Heart & Mind


By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part One of a two-part series on innovations in company marketing.

When a home comfort company excels at captivating and motivating buyers, it can grow its customer base, expand margins, and make money like never before.

If those outcomes appeal to you, read on for some radical ideas about how to grow your bottom line “at a reasonable cost.”*

*Stay tuned for further explanation.

This article spells out a simple plan for improving the bottom line. It explains how you can energize your staff, emerge from the pack, and take business away from competitors. To get you in the right mindset, let’s review three essential points about optimizing your performance as a home comfort provider.

First, if your company is a “full-service fuel dealer,” consumers could have difficulty distinguishing you from your competition. When your website is highly literal in describing your services, there may not be enough special allure to pique a homeowner’s interest in you.

Second, you do not choose your customers. They make their own decisions. Like every private business in every sector, you are at the mercy of the market, and a good part of your job is motivating customers to choose your company.

Third, you have the power to decipher your market and position your company optimally to captivate and motivate your ideal customers.

Ready. Set. Cringe.
Now let’s delve into a topic that is guaranteed to make some Oil & Energy readers cringe and want to stop reading: “soft values” – those intangibles which focus on the customer’s emotions and aspirations, and your company’s image as it relates to them.  Go ahead and cringe, but please continue reading anyway.

If the thought of marketing your company with a fresh image makes you uncomfortable, please make yourself a promise: Promise that you will share this article with someone you trust who appreciates soft values. Promise also to have a sincere discussion with them about helping the company be more profitable. You’ll be glad you did, even if that seems unlikely right now.

Why? Companies that embrace soft values and make a point of connecting with customers tend to succeed. Improving your soft values drives a stronger bottom line, and that is nothing to cringe about.

If you don’t particularly care for marketing, you have a great many kindred spirits in the fuel industry. Fuel dealers have a lot on their minds, and they face a great many demands on their time and money. Many dealers believe they can always put off the marketing investment – or ignore it altogether – because it’s not mission-critical, while so many other issues are.

I am completely sympathetic in regard to the fuel dealer’s demanding work life, but as a marketing specialist who has helped hundreds of fuel dealers connect with consumers, I encourage you to ponder how you intersect with the buying public.

From Truth to Image
Many dealers have achieved great success through the years by portraying their companies quite literally as a team of delivery drivers and technicians who work in a family-owned business that goes back three generations (or something to that effect).

That kind of portrayal worked when our marketplace was less competitive, but these days we need to strike a more sophisticated tone that reflects homeowners’ hopes and dreams. Those delivery drivers and technicians are greatly appreciated by customers, make no mistake, but messaging that is overly literal can fall flat with today’s consumers.

American consumers have been raised on television and its sophisticated approaches to marketing. This reality profoundly affects how they choose companies, and you will profit by understanding the evolution of the home comfort marketplace and getting ahead of the curve.

On television, no one sells anything based on function and face value. Automobile brands connect to lifestyle and image aspirations. Insurance ads barely even mention insurance, and if they do, the messaging is about trust, fairness and the policyholder’s legacy. Ads for medicine show imagery of happiness, beauty and normalcy while making only passing references to the conditions the medicines treat.

Marketing today focuses on the happiness and satisfaction of the customer, not on what the advertiser does. This style of messaging contains literal truth at its core, but the words and images focus on higher concepts and truths. The same rules apply to home comfort companies.

Seen through the lens of sophisticated marketing, what is a full-service fuel company? It is a provider of essential products and services for the home, which means it has direct connections to some of the most sacred pillars in American iconography: home, family, happiness and well-being.

When you reach out to prospects and customers, you should aim for the heart. When the messaging is too literal, you are at risk of seeming trivial compared to competitors who strike more harmonic chords. American consumers are trained to dream and aspire and, for better or worse, they will prefer the company that speaks eloquently to their aspirations.

If you cringed at the thought of “soft values,” this line of thought must be like nails on a chalkboard. That’s okay. That’s why we all hire professionals for specialized work, and modern marketing requires a lot of advanced skills in graphics, writing, and software design.

Engage the Brain Too
It’s not just the customer’s heart that we need to touch but also their brain. As homeowners contemplate home comfort, they envision intelligent thermostats, electronically controlled appliances, extreme reliability and whisper-quiet operations. They aspire to a clean, white-collar universe of electronic solutions, sophisticated diagnostics, usage reports and renewable energy. Images of fuel truck drivers, boilers and monkey wrenches are discordant and disappointing, regardless of any literal truth.

Don’t position yourself as merely “delivering the oil and servicing the boiler.” You are much more than that. You are trust. You are house calls. You are clean heat. You are smart, economical living. They want their provider to be clean, brilliant and tech-savvy, and they prefer companies whose imagery connects with those aspirations.

Once you accept how customers might idealize their home comfort provider, you see why it is important to aim high with your messaging. As you start doing the work, you will renew your image and message elements: company name and logo, tagline, color scheme, website copy, apps, videos, truck designs, uniforms and more. None of these elements alone are transformative, but when they work together in harmony, the customer sees what they want in you.

Evolution Is Timely
Some executives worry that changing the company image will cause as much harm as good, due to disruption and discontinuity. This is a reasonable concern in some industries, but for full-service fuel providers the time for change is emphatically now.

It is becoming risky to hold onto a “fuel company” identity in a world where fossil fuels are under so much negative pressure, and young homebuyers equate home comfort with Nest thermostats and the like. It makes sense to emphasize quality, intelligence and trust as your core strengths and values and let the messy details live in the background. We are not surrendering to fossil fuel opponents by evolving our marketing; we are focusing on the consumers who pay our bills.

Using imagery and messaging to create lofty expectations is standard operating procedure in 2016. Your marketing makes promises, and you elevate your staff’s performance to measure up. Your team works together to create an exceptional experience that flows seamlessly from touch point to touch point. Though it seems daunting, “good” is not good enough; only excellent customer service gives customers the superior experience they covet.

You need to be exceptional on your website, on the phone, in mail and email and in person. Conceive and engineer highly pleasing interactions in each venue. Start with the website, which is your proxy, your salesperson and your CSR in the ether, where prospects are making their choices beyond your reach and control. Your website must engage visitors and empower them to enroll immediately and place orders, so you don’t lose them to a competitor who satisfies that desire for instant gratification. Deploy self-service apps and informational resources that meet your site’s visitors’ needs and are easy to find and use.

Help the visitor to decide, “You are the one,” by making every live interaction a good one. Enable them to chat with you or even call off-hours, and be efficient and warm. Develop excellent telephone procedures and protocols that use the customer’s time well and make your whole team look smart and friendly. Dress your drivers and technicians well and give them simple tools and procedures for making great impressions. Make your vehicles beautiful. Create attractive and professional forms and handouts. Pay attention to every detail. American consumers believe they should associate with the best companies, which are the consistent ones that never disappoint.

Aspiring for greatness will also be great for company morale. As employees understand that you are all working together to make yourselves look like the best team, they will love the company more and be glad they work for you instead of the less enlightened competition.

Reasonable Cost
If you can’t help but wonder, “What is all this going to cost me?” that’s no surprise. I promised at the outset to discuss solutions at a “reasonable cost,” so let’s address that topic now. To be frank, the point is not that you can do this for less money than you thought. It’s that the value of connecting with customers’ aspirations is far greater than you might imagine.

The days when it was safe to overlook “soft values” are gone. Remember: you are in an industry where differentiation among competitors is not automatic. Embrace this reality, whether you like it or hate it. Commit to crossing the communications divide and truly meeting your market. Only then will you move the needle on customer acquisition, customer loyalty, word of mouth and customer reviews. You’ll get more new customers every year, do more business with them, and retain them longer. Your marketing investments will feed your bottom line. You will make more money and own a stronger, more valuable company.

And that’s not all. When you create great customer experiences, you can stop looking at your competitors’ daily prices and begin setting your prices higher and increasing the margins on everything you do.

Image building isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny. Next month we will look at the importance of zeroing in on your unique path to greater success. We will discuss how you can develop an image and message that best supports your particular company identity and works for you.

Let’s talk about your path to greater success. Please give me a call at 800-796-3342 or email me at rrutigliano@primediany.com.

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