"The Four Ps": Part 2 - "Product"

Question: What business are we really in? Over the past 20 years, the effectiveness of fire prevention and the increase in multiple services from EMS to hazmat have redefined the ?product? or services we deliver to our citizens. Many of our citizens...


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Question:

Answer: This question really goes to the heart of our mission. This is something of which we always need to be aware, especially when making decisions about priorities in the delivery of our service and in justifying our existence. And if we are sometimes confused about our business, you can bet our customers are confused, especially when it comes to paying for the services. The bigger issue is what does this mean for the future of the fire service. The real question is, ?How has our product evolved and where is it going??

In part 2 of this Marketing 101 series, we define the product or service. The product or service is what we do: the services we deliver to our customers. Some years ago, a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal discussing the pros and cons of four-person engine companies noted that, in general, firefighters did not have as much to do as in the past. The reason for this, the report contended, was because of the great job we had done in prevention, specifically in the dissemination of smoke alarms. The article also pointed to the fact that the number of fires had steadily decreased over the previous 15 years.

At the time, the issue of four-person engine companies was just appearing on the radar screen. The article went on to note that if we were to have four-person engine companies, then the costs to local government and the citizens could be prohibitive. In other words, the cost was much higher than the benefit, especially if we did not have as many fires. The impression was that if we did not put out fires, then we were sitting around, watching TV and cooking dinner.

Think about it in the eyes of the citizens. Why would we want to spend significantly more money (i.e., staffing and equipment) on a problem that was diminishing? Does that make financial sense? Does it now?

That was before 9/11. Remember all of the exposure to firefighters for about six months to a year after that day that will forever be etched into our national psyche and that of the fire service? Now that we are 21?2 years past that horrific date, do you think that our customers are any more enlightened now about what we do? Chances are that they are not. I do think that they are more aware of our value to the community and they know that we will come for almost any emergency. But they do not know all of the services and products we bring to the public. So if they do not know these products and services, why should they pay for all of them? Should we eliminate some of them?

In my December 2003 column, I discussed the importance and meaning of the term ?brand.? We need to contrast and compare a brand with a product. A product is basically anything that can be offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use or consumption that could satisfy a need or want.

A product could be a physical, tangible good (e.g., a tool, book, automobile or smoke detector), service (e.g., bank, airline, insurance company or fire suppression), retail store (e.g., supermarket, specialty store, department store or fire station), person (e.g., politician, entertainer, professional athlete or firefighter), organization (e.g., a nonprofit, trade, professional group, arts group or fire service group like the International Association of Fire Chiefs), place (e.g., a city, state, country or fire district) or idea (e.g., political or social cause such as fire prevention). It is important to grasp the broad definition of the term, as it is possible to match some aspect of the fire service to all of these various definitions. This has quite a bit to do with fire department strategic planning, the ?brand equity? of each fire department and fire service organization. It also has much to do with a marketing plan that works.

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