Differentiate the Product You Sell

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Educate consumers about the superior quality of the fuel you deliver

By Paul Nazzaro, Advanced Fuel Solutions, Inc.

The single biggest obstacle facing fuel marketers today is consumer ignorance. The common misconception that every retailer is selling the same product—extracted from the same oil fields, processed at the same refineries, and purchased as is from the same wholesalers—means that many consumers are making decisions based exclusively on price. While discount brands tend to embrace this narrative, to regard fuel as a mere commodity, and to market it as such, is problematic for retailers and detrimental to the industry as a whole.

For retailers—whether selling gasoline, diesel fuel or heating oil—there’s no denying that advertising low prices to a price-driven consumer base is an effective way to attract new customers. But it’s no way to retain them. A dealer who wins a customer on dollar-per-gallon today is the dealer who will lose a customer on dollar-per-gallon tomorrow. While price can be cardinal to a fuel dealer’s brand identity, it does little to establish brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty is built upon added service and value. Many oil heat dealers, for example, offer equipment installation, 24-hour emergency service, regularly scheduled maintenance visits, flexible payment options, interactive websites, and more. But even those full-service dealers often overlook the most important element of all: their product.

Live Up to Premium Price

A premium-service fuel dealer has no excuse for selling sub-quality fuel. Yet many do. Most assume that because the fuel they buy at the rack meets ASTM specifications, it’s of perfectly good quality. This is another common misconception. ASTM specs are simply minimum standards of fuel quality to ensure that the product leaving the refinery can be safely used for its intended purpose. ASTM makes sure the fuel works; it’s up to suppliers and dealers downstream to make sure it works to its maximum potential.

Imagine going to a fine dining establishment—having your car valet parked, your coat checked, your seat pulled out for you, and napkin placed on your lap—only to open the drink list and see the cheapest, most generic wine and liquor labels available. These brands may meet legal specifications—but even so, you’d probably order a beer. (And you’d probably never return.)

Like cheap wine, generic middle distillates are at high risk for several common deficiencies. Water and microbial contamination, particulate build-up and wax formation are just a few of the usual suspects that degrade fuel quality, plug filters, corrode tank linings, and damage injector systems. Unfortunately, because many consumers purchase their fuel based on price, these are the issues that they’re regularly experiencing. At a time when the petroleum industry is fighting tooth and nail for market share and losing volume across the board, having a problem-laden product represent a significant portion of the supply pool does little to help our cause.

Raise Consumer Awareness

Quality of fuel is every bit as important as quality of service. Today’s fuel additive technology can eliminate fuel problems and optimize performance to create a premium product tailored to meet the needs of customers. Cold flow additives prevent fuel gelling to keep diesel engines and heating systems running smoothly through the winter. Detergents keep tanks and injector systems clean. Combustion catalysts increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions. Corrosion inhibitors protect tank linings. Biocides control microbial contamination. Water control treatments prevent fuel degradation and other water-related issues.

Biodiesel (though not an additive) is a cleaner burning, renewable fuel that can be blended with traditional diesel at rates that beat natural gas on environmental benefits. This is the kind of information that fuel dealers should be sharing with their customers. For a few cents more per gallon, they can have a far cleaner, more efficient, and higher performing product that will quickly pay for itself in the form of fewer service calls and less down time.

Offering a premium fuel can only serve as a differentiator if consumers are educated on the subject. Raising consumer awareness via website, social media, marketing brochures, traditional advertising, customer newsletters, and through personal interaction are all good ways to market fuel quality. But the most effective marketing strategy is to provide evidence that the enhanced fuel actually works. Showing customers their fuel filters, tracking efficiency measures, and recording drops in maintenance issues goes a long way towards debunking the tired “oil is oil” narrative, strengthening your value proposition, and building loyalty not only to your brand, but to our industry.

For more information on fuel quality issues, additives, and premium treatment solutions, contact Paul Nazzaro at 978-258-8360 x301 or paulsr@yourfuelsolution.com.

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