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Answer: This is a great question and when posed in an aggressive ?in your face? approach, the definition can be misleading. However, that is why there is a definite difference between commercial and public service marketing.
The word promotion has several meanings. We all know that this is the magic word for which we all study so hard. Promotion moves us up the career ladder. It can mean ?blowing one?s own horn? about one?s accomplishments. However, the term has a much more subtle meaning, especially when applied to a public service. For our purposes, it means interpreting to the public. Promotion is your department?s public face. And, by its place in your community, promotion is the public face of the entire U.S. fire service.
Over the past few months, we have been learning a short version of Marketing 101 or ?the four Ps?: place, product, promotion and price. This month, we tackle the public portion of marketing. Books have been written on this subject, so we will stick to the basics.
This is the one area that most people believe is marketing. This is the place where what we say and what we do meets our customers. This is also where much confusion exists between commercial and public service marketing.
The promotion of a public service has three objectives:
There is a vast difference between this kind of promotion and that of private enterprise. First, strategic private or commercial marketing (especially these days) strives to differentiate products and services from others, both generally and among products in their categories. For example, Pepsi is different from Coke. Second, it attempts to induce multiple purchases. Remember when drinking a soft drink in the morning was a bit strange? The point is that commercial promotion is intended to persuade the consumer to use the product or service in as many ways as possible consistently. This creates repeat sales to boost revenue and shareholder profit.
Education is involved when it comes to more sophisticated products like wine or especially business-to-business products and services. IBM pioneered this approach many years ago. While IBM?s computers were not necessarily state of the art, its training and service were phenomenal. The education gives the product a certain value and credibility. It also is a strategic part of the marketing plan because it retains customers. After all, they have now been trained on IBM computers. Another brand means a potential disruption in business and retraining.
When I was a rookie firefighter, I received mask training on a particular company?s equipment. When my department decided to use another manufacturer?s products as well, it was uncomfortable at first. Consider the various kinds of equipment that we use ? from apparatus to turnouts. The best companies have strong and complete educational and informational service programs.
Education, training and information require proximity. We are around the people associated with the product or service. A couple of columns ago, I wrote, ?proximity breeds sales.? There is usually some good relationship building during training, so the trainer is delivering a service. He or she is usually not a salesperson, but a technical expert. Additionally, there is usually a good follow-up and customer service plan. And herein lies the effectiveness of the promotion.
We receive a ?packaged? product or service. Some may refer to it as a ?system.? This is all promotion. The market does not stand still. Look at Dell computers. They have led us away from the IBM ?packaged? educational approach from years ago. You can buy a Dell computer online like buying a book from Amazon.
As the customer becomes educated, the need for training diminishes. This is an important observation to keep in mind when we market the fire service. However, we have an edge. We have many areas in which to educate the public and we must educate all of the market, not just some of it. So we have the need (just as private enterprise does) to segment our market. Public fire and safety educators do this intuitively by age, gender, socioeconomic status, geographically and by type of problem (i.e. falls, accidents, types of fires, etc.).