bp refocuses its customer commitment

It has been said time and again that youcan’t put a price on having an outstanding imageand offering great service. For BP, however, thatprice is $36 million–that’s what the oil supermajor is investing in a long-term advertising campaignto reach out to convenience store and petroleum customers with giveaways, in-store promotions and topromote its emphasis on customer service.

The campaign kicked off april 4 and will spread to allcompany-owned and franchised stores in the U.S. thatoperate under the Connect and BP shop brands, andis also available to marketers of its flagship amocofuel brand regardless of its convenience store brand.the company’s network spans approximately 13,000stores, about 325 of which operate under theConnect convenience store brand.

“The point of this marketing campaign is toincrease our long-term competitiveness in the market and toimprove the overall customer experience at any convenience store or gas station that retails under a bPbrand,” said Richard barker, director of BP’s globalretail advertising. “We are pushing cleaner, saferstores that offer outstanding service, and the intention is to make a long-lasting impact on consumersacross the country.”

The advertising push, which, for the time being, does not include its West Coast ARCO am/pm operations, is dubbed “HeliosPower,” a nod to its popular green andyellow sunburst logo. It is targeted toward22-44 year-olds, split between marriedcouples and singles, with 60% having atleast one child living at home.

Ads are being featured nationally in print, TV and radio, along witha special Website (www.alittlebettergasstation.com), online promotions and in-store giveaways. To help capturean even younger audience, instead ofactors, the ads will feature a cast of animated characters, each with a name and distinct personality. Plus, the Websiteoffers customers free games, ringtonesand screensavers. One game, called “GasMania,” gives players an opportunity tooperate a virtual convenience store andgas station. “It looks very simple, just likemany people think running a conveniencestore is, but it gets harder and harder asthe game goes by simulating a real-lifeconvenience store,” Barker said.

And, much like operating a convenience store, players are rewarded fordoing the basics really well. So if you provide fast, friendly service, you have happycustomers and earn additional revenues.If you fall behind and offer poor service,the game ends.

“Embracing new media is somethingthat has been successful for us and givesus a chance to reach out to a younger audience today that will become our customersof tomorrow,” Barker said.

BP began developing the campaign early in 2006, testing the ads in select markets in the fall of 2006. Through its funand simplistic approach, the campaignsets out to make an emotional connection with customers by incorporating theconcepts of bold, green and real. Bold, BPsaid, because it’s creative and differentfrom other gasoline commercials; greenbecause BP offers tips to drivers on howto be more environmentally friendly; andreal because consumers experience the difference at BP stations.

Store Support
In support of the advertising campaign, BP will showcase Helios Powerpoint-of-purchase (P-O-P) materials atretail locations and distribute in-storegiveaways, at no charge to franchisees anddealers, with purchases. For example:

  • In April, the chain gave away packetsof sunflower seeds bearing the message,”Plant a sunflower and make the world a little brighter.”
  • In May, the giveaways turn to tradingcards featuring the BP characters as wellas a trading card wallet.
  • In June, kids’ travel activity bookswill be given away, again featuring thecharacters.

Employees will play a big role inenhancing the oil company’s image.Frontline employees will be issued promotional Helios Power uniforms andreceive additional training in ways toexceed consumers’ expectations and suggestive selling.

“A customer’s first and last point ofcontact with our stores is that employeebehind the counter, so it is extremelyimportant for us that they are properlytrained to provide a great shopping experience,” Barker said. “We want customersto leave the store and think, ‘that was afun shopping experience. I will definitelygo back there.'”

While the end result for the campaignis to reach consumers, the motivation todevelop it stems from a desire by BP tosupport its growing network of dealers,jobbers and franchisees.

“We recognized that we have a verypowerful brand and we haven’t been ableto reach as many customers as we shouldbe,” Barker said. “So our goal is to takeadvantage of the strengths of our brandedpartners by bringing them all togetherin one corporate campaign that deliversvalue to the consumers and supports anumber of initiatives to improve the standards in our sites.”

Though Helios Power rolled out lastmonth, research for the launch began morethan a year ago. The company conducteda number or surveys and consumer intercepts to find out what customers wantedand expected from their local conveniencestore and get a sense of what they are willing to pay for convenience items. The results were surprising, even to an experienced marketer like BP.

“In general, we found that customershave pretty low expectations for the convenience store and gas station experience,but if you do the basics really well, theyfind it attractive. As their expectationswere met more regularly, they developed a bond with that particular store,”Barker said.”So this campaign is aboutthe overall site experience, not just themerchandise. When consumers are facedwith a choice of where to shop, we wantthem to choose BP because they understand we are trying to make their lives alittle easier.”

Service Standards
Helios Power is also an extension ofBP’s site standards program, which is focused on upgrading and improving customer service and cleanliness across thejobber channel. This includes a brightly litforecourt, easy-to-navigate conveniencestores and strong curb appeal.

Another main objective, in simple terms,is to increase consumer brand preferenceto BP. The company said the campaign isespecially necessary because of the competitive nature of the convenience storeand fuel business. BP, like other marketers, is facing stiff competition from otherBig Oil chains, hypermarts and strongregional players.

“Customers have shown us time andagain that they will shop brands that theylike on a repetitive basis as long as thatbrand lives up to their standards,” Barker said. “As we strengthen our brand image,it will translate to extra visits and new selling opportunities both at the pumps andin the stores.”

BP is optimistic consumers will respondto the promotional activity. It tested a similar marketing campaign in New Zealandlast year and saw strong sales growth inthe convenience stores.

“It comes down to having confidence inyour brand,” Barker said. “With our strongstore locations, upscale retail environmentand great service, we believe we have created the right campaign to generate a lotof excitement around our retail offering.The next phase is to execute our plan witha high-level of service and we’re confidentwe’ll achieve positive results.”

FOCUS ON FRANCHISEES

While BP America is making a hefty investment in its branded infrastructure, over the past year, it has also been selling off hundreds of company-owned stores to grow and strengthen its franchisee and jobber networks. Since early 2006, the companyhas vacated direct store operations inmajor markets like Atlanta, Baltimore,Chicago, Pittsburgh and South Florida. Replacing BP Connect stores in thesemarkets will be its am/pm brand, which,until last year, wa
s found only west of theRockies. BP currently has about 1,000franchisee-owned am/pm stores on theWest Coast.

“Our goal is to build and recruit a franchise network east of Rockies that complements our already distinctive BP brand,” said Ben Amante, BP’s vice president of franchising.

Many of the stores are still available through NRC Realty Advisors in a buy one, some or all auction format in each market, making them potentially attractive to operators looking to enter a new market or solidify operations in an existing market.

“This is part of our overall growth strategy,” said Valerie Corr, press officer for BP America’s U.S. retail marketing division. “Essentially, by selling to franchisees, they can take the stations and grow.”

Corr emphasized that this move isn’t an attempt by BP to pull out of the competitive Pittsburg area or any of the other markets. By selling off these units, BP will not only be securing revenue, but will also avoid the costs of upgrading stores and stations. The stores will initially be bought under another brand. Then after the new ownership is finalized, the stores will be converted to the am/pm brand.

A separate deal with Uni-Marts included 28 retail and wholesale sites from BP in the Youngstown, Ohio market. Of the 28 acquired sites, UniMarts will directly operate 21 and supply the remaining others. Under the terms of the agreement, all sites will remain branded BP.

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