Fire Service Marketing 3.0 – The Next Steps

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...

Marketing 2.0 dealt with different ion of services and products to satisfy and retain customers. Here we see a smarter consumer.  There is the need to position the product or service, as well as the corporation, speaking to the mind and heart of the individual. Think of IBM or GE in this context. Information technology and knowledge create a smarter consumer. This was the high-water mark of marketing. Here we see one-to-one marketing and the attempt to understand what the consumer needs. This is consumer-oriented marketing. We see the growth of brand development and the many ways to create a dialogue with the consumer. The similarity in the fire service would be a focus on citizen care at the incident (especially care for valuables and integrity of the building after the fire), public fire education, emergency medical services and disaster preparedness.  We begin to see a desire from the fire service to understand that marketing might be helpful to the fire service beyond visibility at an incident and a good public information officer (PIO).  We are probably at this phase now. But we are being forced very quickly into the next phase of fire service marketing.


Social Media: A Platform That Must Have a Defined Strategy: Cocreation, Communitization, And Character Building

Let’s look at Marketing 3.0 and the opportunity for the fire service.  Let’s examine it in light of the critical need for a national strategic marketing/public affairs plan, coupled with local strategies and tactics.  The purpose of both is to grow the perception of the fire service to an unassailable position. The IAFC paper is a great initial platform. New wave technology is the driver for Marketing 3.0.  And it is not going away.  As social media becomes increasingly expressive, the citizen is better able to influence other citizens – locally in your own jurisdiction, nationally and globally – with opinions and experiences.

Kotler notes that trust exists more in horizontal relationships rather than in vertical relationships. Citizens believe more in one another than they believe in companies or organizations.  The rise of social media is a reflection of the move from consumers’ trust in other citizens rather than companies or organizations. According to a 2009 Nielsen Global Survey, fewer consumers rely on company-generated advertising.  Increasingly they turn to word-of-mouth as a form of advertising they can trust. Around 90 percent trust recommendations from people they know, while 70 percent believe opinions posted online.  Kotler notes that Trendstream/Lightspeed research shows that consumers trust strangers in their social network more than they trust experts! 

This could be an opportunity for the fire service, especially in establishing credibility and safety messages. Why? It is non-threatening and we are not selling anything but our citizens’ safety.  We can be the experts in this non-threatening way. The influence of corporate advertising, and what we say about ourselves in the fire service, will continually diminish.  Social media is low cost and can appear to be bias-free compared to what we say. That is why behavior and integrity become even more important if that is possible.  Imagine if a citizen perceives a firefighter engaging in unprofessional behavior, and then writes about it on a blog.  What if it isn’t true?! How do we deal with that?  The best way is to have a values-based department with strong supportive leadership, endorsing the true image of the firefighter as a leading force in all areas of public safety. Kotler notes that citizens are seeking admirable characters outside their communities.  They are skeptical because they know good characters are scarce.  Once they find them, they will instantly become loyal evangelists.


Who Owns the Brand FD?

The basis of Marketing 3.0 confirms the fact that we no longer own the brand: FD. The citizens own it. We might admit since we are a public service that they have always owned the brand. What I mean here is that social media has literally lifted the brand into the hands of the citizens who we want to support us. Marketing 3.0 is based on actual value, certainly financial, but especially human. This value equation is the key to our sustainably; our ability to understand and join the social media conversation.  This still needs to be coupled with the local and national media to craft our story and tell it well.