Monday, November 3, 2014

The brownie box

I know there are universities out there that teach marketing. Professional marketers work their entire careers developing the knowledge of their craft, and can offer a detailed analysis of audience trends and tendencies. And, if you want to bring in a consultant to do this for your organization, boy, can it cost!

But, I will wager that you walk past some of the best marketing lessons at least once a week - at the grocery store.

Choices, choices
Food companies spend a tremendous amount of money and conduct scads of research to gain the slightest edge against similar yet competing products on grocery store shelves. Legendary struggles between major companies - such as the one that rages between Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola - show how protracted and expensive this competition can be.

The eyes have it
That's why these companies hire marketing specialists not only for their advertising, but for their product packaging design. For instance, did you ever wonder why characters on children's cereal boxes often look down? That's because the pint-sized shoppers are at a much lower level than the boxes, and having these characters engage the little ones, they tend to want that cereal that much more.

What does this have to do with risk communication? I'm glad you asked. Let me show you something.

The back of a box of brownies
Do you know what this is? It's the back of a box of brownie mix. Everything you ever wanted to know about brownies you can read on the back of this box. How large of a pan to prepare. What other ingredients you will need to gather. How long to mix. How hot to set your oven. What you have to do differently if making these brownies in Denver vs. making them in Miami.

Is this the side that the manufacturer wants you to see first?  Absolutely not.

Mmmm, brownies!
This is the side that the manufacturer wants you to see first. The image of the hot and chewy, fresh from the oven, baked to perfection brownie that just can't wait for a scoop of vanilla ice cream (try it... you will like it) is always front and center. Why? Because, once the manufacturer catches your attention and draws your interest to that delicious dessert, only then you will pick up the box and read the back to see what you will need to do to bake your very own decadence on a plate.

Now, can I ask why much of our disaster preparedness outreach information looks like this?

Storm surge information on FEMA's website
This is a screen shot from FEMA's website a few years ago about storm surge - the deadliest impact from a landfalling hurricane. Does this attract your attention? Make you want to learn more about this devastating force of nature that laid a city like New Orleans low after Hurricane Katrina? You might just breeze by it, barely giving it a second thought.

Now, what if you saw something like this?

Our storm surge banner
This is a banner we had made at our office a few years ago showing the different expected surge levels for different categories of hurricanes should one make landfall in the Tampa Bay area. I've been places where this banner is on display, and the reaction of the people who walk by it is one of amazement. They had no idea that storm surge could be so high when it comes ashore.

This is, in effect, the front of the box of brownies when it comes to storm surge awareness. And, once we get their attention and they see what kind of impact storm surge has, that's when we can hand them more information about what causes storm surge, how they can find their evacuation levels and a host of other survival tips that can help save their lives.

The lessons are all around us. We just have to stop and ask ourselves, "how can we improve our outreach?" You just might be surprised where you can find the answers.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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