Saturday, November 15, 2008

Are Gas Stations Suffering?

I saw the most amazing notice on the gas pumps of my local Exxon station. Stuck on the pump was a small, homemade printed mailing label with information on new surcharges the station was placing on customers. "Due to the high prices of gasoline, a surcharge of $3, plus 40 cents per gallon, will be assessed to all customers using a debit or credit card for their purchase."

I put the pump handle back and drove off.

I'm sure I read somewhere that the high prices of oil have meant record profits for oil companies. And I seem to recall that there has been talk of a recession coming, which has caused commodity prices to drop precipitously. Including oil.

Probably not the best time to be gouging customers at the pump.

So once I got over my indignation (I get fairly impassioned when I see businesses treat their customers poorly. It's just so obvious that it's a bad idea) I began to think of the billions of dollars spent by ExxonMobil to portray itself as a mission-led company. And how quickly that can fall apart in a decentralized or distributor model. But what's Exxon to do? It isn't their fault. It is bad business by a locally-owned station who just happens to carry their gasoline brand. You can't possibly control everything.

True. But that brings me to the pillars of good marketing (especially for companies who aspire to be more than the sum of their products). Authenticity. Relevance. Transparency. If a brand's promise is open and honest, it is less likely to be instantly negated by a homemade sticker, three seconds before the point of purchase. Make your vision clear to all. Make it connect your customer's self-interest to your own. And make your business practices align with your promise. No one minds profit and revenue. It's the cornerstone of everything. But not all revenue is good revenue.

It's also a good reminder for those of us who make these visions come to life with the brand. As David Ogilvy said, "The consumer is not an idiot. She is your wife."

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