“Selling” health and safety

Any first year Marketing major learns about the Five P’s* of selling – Product, Price, Place, Promotion, and People.  Consider the lemonade stand – the product is a refreshing drink of lemonade, priced at a mere 25 cents, conveniently placed on the sidewalk for foot and car traffic, promoted by cute kids with colorful signs, and with a customer base of nostalgic adults, who even if they aren’t thirsty, will drink a small cup of homemade sugar water. So, what does this have to do with promoting health and safety in our communities? A lot!

Consider the effort to get people to install and maintain smoke alarms in their homes. The product is an alarm. But unlike a glass of lemonade at 25 cents, this product comes in many different styles and price points. Smoke alarms are packaged and promoted in a variety of ways too – dual sensor, 10-year battery, combination, hardwired – adding another layer of complexity to our lemonade stand analogy.

How about placement? Sure, smoke alarms are available at any big box store, hardware store, and on-line, which may be convenient for some people more than others, but still requires a level of effort not needed when driving by the lemonade stand. And then there’s the people factor – does your audience even want a smoke alarm or fully embrace the value of having enough smoke alarms to protect their home? While the lemonade stand is an easy sell, getting people to adopt health and safety behaviors is more complex, making the Five P framework a useful tool in your community approach.

Fire & Life Safety (FLS) educators and health promotion professionals need to consider these factors when “selling” to their audience to turn the concept of having and maintaining smoke alarms in their homes into a reality. Consider your “people” – who are you reaching, what are their desires, values, and views of home safety? How available are smoke alarms in your community? What constitutes a good price for your audience? Consider their economic resources and skill level when recommending your product. 

An example of successful use of the Five P approach is the community smoke alarm program, in which fire departments offer (promote) and install (place) smoke alarms (product) for free (price), to people who otherwise cannot access smoke alarms easily. These programs work so well because they’ve made smoke alarms so convenient and accessible, placing safety at their doorstep. NFPA’s Planning and implementing a successful smoke alarm installation program guide offers communities a framework for getting these types of programs up and running.

NFPA's Community Tool Kits can support your Five P approach by providing a variety of assets to tailor your efforts to your audience and promote safety in a convenient, accessible manner.  These kits on smoke alarms, heating safety, escape planning, cooking safety, electrical safety, and home fire sprinklers, take into account that getting people to “buy into” health and safety is not a one size fits all approach, and cannot be done by a singular method.

So the next time you drive by a lemonade stand, consider how the principles of marketing can support your public education efforts to bring health and safety home to your community. *Note: The Five P’s were born out of the Four P’s first discussed in the 1960 text, Basic Marketing – A Managerial Approach, by E. Jerome McCarthy.

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Andrea Vastis
Senior Director, Public Education, public health promotion & education professional passionate about eliminating disparities in access, education and resources.

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