It’s Time for Renewable Fuels
by Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Taking the lead in the clean energy future
Writing this, approximately one week into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and our world – and our industry – is facing grave uncertainty. Russia accounts for a majority of Europe’s heating oil and gas imports, with vital pipelines running through Ukraine. The rest of the world has reacted in horror to Russia’s aggression, and economic sanctions were swift and severe. While the Russian energy sector has not been closed off, most Russian banking has been. We do not know what the situation will be by the time this gets to print, but our liquid fuels supplies are expected to be strained and prices are already spiking. With the heating season winding down, the effects on our market and our customers will, we hope, be muted for now. But we have seen firsthand the issues that can arise when “for now” gives way to “let’s worry about it later.”
Energy independence and domestic production have long been among Bioheat® fuel’s talking points. Today, as Ukraine fights for its sovereignty and world energy supplies are threatened, energy analysts are looking to renewable energy resources for a long-term solution. Not enough of them are looking to Bioheat fuel or other renewable liquid fuels.
The war in Ukraine comes as our industry faces changes at home:
- By July of this year, all heating oil sold in New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut will be at least B5 Bioheat fuel, with increasing blend levels in 2023, 2025 and 2030.
- Massachusetts now offers Alternative Energy Credits to businesses selling
- eligible B10 or higher blends, and industry experts are predicting B5 legislation by the end of the year.
- Bans on new natural gas hookups have been enacted or proposed in 13 Northeast counties – many of which were promoting conversions to utility gas just a few years ago. Heating oil already has a strong market share in many of these communities.
There are also cracks in the electrify-everything framework to consider.
- Skyrocketing electric bills – to the point that utilities are sending “High Energy Bills” alerts to customers. Utilities are forecasting electric bills increasing as much as 46% for some.
- These higher gas bills are coming on top of utility rate increases that went into effect in 2022, and the utilities
- going back to the well, requesting even more rate hikes to pay for renewable energy investments.
- As nuclear power plants are closed down, natural gas is being used for more electric generation, causing increases in CO2 emissions from the electric power sector to increase by as much as 15%.
Property owners are in a quandary. First, they were told to spend tens of thousands of dollars to switch to natural gas. Then they were told that natural gas was bad for the environment, and they should spend tens of thousands to install electric heat. Now, the gas and electric heat is going to cost even more and is not going to produce the promised GHG reductions.
Of course, we know the answer. The answer is Bioheat fuel. And now it’s time to show the world what our commitment to the future really means.
Domestic, Renewable, Clean
Many dealers have quietly incorporated Bioheat fuel into their offerings. Some do so because they are unsure how much biodiesel is in the blends they deliver. Others because they fear their customers won’t accept the change. But this is a time for change.
Year after year, studies show the same results. Consumers say they want sustainable products. They say they will choose the products and services that are better for the environment and the future over those that are not. They say they will pay a premium for the eco-friendly choice — but often falter when it comes to a real price differential. It is not a leap to predict that similar surveys, taken after the war in Ukraine began, would show a consumer preference for domestic products as well.
Renewable liquid fuel retailers should take this data to heart and make domestically produced clean energy the central message of all their marketing. After all, with Bioheat fuel blended with home-grown soy oil or recycled waste oils, and prices being comparable to “traditional” heating oil, you are providing a clean, forward-looking heating fuel without the premium charge, thus meeting consumers’ preferences for both sustainability and economy.
Of course, your primary audience is your own customers. Let them know they made the right decision when they chose not to convert to gas. Remind them that every gallon of Bioheat fuel or RLHF reduces our reliance on foreign oil and our carbon footprint. Don’t forget to include the risks to their bank accounts and the environment inherent in converting to electric. Your Bioheat fuel message — in social media posts, newsletters, blogs, postcards and more — should naturally include our fuel’s path to reach net-zero carbon emissions more quickly than natural gas and electricity.
Next, consider digging deeper into your “lost customer” lists – specifically going back 8-12 years and targeting those who converted to gas. Their systems will be reaching the end of their efficiency lifespan, and the customers will likely have reached the end of their patience with the red-tape, hurry-up-and-wait corporate tangle of the utilities. They never saw the ROI the utilities promised when they converted to “less expensive” gas, and they’re now seeing their “clean fuel” being shunned as surely as heating oil had been. These consumers are likely to be less willing to swallow the latest utility clean-energy fallacy and could be considering coming back to the personal service and reliability of “the good old days.” Renewable, lower carbon heating from a company they trusted for decades? That’s certainly something they would consider. Throw in rebates, tax credits and low interest financing for their new Bioheat fueled heating system, and see how many are willing to talk!
Of course, you want to reach out to new customers, as well. Your website should have a section dedicated to the benefits of Bioheat fuel along with content praising our green solution on all relevant pages, as well as banners, blogs, links to third-party pro-renewable heating fuel sites, infographics and more. Use available, evergreen marketing assets to develop a strong campaign promoting Bioheat fuel and your company’s outstanding service, and then create a marketing plan to get the greatest return on your advertising budget.
Getting the Message Out
Many heating fuel dealers find great success in campaigns that combine programmatic, social media, and Google display and search advertising. These channels offer multiple touchpoints to reach consumers at different points of their sales journey.
Programmatic advertising is one of the best ways to reach a broad swath of targeted consumers. With real-time bidding and detailed targeting, programmatic can cost less than a penny per impression, and the cost-per-click can average as low as $3 to $5. Homeowners in your service area can be targeted by their home value, interest in the environment, military service, age of home, estimated household income, page content and thousands of other attributes — and reached across all their connected devices, so your messaging appears in their gaming apps, on their connected TVs, desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.
With social media advertising, you are reaching people who are already primed to engage with the messages on their screens. Targeting by location, interests, income and demographics, your impressions will still cost a fraction of a penny a piece, and engagements can be even less expensive than programmatic. Your reach will be limited to the platform universe, but the campaign will be viewed repeatedly. These campaigns should be monitored closely – the social nature of the platforms allows viewers to comment, and competitors and disgruntled employees (or the rare unhappy customer) may take advantage of that feature before being blocked from receiving your content.
Google campaigns cannot be discounted, simply because of the breadth of the Google empire and proprietary data. While evolving privacy requirements are changing the ways users may be targeted, Google’s data troves can delve your targeting, ad campaigns, landing page and web content to deliver the most effective ads to the most likely users. While many marketers believe that Google display ads reach too wide an audience, combining thoughtful targeting with Google’s data leads to the lowest costs per impression, often with a cost-per-click below $1.50.
Search campaigns frequently reach consumers at the bottom of the sales funnel. These consumers are searching for information on clean energy, low-carbon heating options, electric heat pros and cons and more – and are the most likely to click through on an ad promising the answers they seek. Whereas other channels are geared to reaching the widest audience within the targeting parameters, search is geared to results. It offers click-through rates of 5% to 10% or more, with costs per click equivalent to other marketing channels.
The difference in audiences requires a deft hand with messaging. Headlines and concepts for a search campaign will be different than those for a social media campaign, and many programmatic and display placements have no text at all save for any verbiage contained within an image itself. Your Bioheat fuel/renewable liquid fuel campaign needs strong visuals promoting our solution’s future-forward, eco-friendly, clean and healthy lifestyle. These need to be adaptable to all formats while retaining strong messaging.
It is here that a marketing professional can help, with the tools, expertise and experience to find the best mix of marketing channels within your budget to shout your domestic clean energy message from the digital rooftops, and help bring your company into the future of home heating.
Please consider donating to a reputable organization in support of the people of Ukraine, such as the International Rescue Committee, CARE, World Central Kitchen, Save the Children, Razom for Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross or the charity of your choice.
Richard Rutigliano is President of integrated marketing and communications firm PriMedia, Inc. He can be reached at 516-222-2041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.