By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
Marketing and advertising are terms we all know, but what do they really mean to any given energy marketer or home comfort provider? In the second installment of this two-part look at innovative company marketing, the focus is on customization.
Just as no two companies are the same, no two marketing plans should be the same. In fact, companies in the energy and comfort industries are becoming more different from each other every year. Dynamic changes in the marketplace are forcing owners to evolve, and company identities are only becoming more particularized.
It is essential to identify your company’s new opportunities and focus on those without being overly wedded to the past. As such, companies must strike a balance between maintaining their familiar branding and recasting their image. Bold change is sometimes the best choice.
As companies adapt and evolve, a strong focus on the future is essential in marketing. Each company will evolve on a unique trajectory, and their message and image must be specific to them. Don’t let someone else’s idea of how to market the company become your idea. Take the time to figure out where you are going, and work to build new customer connections accordingly.
For example, you might have two companies in the same market who, gauging by their present websites, appear quite similar, but their owners have different ambitions. Owner A believes in “owning the home” and plans to grow the revenue per account while also trying to bring in new customers one service at a time. Meanwhile, Owner B has a fuel-centric view and sees a growth path involving more commercial fuel sales and geographic expansion.
And these are just two very generalized examples among many possible company profiles. Every company has its own personality and vision, and their marketing and advertising initiatives should be custom tailored to support their ambitions—with precision.
To maximize your company’s potential, formulate a clear picture of current circumstances and a well considered vision of future directions and objectives. Know who your best customers and prospects are and what choices you would like them to make. Your ideal marketing and advertising plan will have the simple objective of motivating those particular customers and prospects to make those specific choices.
The function of marketing and advertising is to connect your company with your buying population and motivate them to choose you. When you keep your eyes on the prize and work with creative people who understand the mechanics of connection and motivation, you give your company the best chance to succeed.
Check in With Yourself
Begin by taking inventory. What are your objectives? What are your best paths for growth? Can you build on the website you are using today, or do you need to start over? Are your logo and overall aesthetic suitable for the new directions you are taking? Do you have an effective message? What is your financial position? What can you afford to spend over the next few years to grow the business?
Answer these questions the best you can, and then begin to work with your outside support team. It is important to engage with your marketing agency at the right point in your planning process. You want to be far enough along in your thinking that you can provide a clear sense of your direction and goals. (If you engage with the marketing agency before clarifying your
objectives, your “ask” might lack clarity and the results might suffer.)
The perfect time to convene with the agency team is when you have a general sense of what you want to accomplish but have not nailed down all the specifics. That way, the agency team can suggest ideas that help you see what is possible. You might find that you can connect with potential buyers in ways you had not imagined and pursue objectives that you had feared were unattainable.
In last month’s column (which is posted at oilandenergyonline.com), we looked at today’s high consumer expectations and how companies can tap into their higher aspirations. This month, we’ll expand on those ideas by applying them to a few hypothetical company objectives and highlighting potential elements of various customized market plans.
Before discussing those specific objectives, here are a few universally useful strategies that have a place in almost any company’s efforts to connect and motivate.
Offer extreme convenience. Customers of every stripe want to be able to do business with you online at their convenience. Every company should enable customers to enroll online, place orders, schedule services, access their account and enroll in programs such as service contracts and price protection.
Use video: A good video that reflects a company’s brand identity and value proposition is a great tool for motivating customers to sign up. Video can also provide great support for specific products and services.
Sharpen your aesthetics and language: Looking great is always a good idea. Publish attractive websites and engaging materials with a compelling logo and tagline. As your budget allows, beautify everything that customers and prospects see that represents you.
Support smartphones: Today, smartphones are so prevalent and convenient that many users are spending less time on their desktops and laptops, even at home. Make sure your websites use responsive design or have mobile versions.
Manage leads. Give your sales team modern tools to manage and convert the leads you generate.
Maximize reviews. Positive feedback from your customers creates confidence. Get customer voices into your websites and other marketing materials.
Be patient and persistent. Formulate a plan that includes multiple impressions and touch points and extends for several years.
To finish, I’ll offer five sample objectives that companies might have and thoughts on how to connect with the right buyers and motivate them.
Objective No. 1: We are expanding our range of services so we can do more for our customers and “own the home.”
How to connect and motivate: Your messaging should be centered on home and families, and it is important to balance your emphasis on fuel sales so it doesn’t interfere but also doesn’t get lost.
Your marketing plan will account for important variables, such as when to target current customers for cross sales and when to target new accounts. Maybe you have the appetite and capacity to do it all at once. If not, you will stage your outreach to match your capacity and goals.
It will be important to gauge the cost effectiveness of the different outreach options. Coupons sent by mail will offer greater impact than emailed offers but will also be more expensive. Newsletters will be great for the customer base. Advertising will target new customers, and the choice of mediums will be based on the buyers you are targeting at the time of your campaigns.
Objective No. 2: We want to add propane accounts inside and outside our Oilheat base.
How to connect and motivate: Your core marketing materials, including your website will have a strong emphasis on propane. You will optimize online and offline intake for new propane customers so you can connect in multiple ways and then drive them to a new propane customer enrollment portal on your website.
You will develop a sales strategy and support it aggressively with targeted outreach. Targeting will be based on where your best prospects are. If your Oilheat base is rich in opportunity, you will target them with multiple impressions that most likely include an introductory offer. Direct mail, a special edition newsletter and email blasts should all be considered. You’ll also evaluate the market outside your base and use some combination of direct mail and advertising to make connections.
Objective No. 3: We want to expand our commercial fuel accounts.
How to connect and motivate: You will evaluate your company messaging for focus. If necessary, revise the messaging and retool the web presence to establish an appropriate commercial focus. Identify the strengths of your company that apply to commercial delivery and verbalize them. Identify your key commercial niches and develop targeted marketing materials. Formulate a plan for recruiting commercial customers and develop marketing materials and strategies that provide optimum support for sales.
Objective No. 4: We want to add service accounts for all fuel types, including former customers who have converted to gas.
How to connect and motivate: You will evaluate your overall messaging and ensure that it has an effective all-fuels emphasis. Optimize your website with a new customer enrollment portal and use outreach campaigns to drive traffic there and to your CSRs. Identify your key segments (new customers, former customers, homes, businesses) and the geographic areas you will target. Decide whether to target one or two communities per year or solicit business immediately across a wider area. Choose your advertising mediums based on the size and type of your target population.
Objective No. 5: We want to add more full service fuel accounts across our service area.
How to connect and motivate: Optimize your website to make it highly appealing to homeowners. Pay close attention to aesthetics, messaging, branding and bundling to ensure that you stand out. Consider adding a video introducing the company. Build a new customer enrollment portal where people can learn all about your services and sign up immediately for fuel delivery and/or service. Develop a sales strategy and use outreach to support it, delivering multiple impressions to your target buyers.
Your company is a unique entity with strengths, opportunities and challenges unlike anyone else’s. It’s not the company it was 10 years ago, and it is different from every business that competes with it. As you pursue new business, support your sales team emphatically with marketing and advertising campaigns custom-designed for your particular ambitions and goals.
For communications that connect and marketing that motivates, give me a call at 800-796-3342 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.