TB Tip: Alexa, how do I sell safety?

If you want me to groan and roll my eyes, hand me a fact sheet (or tell me “it’s the law”).

It honestly doesn’t matter what the topic is. Sprinklers… smoke alarms… traffic safety. In fact, the amount of text and statistics in your fact sheet is directly correlated to the amount of disdain I will have for your fact sheet and, consequently, the agenda you’re trying to push. Depending on the amount of text and your level of determination to make me read it, I may even dislike you a little as a human being.

The “I” is representative of the vast majority of North America’s adult population. The younger the adult, the bigger the eye roll.

Herein lies safety agencies’ frustrating and age-old problem. Just about everything they produce will be ignored – maybe even loathed – by the majority of their target audience. They will spend large amounts of time, money and resources on missions that are doomed to fail or go unnoticed. The middle agencies – such as fire departments – will experience the same frustration and result, which is a significant part of the population will be non-compliant and therefore, at risk of death or injury in a fire.

Selling safety is no different than selling a product or service.

The same rules of marketing apply. Know your audience. Know how your product/service will benefit your audience. Find out what it will take to make your audience want your product/service. Keep updating that information knowing the market and your audience is constantly shifting.

“Alexa, what are we doing wrong?”

In simplistic terms, we’re an industry trying to sell safety when we should be selling a safe lifestyle.

Take the Amazon Echo® (the one that receives commands as “Alexa”). When you see commercials featuring the Echo®, they are selling you on a life made better by that purchase; how Alexa is basically like a personal assistant and you just have to tell her what to do… POOF! Life better. For the Superbowl, Amazon decided to show its audience what life would be like if the world tried to replace Alexa. Needless to say, Amazon’s sense of humour proved to us all that there is just no replacing Alexa, even with celebrities. Check out the hilarious Superbowl ad.

In all of its ads, not once did Amazon provide its audience with statistics. It did not count how many lives have been bettered with its purchase, nor tell you the percentage of homes without a working Echo®. Instead, it created a vision of what “your” life could be like with “Alexa”. For the Superbowl, Amazon showed you what life would be like without Alexa. Or, at least, the Alexa that millions have come to know. It’s marketing brilliance. Admit it, when you saw one of those commercials, at some point you wondered what kind of questions you’d ask “Alexa”.

But boy… that is a snazzy new fact sheet you’ve got there! And look at you with your list of statistics… so, uhm, expert-y.

Let’s craft a clever commercial, shall we? The purpose of this commercial will be to create a scenario that will inspire everyday people to test their smoke alarms. I call this commercial “A life that works.”

Opening scenes follow a typical person through a day where it seems like nothing is working.

Woman enters kitchen, yawning, and attempts to make coffee.

Coffee maker doesn’t work.

Woman goes to start car. Car won’t start.

Taxi drops woman off at work – flip to rotating quick-clips of things at the office that don’t work (stapler, copier, security card swipe, etc.). In between quick clips, narrator (preferably Morgan Freeman or Anthony Hopkins) interjects with “Some days… things in your life… just… won’t… work.”

Outside of work, starts raining and her umbrella refuses to open as she waits for the taxi.

Taxi drops off now-drenched woman, who enters her home, sets briefcase down and glances up at the smoke alarm. Reaching with her umbrella, she pushes the test button. The alarm beeps.

Cue Morgan/Sir Anthony: “Don’t you wish everything had a test button?” Alternate line: “When nothing in your world is going right, a working smoke alarm will save the day.”

Okay, that last cheesy line might need some work, but I’m sure Spielberg or any SNL writer could make it a work of art. The point is, there were no facts, no statistics, no “do this, do that” messaging. Rather, it inspired a feeling of emotional gratitude for the test button… a sense of being able to count on it. In short, we were selling a safe lifestyle.

“Alexa, how do we make people safe?”

Governing bodies and agencies within the fire service have some decisions to make if they truly want to start impacting the safety of residents within their jurisdiction. I personally believe this involves a choice between two options:

Are we going to do what it takes to make a direct impact to the safety of citizens?
Are we going to do what it takes to make an indirect impact to the safety of citizens?
A direct impact is essentially a top-level body or agency that aims its messaging directly to citizens. The indirect impact is where the body or agency channels its messaging through grassroots organizations, such as fire departments or safety organizations.

Option 1 – Direct Impact

  • Abandoning the one-size-fits-all, approved-for-all-audiences, fact-based campaigns.
  • Removal of creative red tape and political correctness bureaucracy.
  • Reallocation of resources/focus to reflect the ratio of fire safety responsibility demographics. Specifically, the ratio of child/adult focus versus ratio of child/adult fire safety responsibility.
  • Literally, hiring marketing, advertising and ecommerce experts with little or no fire service backgrounds. They will be the key to linking the non-fire audience with the fire service’s agenda.
  • The commitment to considering safety as a product and the adoption of the advertising industry’s modern methods of selling them.

Option 2 – Indirect Impact

  • Modernizing resources (such as fact sheets) to reduce the amount of text and increase the use of whitespace and/or graphics. (HINT: keep actions/instructions to three points for better retention). Use adult/teen focus groups during design phases.
  • Arrange for marketing/advertising experts to lead training sessions for the grassroots industry (i.e. firefighters, educators). Mission: teaching fire departments how to get people to WANT the fact sheets.
  • Willingness to support and promote the campaigns that are effective/trending and opening channels in which to do that.
  • Finding ways to reward/acknowledge innovation in safety – both in terms of products and public education.

In either case, there is hidden talent everywhere within our industry. It’s unfortunate that it is often buried under million-dollar apparatus and the suppression issues-of-the-day. But if a Chief digs far enough, talent can be found. Sometimes, it won’t be in their own department. For every fire department that doesn’t have a marketing diamond-in-the-rough, there is a local college that could easily adopt fire safety as its next major project.

“Alexa, where is the fact sheet?”

If you belong to a fact sheet-happy organization, please do not fret. There is a place for your resources. In fact, there is a far better place for your resources; such as, exactly where they’re wanted.

Go to any online shopping site. Search for any product and open its page. With few exceptions, what will be displayed automatically includes: photo(s) of the product, price, a brief description and a giant “ADD TO CART” button. Often, you’ll see a rating of some kind (4 out of 5 stars), model options such as size or colour, and buttons you can click for more information such as consumer reviews, specifications, warranty, shipping/return, etc.

Think of the fact sheet like the specifications or warranty. Consumers do not care about the specifications unless they are first interested in the product. Companies have about 20 seconds to capture the consumer’s attention on the product page. If the consumer’s interest is piqued, they’ll want more information and are then prepared to read many more details.

Now imagine if you went shopping for a coffee maker but upon clicking a certain make/model, it was a page full of text… specifications and warranty. The average consumer will either click the “back” button immediately, or scroll to the bottom until they realize there is no photo, price or brief description and then will click the back button.

The same marketing rules apply to fact sheets and fire safety. The “just give them as much info as possible” approach actually creates the opposite result than intended. We have to package fire safety in something that will grab people’s attention and leave them wanting more… information. That’s when you can proudly provide those fact sheets and do so knowing your audience will be much better positioned to receive – and retain – those facts.

Do you have a great fire safety “commercial” idea? Comment & share!

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