and strategies in a fire departmentâ€™s marketing toolbox, brand management is one of the most important. Managing the brand is making certain that the public perceives us in a way that is congruent with how we perform. In other words, do we keep our promises?
The public knows our brand through the symbol of the Maltese cross. When one considers the millions of brands in the world, the symbol of our service has one of the highest levels of recognition. Interbrand is a fairly new agency that measures the value, or â€œbrand equity,â€ of the most popular brands. (Brand equity is the actual dollar value of a brand measured through a variety of indices.) Interbrand reports that among the top 10 brands in the world you will find those of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, Intel and my personal favorite, Disney (thatâ€™s where I work). There are millions of others but the public can retain only a few.
Brand equity is worth so much more than actual dollars. Sometimes itâ€™s called â€œgoodwill.â€ You will find it on an income statement, but it is very difficult to measure. Think of the millions of dollars that companies and even non-profit organizations spend annually to make certain that their brands stay in the public eye.
Our brand is in every community in the United States, and each of us represents it. Scott Bedberry, former vice president of marketing for Nike and Starbucks, noted in his recent book, A New Brand World, â€œA brand is a story the end of which has yet to be told.â€ The brand is all about the story, the actions and the people. It is the story of the heritage of our profession, how we perform our duties as firefighters and how we relate to the many people we serve. The continuing story is being written in our daily actions and communications of our accomplishments through the media and by word of mouth. This applies to us all of the time, not just when we are on duty. How we are known to the public determines the support we will continue to receive.