Sunday, April 21, 2024


The Best Laid Plans

by By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc


The plan, much as it existed, was to write an article for September discussing marketing through the heating season – what you might be doing, what you should have thought about doing, and what you still could do to keep your voice relevant and your phones ringing. In the midst of our planning, two important pieces of information came to light which made us rethink our plans – for the article and for the industry.

“Shocking” News

The first item was an article in a major marketing industry newsletter about a recent study on customer loyalty and trust. It reported that “an overwhelming majority (82%) of consumers have had a disappointing or upsetting experience with a brand in the past, and over half that number (43%) say they blacklist brands that fail to meet their expectations … Consumers are showing signs of withdrawing their trust from traditional marketing channels including influencers, celebrities, politicians, social media, mobile advertising, and voice-activated services. Instead, customers are turning towards their inner circles, with about 75% going to friends and family for product recommendations and little more than one quarter doing the same for any other source ... No matter the age, consumers today are looking for integrity and authenticity from brands.”  

Chances are, your first response to this so-called discovery is to be as “shocked” at the results as we were. This might be news for the rest of the world, but the heating industry was built on recommendations from friends and family. As for negative experiences driving customers away … that comes as no surprise either.

But take another look at the statement about customer trust. There’s more going on than a bad experience. Customers are loyal to companies they trust. And part of that trust is built not only by the brand experience but also the brand’s values. In yet another news article, it was reported, “What consumers were found to be loyal to was not so much about the product a retailer was offering, but the value they find by shopping with a brand. This distinction … places more emphasis on the way a brand positions itself – whether that’s through aligning with particular values or providing unique experiences.” (More on this later.)

When it comes to earning a customer’s trust, there are some basics that should go without saying, but we’ll say them anyway: act ethically and honorably and always put the customer first. That means your trucks and your technicians are always clean, even if it means they carry extra work clothes and uniforms. All your staff, from drivers to managers to service representatives to bookkeepers to owners, must be polite, respectful and helpful in all situations. Deliver on your promises, be it a delivery or installation date or a service appointment. Give appointment windows you can realistically honor. The customer would rather have you arrive comfortably within a two-hour window than late for a one-hour slot. If you are running late, call the customer to explain the situations. They will usually understand the occasional emergency (not every time!) more than the broken promise. If we learned anything from the winter of 2018, when service and delivery departments were pushed to the limit, it was that the companies that kept the lines of communication open kept most of their customers. Businesses that didn’t answer their phones and didn’t show up when expected didn’t see as many returning accounts!

Earning trust in the digital age, however, needs to go further. Again, some shouldn’t-have-to-mention basics: your website should have a security certificate, your online payments should be processed through a PCI-compliant and secure transaction gateway, and your data should be stored in a hosting environment that is protected with a multitude of firewalls. Your email marketing platform needs to be secure as well, and have safeguards to shut down if it suspects spam. Many inexpensive, open-source platforms are known to be susceptible to hacking, putting your data, your customers’ information, and your ability to communicate at risk.

While we’re building trust on a digital plane, let’s take another look at that list of influencers which have lost the consumers’ trust, according to recent reporting. “Consumers are showing signs of withdrawing their trust from traditional marketing channels including influencers, celebrities, politicians, social media, mobile advertising, and voice-activated services.” While paid referrals and recommendations are losing whatever value they might have offered, organic referrals and testimonials have not. Customer reviews, ratings and testimonials still are powerful tools in your new customer acquisition as well as your search engine organic positioning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your customers applauded not only your service, but also all you do to help them reduce their carbon footprint?

What’s In a Name?

As an industry, we have embraced the term “Bioheat® fuel.” For years, heating oil retailers, wholesalers and producers have been heavily promoting the benefits of Bioheat®, the Bioheat® mandates, and the fact that Bioheat® can and should be part of the solution to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It sometimes feels like we aren’t being heard. Turns out, we aren’t being understood.

We have discovered a gaping disconnect between our nomenclature and that of the public at large.

  • Bioheat gets a mere 320 average monthly searches on Google, compared to more than 12,000 for biodiesel.
  • The “Bioheat” mandates and tax credits on the books … don’t mention the word “bioheat.” There is the “Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard” in Massachusetts, the “Biodiesel Heating Oil Act” in Rhode Island, and the “Clean Heating Fuel Credit” in New York. Even New York City, which utilizes the phrase “bioheating fuel” within some of its documents, enacted its mandate under the “Clean Heating Oil Bill.”
  • Your customers don’t know what “Bioheat” is, and don’t know that you deliver it.

Go back and re-read those bullets. Especially that last one.

How do we know? We asked them.

PriMedia has been surveying homeowners who received an Upgrade & Save Rebate in the last few years. These customers, who just upgraded their heating equipment, all live in regions where Bioheat® is mandated. (We will offer the full results of our surveys in the near future.) We asked, “Does your Oilheat dealer offer renewable Bioheat® fuel?”  Nearly 86 percent said “Don’t Know,” and only 7 percent of customers answered “Yes.”

We then used a variety of tools to review the Google search history for “Bioheat” and related phrases. Out of the approximately 168 billion searches processed per month, “bioheat” historically averages 320. Per month.  While search results for “biodiesel” and “biofuel” were higher, terms including  “low carbon heating,” “renewable heating solution,” “renewable liquid fuel,” and “low carbon liquid fuel” were non-existent.

A puzzle, wrapped in a conundrum

We have a great fuel that’s getting better with every bio-blending increase and can help the country get closer to net zero by 2050, and our customers don’t even know about it. These same customers are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and want to support businesses that can help reduce their carbon footprint.  

We need to capture the attention of consumers looking for renewable heating solutions, even if they don’t know what Bioheat® is called.  How? By creating long tail keywords and content to answer queries about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that direct the consumer to you and Bioheat®.

In “How Green Is Your Marketing” we outlined several ways to promote your business as a “green” company selling Bioheat®. Those tips are even more timely now. Whether you sell “Bioheat® fuel,” “low carbon liquid fuel,” “renewable heating oil,” or have a self-branded product, every one of your clients needs to understand that you provide them with heating oil blended with renewable biofuel, and that this fuel is a drop-in answer to lowering carbon emissions.

Every piece of marketing you produce, every page on your website, every invoice, and every conversation must include messaging about your clean, renewable fuel and its global benefits. This focus on renewable heating will reassure your customers that you are actively working to address climate change, giving them even more reasons to trust you and your services. And the more they identify you with positive solutions, the more they will recommend you to others, both online and in person.

Changing opinions starts with a conversation. PriMedia excels in finding the right words to move those conversations forward, whether via digital communications, traditional media like TV and radio, print or direct mail or any combination of these and more. To find out more about keywords, long tail keywords, and the Upgrade & Save Rebate Survey results, contact PriMedia at 1-800-796-3342 or at goprimedia.com.

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