Dealers can use bills inserts, news updates and more to spread truth about natural gas
The American Energy Coalition (AEC) is expanding its support for heating oil dealers in the struggle to preserve market share against the aggressive expansion efforts of natural gas utilities. “We are here to support the heating oil dealers and their state Oilheat associations,” said AEC Executive Director Tom Tubman. “The utilities are targeting their customers, and we have a variety of strategies and tools to help dealers inform customers and discourage fuel conversions.”
The natural gas industry has consistently and successfully marketed their product over the years in an effort to position natural gas as a superior fuel in the eyes of consumers, and not all of their claims are true, according to Tubman. “Heating oil has numerous advantages from a customer’s perspective, and our fuel is getting cleaner and greener,” he said. “The challenge that AEC has taken on is to help dealers communicate the pro-Oilheat story in a consistent, effective way. Fuel conversion makes no sense, and we want to make sure that consumers and policymakers understand that.”
AEC is now providing a variety of resources focused on some essential heating oil advantages and natural gas disadvantages: the true cost of converting with the risk of no future fuel cost savings; natural gas pipeline and supply issues; and a pro-Oilheat message including the benefits of low sulfur heating oil blended with a renewable Bioheat® fuel component.
“These are themes that can sway consumers,” Tubman said. “Dealers that communicate these messages effectively can reduce conversions and keep their businesses stronger.”
New Bill Inserts
AEC has recently published new bill inserts focused on energy prices and natural gas supply constraints in the Northeast. “Your electric bill is going up because the natural gas distribution system can’t meet the needs of existing space heating customers and a growing percentage of electric generation,” one new bill insert reads. “Even though the gas utilities are pushing for more businesses and homeowners to convert to gas heat, the infrastructure isn’t in place to supply the customers and the power plants.”
AEC has created a total of five new inserts this year that are now available at the AEC website along with some older favorites. Some inserts have been customized for different states.
The Coalition also publishes timely information about energy every week and announces it across multiple channels where heating oil dealers can easily access it and pass it on to customers. News stories are published on the AEC website and announced in weekly “E-alerts” as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. The Coalition encourages dealers to follow them on social media and share the updates so that customers who follow them will see a steady flow of eye-opening energy news that they won’t always see in their newspapers or local newscasts.
Here is a sampling of the recent issues AEC has highlighted.
- An I-Team investigation in Springfield, Mass., of the numerous charges that appear on utility bills.
- Gas leaks in Boston that release $90 million worth of natural gas every year.
- How reduced heating oil prices are saving Oilheat customers billions of dollars.
- A study exposing the “fallacy” of abundant natural gas, which suggests that the U.S. is developing a dangerous over-reliance on natural gas.
- Commentary from the Environmental Defense Fund that compares fugitive methane emissions to oil spills in the sky.
- Utilities that are turning away natural gas customers due to supply constraints.
- The potency of methane as a greenhouse gas.
“There is solid information in the news that casts an unfavorable light on natural gas, and customers need to hear it,” Tubman said. “We capture it and use a combination of the AEC Website, our e-mail blast (e-Alert) and social media to create a news stream that emphatically supports heating oil dealers.”
Search Engine Visibility
In addition to the social media channels, the Coalition is leveraging pay-per-click advertising to influence consumers as they research fuel choices. AEC’s own research has shown that many consumers have entered search terms on Google such as “disadvantages of natural gas” and “costs of converting to natural gas.” AEC has focused its pay-per-click budget on search terms like those, serving up Google ads promising answers to those questions.
When a consumer clicks on an AEC ad, they go to a customized landing page on the AEC website that addresses that particular issue. “It’s very important to introduce an Oilheat voice there, because we’re providing credible, persuasive information that consumers won’t get from other sources,” Tubman said. “We can’t be silent and leave it to the natural gas industry to answer people’s questions.”
An AEC pay-per-click advertising campaign began in June 2014 and has been ongoing, driving traffic to the AEC website. The site drew an average of 1,421 visitors per month in 2014, and 82 percent of those were new unique visitors. Website traffic was higher in the June-December portion of the year (averaging 1,863) while the marketing campaign was active and highest during the months of June, October and December when the radio spots were being aired. (In 2013, the site had attracted 645 visitors per month.)
The pay-per-click campaign itself reached hundreds of thousands of searchers from the participating areas of New York City, Long Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The number of impressions coming from people in New York City in 2014 was 215,431, with 1,596 of those clicking through to the AEC website; Connecticut was second with 102,471 impressions and 1,174 clicks; followed by Pennsylvania (which joined the campaign in November) with 88,391 impressions and 786 clicks; followed by Massachusetts with 61,857 impressions and 921 clicks. Long Island had 52,666 impressions 943 clicks.
The Coalition also ran spring and fall radio campaigns last year in Connecticut, Long Island, New York City and Massachusetts that featured 10- and 15-second drive time traffic and weather spots. The Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania also joined the radio campaign in November.
Website traffic was not the only improved metric for the AEC in 2014. The Coalition also raised a record $743,000, with contributions from 208 individuals, up from 145 in 2013. Since its founding five years ago the Coalition has raised nearly $2.9 million from 365 different donors.
AEC has also developed a program that delivers a pro-Oilheat message to consumers and professionals involved in real estate, including new homebuyers, real estate agents and home inspectors. A presentation will be available this spring to address the various market segments with printed materials and a Web-based resource to support and supplement the presentations, printed materials and Internet searches.
AEC is looking to build on its 2014 successes this year with a new fundraising campaign that includes the option of recurring contributions. Supporters can use the new AEC contributor gateway to schedule their payments for monthly, quarterly or annual intervals. AEC will announce more details on this new option soon.
Tubman recommends that dealers take advantage of all of AEC’s resources, including the website, which houses in-depth, comprehensive information about natural gas and heating oil that is carefully researched and sourced. Customer service representatives can use the site to learn the issues, and they can refer customers there to find information from an independent source.
AEC’s campaign partners in 2014 included the New York Oil Heating Association, the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island, the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association, the Berks Schuylkill Oil Heat Association, the Better Home Heat Council of Lehigh Valley and the Pennsylvania Petroleum Association. “We look forward to others joining in 2015,” Tubman said.
AEC will be exhibiting at several upcoming tradeshows, including the Atlantic Region Energy Expo, the OESP Convention & Trade Show and the New England Fuel Institute Energy Expo. For more information on AEC, visit AmericanEnergyCoalition.com.