“It’s time … to embrace that difference”
Amanda Bacon, Director of Sales & Marketing for Atkinson, NH-based Palmer Gas & Oil, was one of three women on the “Fueling Your Digital Growth Through Reviews and Social Media” panel presented Tuesday, May 22 from 9:45 to 11 a.m. at the 2018 Eastern Energy Expo. Also a member of the National Propane Gas Association’s Women in Propane Council, Bacon has been working in the industry for 14 years, watching a number of energy marketing trends come and go. Following the panel discussion, Bacon led a brief Q&A session, after which Oil & Energy reached out to her for more insights on traditional and digital marketing, as well as some of the cultural forces she sees driving change in our industry.
O&E: Something Palmer Gas & Oil seems to do very effectively on social media and in other marketing materials is strike a balance between informative and engaging content. At the “Digital Growth” panel, you said companies should “connect people with what matters” and “engage them in a fun way.” How does Palmer Gas & Oil maintain that balance between information and fun?
AB: On social media, the content we share is all based on who we are targeting. Social media is a powerful tool where you can target your ‘perfect customer.’ So we keep a lot of the ‘fun content’ focused on our current customers, the people who currently follow us. We spread more informative content, or special offers, by targeting people that do not follow us on social media and who fit into our target demographic.
In the panel discussion, you noted that although some of your company’s social media audience is too young to be customers right now, they represent future customers. Can you talk more about that marketing philosophy?
Palmer Gas & Oil is on the following social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Snapchat. The one that jumps off the page for most people is Snapchat. We chose Snapchat because let’s face it…it’s fun! But more than that, it is because 60% of the users are under the age of 24 (according to statista.com). We have been in business for more than 85 years, and to be in business another 85 years, and longer…one of the things we need to begin doing is speaking to the next generation of homeowners, renters, and entrepreneurs who will have a footprint in the state of New Hampshire. Snapchat is a fun way to engage with a younger audience while generating brand recognition.
You also mentioned that Palmer’s number-one source of new customers is its referral program. Why do you think that is?
We have found it more beneficial to market to our existing customer base, because they are already familiar with us, so they are more receptive to what we have to say. In tracking new customer gains over the last several years, we continue to find that asking our happy customers to send their friends and family members our way and incentivizing them for it, has been a win-win for everyone.
Are traditional communications strategies only effective for reaching older generations, or do you see opportunities there to connect with younger customers as well?
We still do traditional print marketing, for example, we send a quarterly newsletter, make use of statement stuffers, write letters, and send postcards to our existing customers. I have found that if you are going to do traditional print marketing, focusing on your existing customers is where you will see your marketing dollars go furthest.
My personal opinion and experience tells me that traditional print communication strategies are phasing out regardless of demographics, and I think the industry as a whole will see this trend in the upcoming years.
Our marketing budget to promote ourselves to potential new customers goes mainly towards TV and radio, which are more traditional forms of marketing, as well as search engine optimization, digital advertising, and social media. The power of online marketing is changing daily, because of how easy it has become to market to the exact person you want to be your customer.
Speaking with the Women in Propane Council, you said, “Having more ‘women in the boardroom’ and/or ‘in the field’ will promote this industry to the next level.” How can the energy industry connect with more young women (or young people in general) and make a career in this field more attractive to them?
I believe the industry has heard enough of how different our generation (millennials) is, and what we value, for example – we value productivity, over time spent in the office. We have all attended the association meetings and read the news articles about millennials and what makes us “unique.”
Okay. Now it’s time for action, to make real changes for individuals at all levels of our organizations and to embrace that difference.
If we want to continue to offer great care for our customers through our products and services, then we need to begin making these cultural changes now, or we will not be able to attract the next generation into this industry.
Along with making fundamental changes to the way we run our businesses, the individuals who are currently running this industry need to place value on the mentor-mentee relationship.
For women, a huge advantage is to have a male ally. We need men in leadership roles to understand the importance of having women at all levels of this industry, as equals. If you have been working in this industry, or any industry, for 10, 20, 50 years…chances are you have a lot of wisdom to pass down. Start having a conversation with women, learn what they want to learn and how they want to grow, then make it part of your daily routine to nurture that growth. It will be paid back ten-fold.
What advice would you offer to young women and men who are starting out in the industry?
Be bold and brave, but remain humble, open, and receptive to learning.
Now more than ever we need women and younger people to be brave and be bold. Say what you are thinking, your idea might just be the best thing the industry has heard in a very long time. There is no hiding the fact that this is a stale industry, and there is nothing wrong with some fresh air.
Ladies! We make up more than 80% of the purchasing decisions in households through buying directly, or through influencing the buying decision, and that is great power. Imagine taking that into the boardroom and using that skill-set as a tool to offer a fresh perspective to our counterparts.