The accelerated speed of change is no secret. We see its effects in the fire service: the way we do business and the issues we face. The recent IAFC paper, Taking Responsibility for a Positive Perception, highlighted the marketing challenges coming at us like on-coming traffic at rush hour on a Los Angeles freeway. Public scrutiny is not going to diminish. The IAFC paper highlighted the “spiral effect” of public scrutiny: financial security, budget cuts, antagonistic debate, defensive posture and behavior scrutiny. This public observation is going to keep us under the microscope. The good news is that who we are and what we do – the nobility of our calling – is there for all to see. Now, this could be our worst nightmare if we approach it from a defensive position, with excuses – especially when it comes to firefighter behavior and fire officer leadership. If we approach this reality with a strategy and strong, supportive leadership at all levels, these challenges become major opportunities. It can grow into a dynamic force for all public services, but especially those that are literally in every neighborhood in the country and close proximity to our citizens: the fire service.
Three years ago, one of the great American marketing academics, Philip Kotler in collaboration with Hermawan Kartajaya and Iwan Setiawan, wrote a thin, but seminal book Marketing 3.0.1 While the essence of the book has broad application to the private sector, the real opportunity lies in how public services can use this shifting marketing paradigm to achieve some of the goals outlined in the IAFC paper. Here is the basis of my comparison. If we take a quick look at the progression of the fire service, we can see how it has matched the progression of marketing in the private sector. The origins of fire protection were based on the delivery of one product: fire suppression. The result of this transaction was that we rescued those in danger; confined and extinguished the fire so it would not spread into a city-wide conflagration, thereby saving the good citizens’ property. Simply stated: citizens called us and we came to do the job.
As time progressed we learned from what has been called, “the catastrophic theory of enhanced protection.” We dealt with enough horrific fires and loss of life that we began to progress from one transaction – fire suppression and life safety – to an expansion of the service: comprehensive prevention.
This expanded the service to include the key areas of prevention: engineering, code enforcement, inspection and public education.
One of the next major progressions in the extension of our service was aggressive emergency medical intervention and support. This brought us to a new level of service, but with the same mission and vision: safe citizens and secure property. Over the last few years, with the apparent frequency and severity of natural disasters, we have seen the growth of emergency management. This is yet another extension of our service: another chance to work with the public, demonstrating professional behavior to our citizens in a real time of need and concern – both pre- and post-incident. This is especially true in the urban/wildland interface. It gives us the opportunity to broaden our working relationships with other agencies, further demonstrating our value. Of course, all of this, again, is dependent on our behavior: our integrity in the eyes of these agencies and our citizens. It is the “Blue Ocean Strategy” of a 21stcentury fire service marketer’s dream!
The Progression of Our Services to Fire Service Marketing 3.0
Marketing 3.0 notes the progression of marketing from “products to customers to the ‘human spirit.’”
The book notes that Marketing 1.0 was transactional, the key concept being product development and sales in a one-to-many transaction. This is product-centric marketing. “We make it and you buy it.” The similarity to the fire service would be: “you call us and we put out the fire and save your life.” This was a purely functional approach to our business. One might think of the purchase of a house or car.