The Marketing Metaphor

How do environmental, health and safety professionals attract attention and support from their clients?

In today's world, environmental, health and safety (EHS) professionals must acquire effective marketing skills to achieve their organization's EHS objectives. Whether you are a consultant or a compliance manager, the goal is the same: connecting with a target audience--external or internal.

Marketers use many tools, ideas and methods to implement a strategy to reach a targeted client base. One such concept, the marketing metaphor, is an active piece of all discussions involving effective communication. In the book Marketing Management, authors J. Paul Peter and James H. Donnelly, Jr., state that the goal of effective marketing is to help the organization make a profit by serving the needs of its customer groups. This statement includes two key elements: profit and customer. Metaphors can also assist EHS professionals reach customers and support profitability.

While many individuals in the EHS field may not think of themselves as marketers, the reality is that this work requires effective marketing. A successful EHS manager seeks to understand key audiences, budgets, human resources needs, compliance issues and prevention strategies. For example, you can state the need for an additional full-time employee; however, to the accountant who understands cash flow, this is not a justifiable reason for the additional expense. The accountant's interest in preventing injuries on the job might be as real as the safety manager's, but the accountant might not have the same understanding of what prevention requires in terms of decisions that affect production and operations.

The marketing metaphor seeks to understand the triggers that will capture audience attention, help them understand your position and encourage collaboration to find and implement a solution. Remembering that most of us seek a common goal is important, but connecting with a decision maker and understanding what attracts their attention and focus is critical in the management of EHS strategies.

Applying the marketing metaphor principles will improve communications with internal and external clients. Simply stated, metaphors help create the connection between the descriptions of a desired outcome and understanding how it can be achieved. We use metaphors every day in conversation (for example, "He is acting like a loose cannon," "That's a train wreck waiting to happen"), but using metaphors knowingly and successfully will help EHS professionals improve the position and communication of critical issues.

Using the marketing metaphor as a tool in effective communication helps achieve the following:

• Selling what you know and can do (first, know your abilities)

• Drawing others to you (attraction)

• Creating analogies, images and similes (examples that others relate to)

• Using descriptions effectively (what is your client's interest?)

• Stimulating the senses, specifically visual and auditory (stimulating these two senses always provides a connection.)

Lee Iacocca, former President and CEO of Chrysler Corp., used metaphors to obtain $1.2 billion as a "safety net," thereby masking what, up to then, was described as a "bail-out." His use of metaphors reached his target audience and aroused very different reactions in Congress and the general public. Similarly, finding the right metaphor to help define your goal will help you connect with your audience and help set the tone of your marketing campaign.

Branding is a method that uses metaphors to create and connect a visual and tangible concept with your audience. Harvard Business School professor Jerry Zaltman makes pictures that reveal our deepest feelings about our favorite brands.

Zaltman invented the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique, or ZMET, a technique for eliciting interconnected constructs that influence thought and behavior. His method combines neurobiology, psychoanalysis, linguistics and art theory to discover the mental models that guide and influence consumer behavior. What ZMET describes are metaphors that build a bridge between marketer and a target audience. We can all relate to marketing slogans or pictures that connect with our desire to purchase specific products. For example, "You deserve a break today" or "I'm worth it," are intended to make you realize that you have value and certain products will enhance your value. However, Zaltman also warns that the use of metaphors to reach one group might be offensive to another group and when applying metaphors, it is critically important to understand that some terms might not be cross-cultural.

EHS professionals can learn and understand how important metaphors are to their marketing strategies by learning what is important to clients.

Metaphors in EHS marketing
Metaphors enliven ordinary language and allow us to connect with someone who perceives the world differently than we might. An example is discussing fall protection or hazardous materials waste management with a production supervisor who is under pressure to keep a line operational. Their reality is production, but your reality is compliance and safety. For example, using a metaphor that helps you describe to the production supervisor how an injury to a line worker will cause production rates to fall and production costs to rise can grow their understanding and support to work collaboratively to reduce lost-time accidents. If the production supervisor is a car enthusiast, use the example of how neglecting the proper maintenance of the engine will decrease performance and increase fuel and maintenance costs.

To establish a relationship with a customer, an effective marketing manager should learn how to enhance a discussion using metaphors that stimulate the listener to use their own mental filters to define what they hear. This allows the listener to feel like part of the discussion and solution. Examples include using discussion points such as family, sports, hobbies or personal interests while relating the topic to your work product or service.

Metaphors give maximum meaning with a minimum of words. When we can focus our discussion and say what we intend in fewer words, the audience can more quickly understand and appreciate the message. The message in this statement is to be conscious of your client's time. Don't waste their time being insincere with your use of metaphors as discussion points when they have limited time to listen. Be prepared and as Stephen Covey stated in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "Seek First to Understand." This use of this metaphor implies that you should educate yourself prior to your communication efforts.

Creative Ways to Use Metaphors in the EHS Marketing Effort

as verbs What we really need to do is ignite the team into action and snuff out the cost of accidents that are eroding our profitability.
as adjectives and abverbs These losses are similar to a carnivorous fish in the aquarium that you enjoy in your office.
as prepositional phrases I know you watch your budget with a vulture's eye.  That is why safety is so important to the bottom line.
as appositives or modifiers The CEO stood there talking to the EPA regulator, our Rock of Gibraltar.

While most firms' images do not conjure up the rock that Prudential's brand does, success is dependent on many factors of meeting the needs of internal and external clients. The professional world is not like a box of chocolates; we want to know what we will receive or deliver. Using metaphors can help EHS professionals communicate with clients, with branding an organization and creating the ability to influence positive change. While the metaphor might not be the savior to marketing compliance or EHS services, it is a powerful tool for bridging gaps in communication, recognition, acceptance, understanding and managing compliance, and being successful as an EHS professional.

About the Author

Gary Ganson has 30 years experience in the environmental, safety and industrial hygiene fields and is currently with Terracon Consultants, Inc., a nationwide engineering consultant. As a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Certified Safety Professional, he manages a wide range of EHS services, including indoor air quality, facility audits, due diligence and OSHA compliance assistance. He holds a master's in industrial hygiene from Central Missouri State University and a master's in business administration from Webster University.

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