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Setting the Stage: The Opportunities With Marketing E15


The first in a six-part series about the benefits of E15 fuel

When you hear or see the term E15, what comes to mind? More importantly, do you know what your customers think when they read about the fuel, or pass a pump that features an E15 label?

To answer that customer-centric question, Growth Energy — the leading biofuel trade association representing ethanol producers and supporters in the United States — partnered with about a dozen E15 fuel retailers over the past two years to find out what customers know about and how they perceive this often misunderstood biofuel.

The ultimate goal? To optimize best practices for selling E15, Mike O’Brien, vice president of market development for Growth Energy, explains.

“This work has included completing more than 4,000 qualitative and quantitative consumer surveys and consumer intercepts while fueling and examining more than 300,000 consumer purchases of E15,” says O’Brien. “After examining the data, the consumer has spoken, and research has concluded that there is a strong connection between sales and how E15 is being marketed at the pump.”

Evaluating Customer Feedback

Just what information did Growth Energy and the study’s participating retailers glean from the data they collected? The findings, says O’Brien, were interesting — if a bit unexpected.

“Consumers stated they wanted to see E15 marketed in ways that are similar to how other grades of gasoline like 87 octane are marketed,” he reports. “When asked if they prefer having E15 or 15 in the name, consumers emphatically said it was not important.”

And in good news on the profit potential front, research comparing sales of unbranded E15 with comparably named fuels revealed that consumers willingly accept E15, O’Brien adds.

Tackling the Challenges

It’s a fact of life that consumers typically are apprehensive of any new product that hits the market — particularly if it is in a category that hasn’t seen much innovation in years.

“It’s called the paradox of choice,” O’Brien explains. “When a consumer sees a new product, they tend to select the product they have previously purchased.”

That’s just the situation proponents of E15 have encountered: Many customers have been filling up with their preferred fuel for years (possibly for decades) and see no reason to switch. Consequently, it is crucial for retailers to understand how to counter that paradox at the pump.

“Consumers are uneasy when a new product is introduced into the marketplace; therefore, there is a real opportunity that we have by offering E15 in the way consumers are demanding,” O’Brien stresses.

Tapping the Opportunities

Growth Energy’s research uncovered two important findings about E15 that can help fuel retailers capitalize on the tremendous opportunity this biofuel brings.

First, consumers are more comfortable when E15 is sold using a name similar to the product they have purchased in the past.

Second, dispenser configuration plus clear price signage and fact-specific messaging at the E15 dispensers help drive sales.

“If E15 is present on all the dispensers at the store, it is more convenient for the consumer and they are more comfortable selecting E15,” O’Brien reports. “Consumers are willing to review some information about the fuel based on signage and wording printed on the dispenser.”

Fine-Tuning the Message

While having E15 posted on a pump is an important and easy-to-implement step, crafting more nuanced messages that quell consumers’ concerns about putting biofuel in their vehicles is key to success — especially because it carries a lower price than regular fuel, which may lead customers to believe they can’t use it or that it isn’t a reputable product.

As O’Brien notes, “Throughout our research, we’ve found that the messaging matters on how E15 is perceived.”

Just what kind of messages should fuel retailers include? Several options exist, depending on the target audience.

For example, drivers who pull in to fuel up are very comfortable putting E15 into their vehicles when labels informing them that E15 is approved for 2001 and newer vehicles are prominently displayed along with signage identifying E15.

“Research has shown that consumers are looking for a fuel that is safe for their engines, first and foremost,” says O’Brien.

And proof of that lies in the numbers: “E15 is the most tested fuel ever, and American consumers have logged more than 4 billion miles on E15 with no issues,” he adds.

Other important messages that hit on topics identified as important to drivers: E15 enhances the engine’s performance and is better for the environment than other fuels on the market today.

“The more we talk about how E15 is a cleaner burning fuel and display these benefits, the more positively the fuel is perceived,” O’Brien says. “By talking about cleaner burning fuel, consumers interpret this to mean it is good for my engine and a little better for the air we breathe. In today’s day and age, healthier options that are more ‘green’ appeal to many audiences.”

Ultimately, the challenge and the opportunity lie in making the purchase decision as easy as possible at the pump. After all, the last thing consumers wants to think about is what type of fuel to purchase. They just want to get in and get out of the station as quickly as possible — which means following their lead is the way to boost E15 sales.

“By offering E15, and more choices at the pump, fuel retailers can give Americans the opportunity to fill up with cleaner burning fuel that is safe for their engines. Not only will sales of the fuel increase when more consumers begin fueling with E15; that also will drive more traffic into stores, which means more profit for retailers, O’Brien concludes.
Coming up next…The Momentum Behind E15

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