Ethanol Delivers Quality And Price

Marketing ethanol goes deeper than just getting a station to sell E10, E15 or E85, writes Mike Bryan. He would like to see ethanol marketed as a high-quality, environmentally friendly fuel, sold only by quality stations.
By Mike Bryan | April 15, 2015

Not being in the loop of Washington politics regarding ethanol, I have always looked at it from more of a grassroots perspective. While I’m thankful for those who represent this industry in Washington, we need both perspectives in order to have an industry that meets the needs of the consumer as well as addresses the political realities of the policy makers.

The oil industry spends an enormous amount of time and money determining what motivates their customers. Keep in mind that this effort is being made by an industry where the only choice consumers have is to either not drive or buy from a competitor.

Personally, I want to know what the average consumer thinks. Not a corn farmer, or an ethanol advocate, but the person who works in an office every day, or the taxi driver, or a plumber, anyone who has no vested interest in whether the ethanol industry lives or dies. That’s the person we need to be canvassing.

Back in the early '90s when I was with the National Corn Growers Association, we conducted a phone survey and several focus groups on consumer attitudes toward renewable fuels. A significant percentage of those surveyed were not even exactly sure what renewable fuels were. Hopefully, we’ve made progress on that front. When asked if they would use a renewable fuel in their vehicles, a very high percentage of more than 80 percent said yes. When asked if they would pay 10 cents a gallon more for that fuel, less than 25 percent responded in the affirmative.

In January, the National Association of Convenience Stores unveiled their 2015 NACS Consumer Fuel Survey. The results show that when consumers were asked “When buying gas, which of the following factors is most important to you?” price topped the list at 71 percent, followed by location of store or station at 18 percent, brand at 8 percent, ease of entrance or exit at 3 percent and other at 1 percent. I guess things haven’t changed much since the early '90s.

Somewhere along the line, we seem to have lost touch with Joe the Plumber. The folks in the oil industry know what motivates a purchase; they are keenly aware of what buttons to push to maximize their sales. I would suggest that even if we had the money for a national advertising campaign, we would have to do a whole lot of market research before we spent a dime.

I think marketing ethanol goes deeper than just getting a station to sell E10, E15 or E85. It’s about a concerted effort to focus on locations where there is high traffic 12 months of the year, on stations that are willing to promote ethanol to their customers. We have taken the shotgun approach. There is currently no exclusivity with ethanol. The rifle approach would be that “Only the finest stations sell ethanol blends and as a result you get the very best fuel at the lowest-possible price.” Perhaps it’s time to begin marketing ethanol as a step up, not in price, but as a high-quality, environmentally friendly fuel, sold only by quality stations all across the country.

Everyone looks for the highest quality product at the lowest possible price. We can deliver that every day of the week.

That’s the way I see it.

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International
mbryan@bbiinternational.com