Marketing to public safety audiences is different. It just is.
A product demo by a product manager is a common and effective tactic at most industry conferences. A sales team heating up warm leads for your digital service through a webinar is another tried-and-true marketing method with a reasonably high probability for success. Focusing exclusively on your service or product in the niche world of public safety, however, is a great way to lose potential customers.
Many of the most common marketing approaches and strategies that work wonders in traditional business settings simply don’t resonate with public safety leaders. Why?
A lot of it has to do with the rather special makeup of the prospective customer you are trying to reach. There’s a lot you need to know about the men and women whose job is to look out for the best interests of the first responders who keep our communities and businesses safe.
Public Safety Leaders: Know Who You’re Selling To
First responders and the public safety leaders who support and empower them — the 911 directors and fire, police and EMS chiefs — are typically selfless, service-oriented and humble people. In fact, they probably don’t teach “selfless and humble” at the Academy — that’s just the way people who answer this calling are wired.
First responders also belong to a strong insider culture. This culture is shaped and reinforced by the weight of the responsibilities, long hours, physical demands and extremely hazardous conditions that come with their jobs.
It’s a close-knit group. And in business situations public safety professionals can be guarded or even dismissive toward outsiders, especially at first. Before you can sell to them, you have toearn their trust. And, yes, while that may be true for any consumer audience in any industry, it’s considerably harder to build rapport with skeptical police chiefs than your typical shopper.
Public safety leaders trust their own. They’re making purchasing decisions in the interest of saving lives — the lives of their first responders and the public they serve. They won’t rush into a supplier relationship without getting to know you and figuring out what you’re all about first. And, without a reference to vouch for you, many conversations end with a “Nice to meet you. Now let me show you the door.”
To earn the trust of public safety leaders, you need to learn the rules of the culture that defines them. Which takes time, patience, a good ear and a keen eye. This is especially true for folks new to organizations that serve public safety with products, services and technology.
Of course, it helps if someone who’s been there before can show you the ropes (yep, that’d be us).
5 Ways to Market More Effectively to Public Safety Leaders
At RedFlash Group, we’ve been stewarding relationships between our clients and the public safety sector for over 20 years. Here’s a handful of particularly helpful marketing insights we’ve picked up along the way.
1. Let Someone Else Do the Talking
Your best public safety customers should be telling your story. Not you.
Public safety leaders are risk-averse. They literally spend their day minimizing danger. And a large investment in a new product, system or service is a big risk in their book — especially if that potential solution is being offered by an unknown entity.
What can put their minds at ease? Someone who has walked in their shoes and has had a positive experience with your offering.
In public safety circles, your potential customers want to hear from their peers. A lack of references or testimonials is a strong signal that you haven’t landed any real customers (or worse, haven’t managed to serve your existing ones well). And that tends to erode, rather than build, trust.
The only time a public safety audience really wants to hear from your company representative is to explain the more technical aspects of your product. And even then, you want one of your real customers on stage next to your product expert to reassuringly add their personal experience.
2. Forget the Hard-Sell and High-Pressure Tactics: Inform and Educate
You never see first responders run onto a scene. They’re taught to act purposefully, move carefully and avoid distractions as they perform their duties. They even practice keeping their heart rate down in order to keep their minds at maximum sharpness.
What’s the point?
First, your public safety customers are unlikely to get rattled by a hard-sell tactic and make a panic purchase. Second, they’ll probably view overly zealous sales tactics and “exciting” promotional content as distracting and ignore them immediately. (P.S. “‘Exciting”’ is another one of our banned words and phrases for public safety.)
Your best bet is to be professional, educational and informative. Give them data. Point them to real outcomes. Introduce them to your other customers.
Show that you trust and respect them by giving them the tools they need to make an informed, objective decision about your product — then get out of the way. They’ll appreciate the approach, and you’ll look more confident in the process.
3. Go Easy on the Hero Stuff
Knowing what to say and when to stop talking is important. So is knowing what not to say.
A common mistake companies new to the public safety sector make is going overboard on the hero messaging. Public safety professionals value teamwork and humility. Being publicly put on the pedestal, or worse, being personally elevated above their team, is embarrassing and uncomfortable.
There are plenty of tasteful ways to recognize and show appreciation for the sacrifices first responders make. And we’ll talk about what your company can do in just a bit. (On a personal level, we’re sure they’d appreciate a Grande mocha on you, should you cross paths at Starbucks.)
Leading with a Superman-style image in your corporate sales and marketing efforts, however, can be off-putting and feel disingenuous and gratuitous. More important, it’s sure to label you as an outsider — exactly what you don’t want.
Reducing potential harm to their first responders is a top priority for public safety leaders. They actually don’t want them acting like superheroes.
4. Sizzle Won’t Sell Your Public Safety Product or Service
Another surefire way to earn that outsider label is to come with too much flash and bluster.
Yes, your potential customer does want to know that your company is financially stable and able to deliver on the promises you make. But bragging about that expensive acquisition your corporate board approved last quarter and the valuation bump that’s about to swell your pocket isn’t going to impress — unless that acquisition will ultimately help your customer serve public safety better.
A direct, transparent, humble approach is going to carry you much further.
The public safety market is relationship-driven, which means your sales and marketing approach has to match the personality of your customers. That feel has to be a bit more blue-collar and less Italian loafer. We’re talking Outback Steakhouse, not Ruth’s Chris (tip of the hat to one of our most prized clients!).
Which brings us to our final insight.
5. Build Your Reputation the Right Way
If you’re struggling to make inroads with public safety leaders — and if you’ve read this far, it’s probably safe to admit that might be true — you may need to put in some work to build a stronger reputation. Taking heed of the above insights is a great start.
But as you home in on a more effective marketing strategy, you should also look for opportunities to demonstrate that your company’s values are the same as your target audience’s. Every business serving public safety says they care about first responders. However, only a fraction of those organizations put their money where their mouth is.
Build your rep by giving back to public safety.
We said earlier that there are appropriate ways for your company to show appreciation for first responders. There are actually a myriad first responder causes that could use your help. These include organizations devoted to first responder cancer and suicide prevention, health and wellness, safety and injury prevention and support for families of fallen first responders.
You should shy away from treating public safety professionals like superheroes, but you don’t need to be shy about offering real support for these dedicated men and women.
Give, volunteer and don’t expect anything in return. That’s the best way to show you care and earn the goodwill and trust of the people who keep us safe.
Effective Marketing Looks A Bit Different in Public Safety
For newcomers to the public safety market, it can be tempting to apply the same marketing strategies and tactics that have reliably worked for you in other industries. This is sure to make you stand out — just for all the wrong reasons. Public safety professionals buy from those they know and trust. To earn that trust, you have to build your rep and engage in meaningful relationships first.
Whether you’re just establishing your presence in the public safety market or aiming to expand your reach, RedFlash Group can help you make the strategic connections you need to be successful. Ready to bridge the trust gap?Let’s talk.