One particular quality sets propane apart from the competition

August 7, 2013 By    

Memorable moments from movies, songs and family events can bring out the emotions in all of us. But who knew propane could do the same?

A new branding study suggests propane has an opportunity to stand apart from its energy competitors by building an emotional connection with customers.

“These are small, local businesses – mom-and-pops – and there’s an American image that’s really powerful,” says Kip Creel, founder of StandPoint, an Atlanta-based market research firm that helped undertake the study. “There’s a real hunger for this feeling of, ‘Let’s get back to work.’”

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) first considered changes to propane’s brand one year ago amid a changing energy environment, including an incredible rise in natural gas (and propane) production from U.S. shale sources. Propane’s current tagline of “Propane: Exceptional Energy” has been in place since 1998, and council and industry leaders wondered whether it was time for a fresh approach.

As part of a $2.4 million corporate communications plan approved last December, the council tabbed Lincoln, Neb.-based marketing communications agency Swanson Russell to help improve propane’s brand and ultimately grow gallons for the industry. A study called “Evolving the Propane Brand” began in January, and final conclusions and recommendations from a 158-page report were presented at PERC’s July meeting.

The study was based on internal and external discussions with about 1,000 total participants – PERC staff, opinion leaders, propane marketers, fleet managers, landscape professionals, and residential users and non-users of propane.

Collectively, these groups favored a new look and feel to the propane brand, choosing “Clean American Energy” from five taglines and pairing it with a logo showing “propane” in grayish/white lettering alongside a red and blue flame. The logo is supposed to convey propane as a powerful source of energy.

The new tagline and logo options were not meant to replace the current propane logo necessarily but instead were designed to test specific variables with the audiences, says Gregg Walker, director of communications for PERC.

One of the largest curiosities going into the study was whether propane could benefit by linking its brand to natural gas. The study determined that doing so is an acceptable, low-risk proposition. Not surprisingly, marketers pushed hardest against linking the brand with natural gas.

Another recommendation was retiring the Propane: Exceptional Energy tagline, especially if the industry is trying to reach fleet managers and landscape professionals, who are motivated by fuel options that are “clean” and “American.” The current tagline comes across as confusing and not communicating propane’s benefits.

The study also examined the current Propane: Exceptional Energy logo – a bold combination of black and blue lettering. The word “propane” uses black letters, set off with a blue “O” that makes the word “pro” stand out. “Exceptional Energy” is aligned directly below it, set off with an italicized font.

While marketers like the current logo and seem to prefer the status quo, the study found that making a logo change holds little risk with external groups and could help reinforce propane’s key qualities of being clean, American, efficient, local and versatile.

The popularity of propane as a motor fuel continues to grow, but interestingly the study didn’t find favor with the industry term “autogas,” because it’s not well known or understood. The recommendation, however, is to keep the term because the industry has “gone too far down the road of building the brand,” Creel says.

The council plans to look more closely at the study’s recommendations and share them with its advisory committee in October before making any decisions on propane’s brand.

No matter the course of action, valuable information from the study could help marketers connect more with the audiences who participated. PERC plans to develop additional guidance for marketers to use in their outreach to homeowners, fleet managers and landscape professionals.

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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