Marketing and safety have a lot in common.

Marketing is learning what people need, packaging a product, and then communicating not only the product but also the need for it. Marketing is knowing both your audience and product.

Safety is understanding risks, developing the right controls, and communicating and verifying that the controls are in place and used. Safety is knowing not only the hazard but also the right controls.

Marketing and safety both look to figure out how to best influence behavior. In both cases, feedback is essential to determine if you were successful. And success is not measured just in terms of sales or accident rates. Did behavior and attitudes actually change? Was there a direct cause and effect relationship between the marketing effort, the safety effort, and the result?

Here are some lessons from marketing that we can apply to safety:


Marketers must know what people want. Safety professionals must know what employees need in terms of protection. Both require research, homework. From a safety standpoint, what do current statistics say about accidents, about behavior? Can you do a better job collecting more detailed information?


Marketing success depends in part on content and appearance, right? Well, how can you package safety and health programs so they have clear and measurable goals and objectives?

By the way, are your instructions easy to understand?

In both cases, you want to get people involved with your "product." Have you piloted your safety program to work out the bugs and kinks, or have you just charged blindly forth?

Is there a way to make it a game? Fun? Exciting? Marketing often projects the image of fun and excitement to win people over. Or the idea you can't do without something. With safety, does it influence other parts of what is considered important to employees' careers? For example, if you want art students to use environmentally safe products, do you make it part of their curriculum and grading policy? Or do you just give them a one-time assignment?


Who delivers your message? The big cheese (head honcho), someone the people respect or idolize? Or is it dumped on a subordinate commander to "tell it to them straight"? Think of celebrity endorsements, and company owners who personally sell their products on TV.

Another factor: Marketing 101 tells us at a minimum to communicate three different ways, three different times.

So what are the three ways to communicate? Do we use newsletters? Meetings? Contests? Prizes/awards? How do we reach other influential parties (families)? How do we create peer pressure?


Marketers and safety professionals want to constantly publicize their successes. People want to know if a product is a winner. In safety, we need metrics and feedback to do this. Here are critical success factors for feedback and metrics:

  • Measure results, not just activities or indicators;
  • Keep metrics visible (at the point of work) and current;
  • Compare your results to something - track trends;
  • Present metrics in context, and make sure your presentation is uncluttered;
  • Use realistic and attainable goals;
  • Don't keep changing your goals; and,
  • Use metrics and feedback to create action plans.

For this reason, "Zero Tolerance" is an inappropriate goal, not only because it may be unrealistic, but because once you have an accident, there is nothing else to shoot for. Alternatively, continuous improvement not only can be measured, but also can be re-emphasized even if an accident occurs.


Marketers use incentives - contests - to build interest and motivate buy-in. Incentives are used in safety, too. But be careful. You want to reward proactive behavior, not the absence of behavior, such as having no accidents. This does little to change behavior, other than to make people hide their mistakes.

One of the most successful recognition programs in safety today is the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). VPP is a safety management system (with employee involvement, management visibility and accountability, feedback mechanisms, and action plans and programs) that fosters worker level involvement to the point of ownership. Ownership at this level drives peer pressure, makes safe behavior not only acceptable, but the "way business is done." For 20 years, it's been a proven way of successfully marketing safety. Of getting employees and managers to own the "product" - your safety program.