Take aim at advertising

October 1, 2008 By and    

Advertising should be a major part of your marketing plan and, for budget purposes, a vital part of your overall operating expense.

Tom Jaenicke
Tom Jaenicke

I think of advertising as an investment instead of an expense. That investment will pay off if you take the time to identify those prospects whose energy needs and wants are best satisfied by your company, evaluate the most cost-effective method of communicating these benefits and encourage them to purchase from you.

My definition of advertising: “The means of providing the most persuasive possible selling message to the right prospects at the right time for the lowest possible cost.”

You should already have your customers broken into segments such as residential, industrial, commercial, etc. You may have further broken down those individual segments into a profit or value ranking. This type of customer definition is helpful in targeting your advertising efforts.

You will want to divide your advertising budget into growth and retention. Depending on the maturity of your company, you may need to spend more advertising money on retaining customers than you spend on finding new ones. Look for new residential customers in areas with a high percentage of rural population growth and in areas with a high density of existing propane users. If that growth and density co-exist in the same area, you have a prime target.

Communicating to targeted groups of prospects through the right advertising medium is critical to grow your business. In times past, the average propane marketer’s advertising plan could consist of placing a Yellow Pages ad and running an occasional ad in the local free distribution, daily or weekly newspaper. Many things have changed in the propane industry and the world of advertising, however.

You probably have more propane competitors and other energy competition now and a confusing array of advertising media available. Let’s take a look at one of the old standbys that still seems to be effective for many propane marketers.


Advertising in your local newspaper allows you to deliver precise information to prospects in a given geographic area. Some newspapers offer the option of targeting by ZIP code or other means, rather than running the ad in the entire circulation.

There is evidence that ads run in earlier pages of the newspaper and on the right-side page get greater readership. You may have to pay extra for specific ad placement in the publication, but it is often negotiable. If you don’t mind where your ad appears, it will be placed run of paper (ROP), which means anywhere available.

Ads with color are usually substantially more money but have eye-catching appeal and can be worth it, depending on the type of promotion you are running and your response goals.

Your ads should build the image of propane as an energy source and present your case as the best propane provider in the market. Try replacing the typical truck or tank images in your ads with pictures or graphics that depict the lifestyle benefits of using propane. Browse through the PERC Marketing Resource Center (MaRC) at http://members.propanecouncil.org or the new Web address www.propanemarc.com for an excellent selection of lifestyle images you can access for free.

Be precise with your message and give readers a reason to buy. Make one or two strong claims and support them with evidence. While negative advertising seems to work in politics, I discourage the use of negative ads aimed at your propane competitors.

Coupons, special offer codes and dedicated phone numbers can help you to track ad success.

Make your company an easy choice for readers. Always include your company name, address, telephone number, e-mail, Web site and, if appropriate, hours of business and brief directions.

Time factor

It is much more cost-effective to advertise during the time of year when consumers are most likely to look for your offering. Planning your promotion to be first in the marketplace during a consumer-interest period usually works, but don’t try to move interest to your off-season. You can spend a lot of advertising dollars and not have much to show for it.

Take a look at the quarterly approach that PERC uses in its Campaign Extension Program available on the MaRC. While propane service installation can be advertised any time of the year in parts of the country, messages about tankless water heaters or home heating are better received during specific time periods.

Like most forms of media, newspaper ads are always more effective when used in conjunction with other forms of advertising such as direct mail, billboards or radio. The average consumer typically needs at least three impressions of your offer before reacting to your call to action. Spreading your promotion across two or three different types of media during the same time period can raise the impression rate considerably – but only if it aligns with your advertising budget.

These are all simple things you can do to make your newspaper advertising stand out from the crowd. Aim at those prospects with the right advertising and fire away.

Tom Jaenicke is the owner and president of ATomiK Creative Solutions LLC, a company that provides marketing, consumer education and business development consulting, primarily to the propane industry. He can be reached at 810-252-7855 or

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