Marketing to First Responders: Brevity Where It Counts

There’s a lot competing for our attention in today’s digital marketplace. Given the demands of their duties, first responders can be even harder to reach than general audiences. For those marketing to public safety, this is the challenge.  

It’s not surprising today’s first responders are busy. Public safety requires them to react at a moment’s notice, paying attention to many things at once. They can’t predict when the calls come. When it happens, they drop everything and go. That’s not good news for your product newsletter email or social media post about that exciting new feature. But it’s life. 

You can’t always keep the attention of your public safety audiences. They have critically important work to do. But it’s important to note: This doesn’t mean they don’t want to give you their attention. 

Experienced public safety product marketers know they may only have a short window to get a point across. The idea here isn’t to use shock tactics or gimmicks. Rather, the idea is to impart just enough information about your product or brand–how it can solve their sticky problem–so that it will spark interest. They will want to come back when they have more time. 

Of course there’s a time and there are audiences where comprehensive detail matters. There are conversations where depth is essential, where you’ll need to expound on the capabilities and specifications of your product. But by the time you get to that point, this has likely transitioned from a marketing- to a sales-qualified lead. If you’re reading this, you’re interested in marketing. We’ll leave those longer, more involved conversations for later in the sales process (where they belong!). 

How First Responders Encounter Public Safety Marketing Efforts

It’s not difficult to understand why feature-forward marketing efforts are released into the wild as part of awareness campaigns. It’s understandable, but it’s also a mistake in most cases. 

Product designers and engineers–the folks who make the products and services and who are often rightly proud of what they’ve made–are technically oriented. They love to talk shop–sharing the challenges in design they overcame, new features and so forth. Again, there may be a time for this eventually. But that time is not now. 

Broadly speaking, we’ll break down our marketing efforts into three stages. 

  1. Awareness
  2. Storytelling
  3. Features

Each stage has its media. For awareness campaigns, for example, we’re typically talking about email marketing, display ads and print advertising. Maybe you sponsor a webinar on a topic that matters greatly to your audience. These are opportunities to get your brand broad exposure, with the understanding that many of the eyeballs captured just aren’t in the market and maybe never will be. The idea is to get the brand out there and see who is interested, knowing that more information can be gathered about them with time. 

Even if they know of effective use cases and customer stories, most engineers would prefer to talk about features. Making the product work is what they do, and they take pride in that. Unless prompted, most engineers are going to focus on the most important and interesting things they work on: features and specifications. Even at companies with dedicated marketing professionals, this emphasis on engineering can creep in, especially when the boss is or was a product person. 

Product people are supposed to be product experts. Marketing professionals, on the other hand, are relied upon to be customer experts. They are, in a sense, the bridge between the engineers and sales. The task is to synthesize product information and deliver it to our target audiences in a memorable and easily digestible manner. 

So what prevents more audience-friendly marketing efforts from reaching intended target groups? In many cases, it’s simply about organizational dynamics. Product marketing teams often don’t have the same clout as technical product leaders. And there are some organizations that operate without a formal marketing department. This means marketing priorities (the customer) are frequently made subordinate to the needs of product designers, engineers, sales teams and other departments that make and sell the product. 

Unfortunately, the typical outcome is marketing collateral that fails to capture the attention of your first responder audience. Worse, it makes them feel like they’re on a bad first date with someone who won’t stop talking about themselves.

Public Safety Marketing That Puts Your Audience In Control

Marketing managers don’t need to outclout their organizational counterparts to make their marketing efforts more impactful. They just need to apply their expertise to the thing within their control: the message. 

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Imagine a typical shift in a fire house or patrolling in a police squad car. A first responder’s day can go from monotonous to heart-pounding frantic in a split second. They are trained to respond to quickly changing environments by identifying the most pressing short-term priorities and taking immediate action. 

Your communication approach should match this training and mindset. To reach your public safety audience, you have to deliver the most impactful (to them) information in bite-size pieces. Then, you need to fight the urge to drive a sales-oriented action and allow them to choose and take the next step on their own. 

The person you’re trying to reach will not have time for an hour-long webinar in the course of their regular job. You have to convince them that your product is worth the effort to clear their schedule and log on. That means leading with your value proposition — focusing on what’s important to your audience. 

To start a conversation about your product, service or technology, you first need to explicitly tell first responders how your solution will impact their job and make it easier for them to carry out their responsibilities. Then, wait for them to come to you.

The Right Ask At The Right Time

A response to your initial outreach means your value prop messaging did its job and got your prospects to perk their ears up. Getting the conversation started is a huge milestone. However, it’s not a green light to launch into full-press product presentation mode. 

You need to continue to cultivate their interest while respecting their limited time and attention. That means you can’t inundate them with pushy messages or too much technical information. A drip-feed of just enough information delivered through multiple marketing channels (email, social media, digital ads) will keep your prospects engaged and your brand and products top of mind until they have the need and opportunity to explore your solutions in-depth. 

Remember to tailor your messaging and calls to action to the proper communication medium. Email and social media, for example, are not ideal places to make long arguments. But, leveraged correctly, these channels are great for keeping your leads warm and allowing your audience to take the next step in their discovery journey when they are ready. Keep your email messages and social media posts short and to the point. But be sure to provide links to your website, YouTube channel or webinar registrations to give your audience a way to access more information at the time of their choosing.

Keep It Short and Sweet For Your Public Safety Audience

Public safety leaders and practitioners are busy people with hectic jobs. They typically don’t have time to read a 25-page white paper or watch an hour-long video about your product. So don’t ask. Instead, design your marketing approach around the realities of their work environments. Be brief, get to the point and let your audience control their own path of discovery to your brand and products.

If the way we work is in line with the support you’re after, we’d love to talk.

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