The Client:

For 30 years Hart Petroleum was a local home heating oil company. They have always maintained that they are a family business that provided a quality product and superior customer service. They also represented to us that they were the first home heating oil company to adopt biofuel technology for the Long Island consumer market. Adapting their facilities and innovating to support the new material and bringing a custom blend to the residential customers that they served as well as through their terminal which distributes to other local providers.

In addition to home heating oil, leadership told us that the company also provided other home services such as natural gas and air conditioning. 

The Challenge:

When we met in 2013, the company was experiencing issues surrounding customer retention paired with very little organic growth. To offset the losses, they had recently been fairly aggressive in acquiring smaller and troubled oil companies in the area. These acquisitions were intended to bring new clients into the fold, but without an integration strategy, the new clients quickly evacuated. Hart came to us looking for general marketing and advertising support, but we quickly realized that there were basic strategic and organizational issues we first needed to address before we develop a meaningful brand proposition.

Our Strategic Analysis:

We dived into our strategic analysis, at the outset several things became clear to us:

  • Name: Their name was Hart Petroleum, however they told us that they provided many other home services such as air conditioning, natural gas services, etc… The company was having a difficult time enticing their current clients to use them for these additional services and an even tougher time acquiring new clients.
  • Brand ID:  Playing off the family’s last name,“Hart” the logo contained a heart icon that was very similar to several other regional organizations and as such they were easily confused as a healthcare organization.
  • Marketing:  Because there was no clear articulation of the service line offering, customers were confused and distrustful.
    • Very little marketing was being done, and all of it was transactional, de-valuing the offering with coupons.
    • Existing customers were not rewarded for their loyalty, and were not offered the same discounts that new customers were being publicly offered.
    • They owned and operated multiple discount COD oil delivery companies out of the same full service Hart Petroleum office (with the same personnel answering the phone) causing significant confusion and distrust.
  • Customer Service: Although the company represented that they had the best customer service in the industry, our research revealed significant customer service issues as reported by staff and clients alike.
    • There was no clear understanding of the service line offering amongst their own staff and few could articulate the brand or the services.
    • The COD offering was intermingled with the full service offering by a staff that didn’t really understand the consumer’s mindset and therefore made unfortunate and misinformed statements when questioned by clients.
    • The key offering, Biofuel, was so vastly misunderstood by the staff that misrepresentations were being made with regularity – significantly eroding consumer trust.
    • The commission structure was complicated and unclear, as a result staffers were angry about the unfair compensation and at best not interested in selling or upselling.
    • This combined with no training for those interacting with the consumers, resulted in too much confusion and negativity amongst the staff.
  • Acquisitions: Without an integration strategy the company was not able to elicit loyalty from the newly acquired staff and existing staff were equally disgruntled, which greatly affected retention. There was also an absence of any direct to consumer messaging, as a result the newly acquired customers left soon after they were acquired.

Our Solution:

We knew that the root of the problem lied with a leadership team that, while well intentioned, lacked the marketing expertise or experience to develop and execute the aggressive plan the company required. We had to start out slow and take extra time to educate them on branding and marketing best practices and work to obtain buy in for our plan.

We knew that suggesting a renaming would turn the family off so early on so we made the case that the brand Identity needed to be changed immediately because of the derivative nature of the icon. As we progressed with the new brand ID we included a research component including a competitive analysis. By showing them research findings, they were faced with a compelling argument pointing them towards the wisdom of a name change. We even presented some name options that made it easy for them to visualize that change was easier than they imagined. They chose the name HART HOME COMFORT.

Because competitors were beginning to offer biofuel, we needed to find a way to articulate the Hart’s first mover position. With the new name and brand identity, we created a sub brand for a “proprietary biofuel blend” offering. This helped to better articulate the ‘first mover, innovator’ positioning in the category.

Next we addressed the customer service and culture issues, developing a strategic planning team, making changes to the organization chart, moving marketing and sales to a new more valued place in the company’s structure and developing job descriptions and operating guidelines. We developed a training program for the new brand and how to talk about their signature biofuel offering with accuracy and enthusiasm.

We hired a sales staff, developed sales materials and developed and delivered a customer service training program – turning technicians into specialists who understood the value of the customer experience and who were able to consult and up sell in the field. We also created a new position for a key salesperson called “Eco Friendly Energy Ambassador” and developed a biofuel educational initiative, complete with presentation materials and a schedule of booked appearances at local libraries, PTAs, Chambers, Churches, etc…

It was at this point that we embarked on some interesting and impactful media advertising, all paying off the new brand essence, the family and their commitment to customer service. We designed TV spots, radio, direct mail, social media and point of service materials, as well as loyalty and acquisition integration materials.

We set this family business up with all the things that they need for success and we wish them the best of luck as they begin to execute their next generation plans.

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