By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Recent events have once again brought the topic of safety to the forefront for energy marketers. I won’t bother to rehash these events, as I am sure that they will be covered elsewhere in this publication and that most readers can figure out what I’m talking about on their own. Coincidentally, risk management was on the editorial calendar for this month anyway, so I was already thinking about pointing my article in this direction; those recent events just pushed me further along by highlighting the sense of urgency and empathy that’s needed when dealing in and promoting customer safety.
To that point, before I begin discussing what I think energy marketers can do to bring attention to their safety and service advantages, I want to stress two things we should not do. This probably goes without saying, but nevertheless: 1) do not engage in exploitative “disaster marketing” as your customers will see right through it and probably be offended; 2) do not frighten your customers by inadvertently creating concern where none existed. Striking the right tone between carefully reassuring and overly cautionary is a delicate balancing act, which is why you should always consult with your communications and marketing team on safety messaging.
All that being said, if you’re like most full-service fuel dealers reading this article, you know that your products and services are safer than those offered by a sizeable segment of your competition. That is a fact. And in that fact lies an opportunity to make your existing customers stickier and possibly pick up some good prospects as well. Timing your safety messaging so that it’s most relevant to people’s concerns doesn’t make you opportunistic. It makes you a smart businessperson. To that end, here are a few things to keep in mind when promoting your company’s safety and service advantages.
It might sound cliché to say that customer safety is your highest priority. But so what? That doesn’t make it any less true, nor does it mean that your customers don’t need to hear it again. The start of the heating season is already the most opportune time to remind customers about your company’s priorities. And I think we’ll all agree that is especially true in this heating season.
Every communications platform you utilize — from newsletters, direct mail, door hangers, bill stuffers, and on-hold recordings, to your company’s website, blog, online portal, email blasts, text marketing, and social media — should include a safety message this season. Whether or not you put that message in the context of today’s events is up to you and your communications partner to decide, but will probably depend on your location and a number of other factors I won’t get into here.
There is some room for creativity in safety messaging, from the nuance of your language to the photos or illustrations you choose to use, but no matter what, be tasteful. Your goal is to assure the customer or prospect that he or she is safe in your company’s hands. And that’s it. You’re definitely not looking for laughs here.
So, aside from pointing out that safety is your number-one priority, what are some other words you should look to include? That’s easy enough: licensed, certified, bonded, insured, trained, experts. All of these terms apply to your company. You and your employees have both worked hard to ensure as much, so spread the word. It might all seem like a given for you, but customers and prospects appreciate these credentials.
Along those same lines, your company’s license and insurance numbers are probably already shown somewhere on your newsletter, website and other B2C materials. So, why not draw attention to them! The simple fact that you’ve been able to put those little numbers on every marketing material you’ve sent over the years is a positive indicator of your company’s reliability and reputation.
Beyond Safety First
What else should your company do to assure customers and prospects of their safety, beyond the prerequisite safety-first message? There are a number of safety-related topics and materials that your customers and prospects might be drawn closer to this heating season.
Your company newsletters and blogs make ideal vehicles for driving these messages home. And depending on your company’s size, location, history, and product offerings, you might even consider having your communications partner create a special safety-dedicated issue of your company newsletter, a safety webpage, or safety brochure package. This way, you can bundle multiple important messages in one convenient space.
Here are a few safety-related topics and materials we’ve shared with our clients and their customers:
Oilheat Safety – Now more than ever, it pays to remind your customers and prospects that heating oil is not flammable or explosive. You already know the saying, that they “can drop a lit match into a barrel of heating oil and it won’t explode,” but the layperson probably doesn’t. Therefore, this topic is every bit as important and relevant as your safety-first message and should be included in all of your communications platforms this season as well.
Heating Safety Tips – “Your heating fuel and equipment are safe, but…” There are certain safety precautions we wish all homeowners would take when it comes to their heating systems. Use your newsletter, blog and other platforms to remind customers and prospects about the steps they can take to reinforce their safety and comfort this winter.
Duty-to-Warn Packets – If you deliver propane, you should know all about these. The Propane Education & Research Council recently updated its consumer safety brochure. PriMedia often packages this with a client newsletter, which typically contains an article referencing the brochure and reinforcing its safety message. We sometimes get creative here by providing additional safety- or propane-related messages not contained in the brochure but nonetheless helpful to your customer (and your bottom line).
Emergency Contact Lists – Something borrowed from the real estate professional playbook, these can be especially helpful for new homeowners. By compiling the numbers of your new customer’s (or even your prospect’s) local fire department, police precinct, hospital and other key emergency contacts, you’re doing him or her a big favor. And by including your own number, address, and URL in the list, you’re establishing your company as an equally indispensable resource.
Again, those are just a few of the safety messages and materials our team custom-develops for our clients. You can bet there will be more ideas on the drawing board this heating season, and we’re always happy to work closely with our clients to select and fine-tune the safety message(s) best suited for their company culture, customer base and targeted prospects.
Coming off of last winter, public expectations for our industry were probably already a little higher than usual going into this heating season. They might be even higher now. But you already know how our industry responds in times like these: we say bring it on. It’s time for full-service fuel dealers to once again demonstrate what that phrase, full-service, really means. Furthermore, it’s time to tell our stories like never before.
None of us want to make the mistake of over-promising, but after last season all of us understand what we can realistically expect from our service teams and our customers. Your message should be in line with fulfilling those expectations. Whenever possible, as is often the case, your team should work to surpass those expectations.
With that in mind, once you’ve honed in on your message for the heating season, you need to make sure that all of your service people — that means customer service staff as well as service technicians — know that message and can follow through on it. You need to talk the talk and walk the walk.
Walking the walk has never been an issue for full-service energy marketers. It’s bred into our business models. However, companies sometimes struggle in telling their full-service stories. Again, full-service fulfillment might be unremarkable in your eyes, but we need to make customers recognize how it sets our industry and our businesses apart from the competition.
The story of the after-hours burner repair, of the service van with the snowplow mounted on its front, of the satisfied customer calling days after their problem has been fixed, breaking down on the phone while she tells you how amazing a job your people did, how kind they were, how special that experience is these days — that’s your story.
At PriMedia, we’re privileged to be able to help so many of our clients share these stories each year, and we look forward to telling them even louder this heating season.
PriMedia can help you develop your safety message and tell your full-service story. Talk to our team about our custom products and services, including print and digital newsletters, duty-to-warn fulfillment, 360º web development and much more. Call 516-222-2041 or visit goprimedia.com to schedule your free consultation today.