A Captive Audience

Retailers today operate in an incredibly competitive environment. Just ask Jermaine Simons, sales manager at Rubis Energy. Recently Rubis was looking for an innovative solution to give shoppers an added benefit to visiting their network of stations. That’s when the company turned its attention to dispenser marketing, partnering with Outsite Network to install a loyalty system that offers an easy solution to improve their bottom line. And Rubis Energy is not alone. More and more retailers are recognizing the vital role dispenser marketing can play in their marketing efforts and investing in technology that can help them further connect to their customers.

Individual Focus

For Rubis Energy, their marketing at the dispenser efforts are part of a comprehensive loyalty program. “The presence of this program has generated considerable positive feedback in the community,” Simons says. “Prior to our program coupons and rewards were not widespread in our area. Three years later, consumer offers and incentives have become widespread. Consumers and partners alike see us as the catalyst for bringing this positive experience into the community.”

Specifically, the Rubis Energy dispenser-marketing program includes audio at the pump, driven by Outsite Network’s loyalty system, alerting shoppers of their status in their loyalty program, as well as playing promotions in 15-second spots.

Rubis uses the spots to promote their rewards program, contests, and special offers. They also feature offers from partners to cross promote, co-market events and charities, and provide more value to Rubis Energy shoppers. Audio also provides hints and suggestions to attendants to remind consumers to use rewards tags, to take advantage of an offer, and to get them into the store.

“We find it is effective in generating awareness and incentivizing impulse purchases,” Simons says. “We know people are listening from their feedback and the feedback of our partners.”

And in today’s competitive marketplace, connecting with your customers in such a way is paramount to your success. As Marie Joergensen, product manager, Media Systems at Gilbarco explains, low and volatile fuel margins, paired with intense competition are challenges that convenience store operators face daily.

“The positive side to this competitive backdrop is that we are seeing the best retailers find really creative ways to push the boundaries of consumer interaction and develop connections,” Joergenson says. “In-dispenser media is a hugely valuable touchpoint for retailers to integrate into their marketing strategy. Smart retailers are realizing that the majority of their customers are typically fuel-only customers, and they have that audience captive at the dispenser, usually tethered with a hose, for two to four minutes.”

These retailers are using in-dispenser marketing to connect with those consumers and give them a reason to come inside for a higher margin purchase, and to come back again.

Simply put, dispenser marketing is a simple extension of any existing marketing efforts. Promotions that are already created and displayed inside the store can easily be leveraged at the pump.

“Technology is making greater interactivity at the dispenser a reality. For example, our exclusive GSTV mobile phone application is a way for our advertisers to connect consumers with a mobile app, Web page, coupon offering, video or other marketing links directly from the forecourt,” says David Leider, chief executive officer, Gas Station TV (GSTV). “We have also seen increased interest in the IP-addressable nature of our network, where on-the-go consumers can be marketed to based on their geographic location. There are also some interesting dynamics unfolding based on the convergence of message delivery, enhanced loyalty programs, improved customer identification and evolving payment technology. It’s an exciting time for our industry to say the least.”

Harry Singh, president and CEO, Bolla Oil Company has leveraged his company’s participation in dispenser marketing programs to communicate with their customers on a number of different levels. “From messaging behind our Bolla Market brand and our deli offerings, energy drinks, fountain drinks, car washes, even the launch of our FaceBook page—we’re able to tailor our messaging to each individual site,” Singh says.

And while a many petroleum retailers utilize dispenser marketing, others are using location-based technology to engage shoppers as they pass near their stores to guide them to their pumps.

As Anton Bakker, CEO of Outsite Networks explains, according to Pew Research, 80 percent of U.S. adults, ages 18 to 34 own smartphones. “Though technically not tied to the dispenser, smartphones have become the consumers go-to source for personal entertainment, connection to work and friends, and engaging with their favorite brands,” Bakker says. “Shoppers are more likely to look down at their phones while fueling than just about any other activity. AllPoints Rewards mobile app uses acute location based technology to engage shoppers as they pass near your store to guide them to your pumps. Then, it entices them from pump to store with one-to-one promotions and entertainment.”

The engagement starts as a location-based push notification from the retailer as the shopper is within rage of their c-store announcing a limited time offer or contest. The message then guides shoppers to tap and view the app when they have pulled in to fill-up. As they fuel, shoppers scan deals, track their rewards or learn about loyalty options, browse for new snacks and beverage to try, and are entertained and educated with streaming video. “Essentially, the shopper starts shopping before they even head into the store,” Bakker says. “They experience is designed for both street-to-pump conversion as well as pump-to-store conversion.”

Outsite Networks also features targeted audio messaging at the pump. The system can recognize loyalty members by their ID, as well as non-members. Bakker says audio is effective because the content is absorbed by shoppers, even while they zero in on their smartphones. The audio begins the suggestive sales process and alerts members when they have a reward waiting. It is also highly effective at recruiting new members.

Consumer Perspective

For Gas Station TV in Birmingham, MI, dispenser marketing is about providing an enhanced fueling experience for the consumer. In doing so, they routinely track consumer attitudes and feedback regarding their program offering.

“Our consumers appreciate the news and weather updates, and awareness of the promotional items and other offers we’re featuring in our c-stores,” says William Shaver, vice president, Retail Division, Atlas Oil Company.

Singh explains how his company was a charter participant in the inOvationTV media program. “It has helped us emphasize our commitment to a superior customer experience; and has also provided us with a direct link between our fueling business and our c-store business,” Singh says. “Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We strive to provide added value in everything we do, and the inOvationTV forecourt media program helps us underscore our commitment to providing the best customer experience at our sites.”

Leider adds that almost 100 percent of motorists enjoy his company’s quality content and prefer visiting stations with GSTV. “We’re able to engage consumers with our exclusive content, including sports from ESPN, CNN’s Headline News, Showbiz Tonight, Bloomberg News and local weather reports from Accuweather,” Leider says.  “From a business impact perspective, we also know that many of the product categories we advertise—beverages, confection and lottery—are hyper-responsive to forecourt media advertising. Ninety percent of our viewers, for example, purchase snacks or beverages, which contributes significantly to our participating dealers’ c-store sales.”

Bakker says that overall, it’s important to engage with shoppers wherever they meet your brand—be it social, mobile, at the pump, or in the store. “Engaging shoppers at the pump, when part of an integrated mix of media channels, will drive more shoppers into your stores,” he says. “Our statistics show that smart, targeted engagement leads to growth in sales. If the shopper gets one message from the pump communications, another from mobile, and another from FaceBook, and another from the associate in-store, you risk driving members to your competition. It’s called brand or message fragmentation. Shoppers get confused and frustrated by conflicting ‘voices’ and offers. They leave. That’s why it is important that the experience delivered at the pump is part of a larger ecosystem that knows the shopper and has developed an automated, yet well-orchestrated experience.”

That said, the experts at Gilbarco have seen a significant increase in the number of retailers utilizing large color screens with audio and video. The trend is for these screens to be integrated into the dispenser, rather than sit on top of the pump. This means that the content plays on the same screen that the customer uses to initiate the fueling transaction and it gives retailers the ability to include coupons with the promotions shown on the screen.

“While audio and video at the pump are very effective at grabbing a consumer’s attention, consumers unfailingly respond best to content and promotions that interest them,” Joergenson says.

This has a few implications. First, the content on the dispenser screen must be fresh and frequently updated. Second, while the dispenser screen is an incredibly valuable advertising medium, retailers must be careful to avoid over-saturating consumers with advertisements – this too can be a turn-off for consumers.

“Third party media offerings can help here, by interspersing news, weather, sports and entertainment clips with advertisements, to keep consumers engaged and entertained,” Joergenson says.

Third, the ability to offer personally relevant content to the consumer significantly increases engagement. “While the loyalty program integration described above is a great way to do this exceptionally well, there are other more basic ways to help ensure relevant content, including altering your content by day-part, based on consumer traffic patterns,” Joergenson says.

Key Considerations

An enhanced forecourt fueling experience is a major differentiator for a retailer. As Leider stresses, brand and sales lifts in key product and service categories, and increased c-store traffic, are well-documented benefits.

“The best use of dispenser marketing at the retail-site level is to drive incremental c-store traffic and site-specific promotional sales. It’s not unusual for our participating retailers to realize promotional sales lifts of 69 percent on confection items, 25 percent lifts in QSR-related promotional sales, 60 percent increase in breakfast day-part sales, 50 percent increase in energy drink sales, 79 percent lift in car wash sales and so forth,” Leider says. “The average promotional sales lift for our participating retailers is 59 percent, so it can be a significant contributor to a retailer’s business success. We think that our forecourt media offering is the single most effective link between the fueling station and incremental c-store traffic.”

Shaver at Atlas Oil Company agrees. “Our dealer customers have experienced a volume uplift and a reduction in repair and maintenance expenses,” Shaver says. “The [GSTV] program is backed by a full six-year maintenance and warranty program, and we have seen lifts in breakfast daypart sales, QSR sales and energy drink sales.”

Atlas Oil Company’s dealers often lack the scale to negotiate meaningful discounts with manufacturers or installers, yet they continually need to make sound investments in their business. “In the case of inOvationTV, we conducted a ‘beta’ test period in the Chicago market to quantify the sales lift and other benefits before we instituted a broader recommendation and rollout schedule to our dealers,” Shaver says.

Shaver recognizes that coupling their financing resources and relationships with branded supplier discounts and incentives is always helpful to their dealers. “The improved fueling experience and engaging media content have provided us with a very effective platform to better engage our customers with our own promotional messaging,” Shaver says.

From Shaver’s experience, retailers investing in dispenser marketing can expect improved financial results immediately. “Do it sooner rather than later,” Shaver says. “The inOvationTV media program is one of the simplest, most effective ways to positively impact the fueling experience and c-store sales.”

What the Future Holds

Cameron Nokes, product manager, Professional Services Suite, Wayne, a GE Energy Business, says that advertising at the dispenser should be included in any site’s marketing plan as it’s an opportunity to talk to a captive audience.

“Thorough marketing plans and the right media format can help create customer loyalty, improve site branding, improve product sales uplift, and enhance the customer experience,” Nokes says. “The power of video, in particular, combined with promotional content throughout your site network can change customers’ normal buying habits at the time and point of sale.”

Nokes also stresses the importance of investing in your forecourt. “Owners need to invest in the technology that delivers marketing and media content that’s updated multiple times throughout the day,” Nokes says. “This helps to ensure the consumer experience is always fresh, timely, and relevant. Simply put—it helps differentiate your station from others and increase sales.”

Forecourt media has been in place for over several years. “It’s here to stay, and continues to evolve,” Singh says. “The inOvationTV content at our sites is always current, always features high-quality programming, and was fully-funded by Wayne and GSTV. It’s really a pretty simple business decision.”

Singh believes there is only going to be greater synergy between the forecourt experience and c-store performance. “Technology will continue to create new opportunities to integrate our Bolla brand communication, promotional messaging, and our other point-of- sale and in-store initiatives,” Singh says.

For many retailers, dispenser marketing is an important part of a larger program.
“For Rubis, it has enabled us to become another key marketing channel for businesses throughout the community,” Simons says. “We provide our loyalty clientele discounts and benefits throughout the neighborhood, and therefore, Rubis is the local notice board. Key benefits have been increased awareness of our rewards program, more tools to drive traffic in store, and a growing list of partners adding value to keep shoppers choosing Rubis Energy.”