The medium of first response is trust. Do I trust that my partner has the skills, stamina and demeanor to back me up when it matters most? Do I have the trust of the public to use force in a lawful manner? A breakdown in trust at any of these critical linkages means real trouble for a public safety agency and public safety itself.
Trust, of course, extends beyond the realm of the interpersonal. Products and services in this market are bought and sold on trust too. Products for the public safety market must be trusted to work in extreme, high-stakes environments; vendors must be trusted to stand by what they sell. It goes beyond having the most dependable product or service in the market. Is your pricing fair? Your business practice ethical? Are you a kind and conscientious person to work with?
Bottom line: Everything you do in your marketing efforts, and as a company, should enhance the trust public safety personnel have for your brand. Following are four tips to keep in mind.
1. It Takes Time
Like any subculture, first responders share a common bond. It’s easy (and sometimes fun) to delve into stereotypes, but there’s something to be said for a cohort who will, as Lt. Dan Marcou puts it, go “riding to the sound of the guns” to save the lives of innocent strangers. Every cop, firefighter and EMT goes to work knowing this could be the day.
As this pertains to public safety marketing, make sure you account for time. As someone who has never been a professional first responder, I can tell you that working with and being trusted by this community is a great privilege—but it took time to accrue. Conversely, trust can be lost in a moment if it’s taken for granted.
In public safety, a splashy entrance and quick exit can be suspect. It might suggest a lack of commitment or opportunism.
2. Consistency Trumps Intensity
It’s always interesting and informative when attending public safety conferences to pay attention to the vendor hall. Who’s new? Who’s making a splash? The fact is, not everyone lasts in this arena. It’s helpful to think about why. Likewise, on the digital and print media side I’ve seen companies invest seriously in marketing efforts toward public safety and then scale back quickly. “We just weren’t seeing a return on the investment,” they said.
I get it.
But there’s often a sense of perspective lacking when a good product or service fails in this market. In public safety, a splashy entrance and quick exit can be suspect. It might suggest a lack of commitment or opportunism. A huge part of building trust, conversely, is being dependable. Put another way, you need to show up routinely, long term.
But show up where?
3. The Company You Keep Matters
Where are your potential customers? Your current customers? These are the questions that keep marketers up at night. The old ways haven’t disappeared. First responders still attend conferences, watch television, read print copy and attend brick-and-mortar educational institutions. They’re all over the web, including public safety sites and industry newsletters. Meanwhile, they’re also on Facebook, and TikTok and Vero, and maybe something new tomorrow. So, given limited resources, how do you decide where you need to be?
There is no simple answer, but as you navigate these issues with your brand, it’s good to routinely ask: Who and what are we supporting with this investment? Kylie Jenner has 147 million Instagram followers, for example. But do you want her influencing on your behalf?
Finally, word of mouth matters immensely in public safety. Agencies will often base purchasing decisions on the experience of neighbors. That’s not to discourage you in your marketing efforts; to the contrary, one good customer can often become your strongest sales and marketing asset.
4. Know Who You’re Talking To
This one can be daunting, but it’s actually pretty simple: Ask lots of questions and listen well.
Understand there might be, for example, cultural differences between EMS and fire personnel on a topic that your marketing efforts should reflect. Or geographical differences that could present an opportunity. Or maybe the phrasing just doesn’t sound right to practitioner ears, or the photo lacks that real-world feeling. And so on.
Getting to know your customers can help you to develop new leads while improving products and services. It can provide authentic content for your marketing campaigns.
First responders are public servants in diverse, high-risk work. The threats they face evolve constantly. So too do technological innovations and societal expectations. They need your support in this. Your challenge, then, is to listen well, tell your story and be worthy of their trust in all that you do, including marketing practices.
Keep tuned as we continue exploring these topics. We always like to hear from you, so reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.