Negative advertising damages the industry’s image

February 9, 2012 By    

With the recent increased acquisition activity in the propane industry, it may be tempting for neighboring propane marketers to go negative on their advertising, trying to take advantage of any temporary confusion that may be part of the business transition.

In the shrinking propane market, stealing someone else’s customers sometimes seems like the easiest way to gain new business. If that is the best you can do for a marketing plan (I hope not), you don’t have to do negative advertising to get results.

Ads about competitors’ high propane prices, gas runouts and poor service only hurt the propane industry’s image in the marketplace and are a waste of money. If a propane competitor is that bad, you are going to get some of the business without doing any advertising. Negative propane advertising sets low expectations for prospective propane customers and can turn them toward electricity and other forms of energy to fill their needs.

There are better ways to advertise to attract new propane business, whether they are competitors’ customers or new users, and that is by being out in the marketplace with positive advertising about the benefits of using propane and buying it from you.

Craft every ad as though it would be read by someone choosing between electricity and propane as an energy source. After all, electricity is likely your biggest competitor.

Communicate clearly. You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention. If you use an image, make sure it matches the text message.

Make your headline stand out (color in the right contrast works well for this). Your subtitle will give people a place to start reading, and you have fewer than 100 words to get your message across or you have lost them.

Advertise benefits, not features.  Customers don’t care about your degree-day scheduling or tank monitoring. They want to know that you will provide uninterrupted energy service.

Don’t advertise your price. Advertise efficiency, economy, environmental benefits and performance, but not price per gallon. Price is a frequently changing feature that any of your competitors can match, but the efficiency of propane appliances now available for the home is a benefit that brings lower energy bills.

The offer should give consumers a reason to call now: “Limited time offer,” “Propane system installation special now in effect,” “Up to $10,000 back on combined heat and power system for your home or business” (Propane Exceptional Product program), and “Lock in our best propane price now” (Don’t quote the price in the ad). Use your imagination to come up with a unique offer that your competitors won’t be using.

Don’t forget the obvious. Include your company logo and contact information, including the phone number and website address.

Include a call to action. “Call today for more information” is the most commonly desired action in the propane business.

Target your advertising based on the demographics of your current best customers. Find out whom you would most likely want to call and buy a mailing list of those people or find other ways to target them with advertising.

Stick with it. Repetition in advertising is an important key to establishing your company in the mind of prospects, and it builds credibility. If you are just going to run one ad in the newspaper or send out one postcard, you may as well save your money.

These general recommendations can apply to direct mail, newspaper ads and other print advertising methods that you can access in your marketplace. If you don’t have time or other resources to handle this type of advertising campaign, I suggest you contact a local advertising agency that is experienced and has a good track record of helping businesses of your size succeed.

Remember, don’t go negative in your advertising. It hasn’t done much for the image of Congress, and it won’t help you or our propane industry either.

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