Giving Safety a Brand Identity

Excavation Safety Online - October 2014
By: Terry L. Mathis
Printable Version

EHS Today - March 2014
Printable Version

Marketing professionals deliberately create what they call "brands". A brand is something they attach to a product that labels it and gives it an identity and characteristics. When consumers think of a product or see its name or logo, the branding creates the image and impression. The image created by the brand can impact the reaction to the product and the decision to purchase or not to purchase. Brands can also reinforce the buying decision and impact pride of ownership. Good marketers can also apply the principles of branding to all types of services, programs or even sports teams. Branding can make something seem stylish, fun, classy or altruistic.

More and more, forward thinking organizations are branding their safety initiatives. The process of branding your safety efforts or programs within the overall safety strategy can produce some desirable and profitable results. Safety brands can be used to increase the excellence of safety performance, create better safety cultures, increase employee involvement in safety, or simply make participation in safety more rewarding and satisfying.

If you want to see whether or not branding safety might help your organization, begin by discovering what brand your safety initiative currently has. Just because you have not deliberately created a brand doesn't mean you have not inadvertently developed one. How do your associates think about your current safety efforts? What do people picture when they think of safety? What do they associate safety with and where does it fall in the list of organizational priorities? Do leaders walk the talk in safety or just give it lip service? Is safety training valuable or boring? Do safety meetings make work safer or just check off another box in the supervisor's to-do list? When associates choose to participate or not participate in safety, what happens? Are safety indicators getting better, getting worse, or staying the same? Is safety data communicated effectively? Is safety a serious subject, or a joke? The answers to these and other questions can help you discover the current brand of your safety efforts.

Once you have determined your current safety brand, decide what you would like your ideal brand to be. When your associates think about safety efforts, what would you like them to perceive and how would you like them to respond? The following issues should be among your primary considerations in making these decisions about your safety brand.

Brand Awareness – If you want to give safety a new brand, begin with the outward artifacts of brands. They include some or all of the following: name, logo, tagline or catchphrase, graphics, and color schemes. Your choice of these elements will begin to define how workers should feel about safety. The strength of these elements of branding will be determined by how effectively you communicate them. Can you put them where everyone sees them on the way to and from work or throughout the workday? Can you reinforce them in written communication such as newsletters? Like advertising, branding depends on repeated exposure. Try to expose every worker to your visual branding a minimum of three times per day and reinforce the visual with verbal mentions in every safety meeting.

Brand Association – With what do you want people to associate your safety programs? You can brand your safety efforts as a team sport or a war on accidents, as complying or caring, as thoughtful or heartfelt, as competitive or cooperative. It is important to begin with the end in mind. Automobile manufacturers spend a lot of time, effort and resources on branding. If your safety program were a car, what brand of car would it be? You can brand safety as sleek and fast, rugged and dependable, heavy duty, classy, luxurious, or practical simply by associating it with an auto brand that stresses the same qualities. Be mindful of how your brand compares or contrasts to other well-known brands and ensure that the association is harmonious with your desired brand.

Brand Trust – The next task is to begin to build trust in your brand. Workers must sense that the safety effort is sincere and practical. The brand must improve efforts, the efforts must improve results, and the results must be visible to the workforce. Visible progress toward goals not only builds trust in the new safety brand, it actually motivates people to participate. It is crucial for leaders to stay on course and on message and patiently build trust in the brand. Trust is built slowly over time but can be destroyed almost instantly. For this reason, it is critical that your branding efforts are not undone by other factors. Leaders who talk sarcastically about the brand, refuse to invest resources in safety improvements, or exempt themselves from practicing what is being preached are common factors that destroy brand trust. Be on guard and don't let these or other factors creep into your program and weaken trust.

Brand Parity – Products are often marketed in groups to create the perception that they have equal value or quality. In safety, this concept can be used to establish the priority of safety in comparison to other organizational goals. Carefully consider it before declaring that safety is your highest priority. After such a declaration, any decision that doesn't put safety first can damage the brand trust. When safety is branded as equal to other priorities, such as quality and productivity, parity is created that has proven its potential to improve efforts and results in safety.

The way people think about safety impacts how they react to safety programs, both mentally and emotionally. When safety has a brand that elicits the right combination of caring, teamwork, and focused action, performance can reach levels of excellence not previously possible. Branding is an element of strategic management that is quickly getting the attention of forward-thinking leaders. The fact is that your safety program already has a brand. It is up to you if you want to deliberately transition it from what it currently is to what it ideally could be.

Terry Mathis, Founder and retired CEO of ProAct Safety, has served as a consultant and advisor for top organizations the world over. A respected strategist and thought leader in the industry, Terry has authored five books, numerous articles and blogs, and is known for his dynamic and engaging presentations. EHS Today has named him one of the '50 People Who Most Influenced EHS' four consecutive times. Business leaders and safety professionals seek Terry's practical insight and unique ability to introduce new perspectives that lead to real change. Terry can be reached at or 800-395-1347.

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