We recently moved homes, and now face one of our most important decisions: where to buy our gas. Even though I love the city within whose geographic boundaries we still reside, those pesky traffic lights compel us to choose a pump that’s closer.
Marketing 101 taught us, back in the day, about the 5 P’s (Price, Promotion, Product, Place and People). This framework was devised by Edmund McCarthy, a marketing professor at Michigan State University in the 1960s. He categorized all marketing activities into these five main buckets and named it “The Marketing Mix Strategy.”
Does McCarthy’s model pass the test of time? Fast-forward 60 years or so. In a mature marketplace such as the United States, especially in saturated markets like Southern California, I’d suggest that only two true differentiators remain: one listed in McCarthy’s model (People) and one that isn’t (Process).
The three gas stations I considered all promoted the price of their product in almost identical ways. One of the gas stations is located (place) on a corner that would save me approximately 87 seconds! Is that enough time to convince me to become a loyal customer? I mean, in Los Angeles County, nearly one and a half minutes can be a game-changer.
It was the people component mentioned by the man from Michigan that contributed to my decision. At the first gas station, the clerk didn’t even look up from his phone to acknowledge our transaction. At the second station, I asked the clerk a question. He just blankly stared at me, and I could almost see the imprint on his forehead that read, “I Don’t Care.”
At the third gas station, the clerk welcomed me, looked me in the eyes, and thanked me for my business. As I stepped out the sliding doors, he genuinely seemed to mean those four words we often hear with a lack of sincerity: “Have a Nice Day.”
When McCarthy first formulated the Marketing Mix of the 5 P’s, technology was in its infancy compared to how we know it today. Sticking with the theme of alliteration, I’d suggest the sixth “P” now is “Process.” Technology is an enabler of efficient and effective processes that can build customer loyalty, especially through apps. Captain Obvious here, but an “app” is short for “application,” a type of software that can be installed and run on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, which performs a specific function directly for an end user.
Everything in our new brand-new home seems to be app-driven. Thermostat, washer, dryer, oven, door lock, toilet, etc., all have apps. (OK, OK, maybe not the loo.) So for the first time, I was motivated to consider the customer loyalty apps available at the gas stations I was evaluating.
The first station was the easiest – they didn’t have a loyalty program, and when I mentioned the word “app” to the clerk, he looked at me as if I were from Planet Zog. I know I have a funny accent, but I think holding up a cell phone and slowly saying those three universally understood letters, “A … P … P,” would have been sufficient.
The second gas station had an app, but I encountered a Username and Password loop issue that rather frustratingly prevented me from accessing my account. I emailed the “Help” section of the website, and the automated system thanked me for my email and asked me to explain the issue I had already explained. After failing on the fourth attempt for resolution, and with no real person to speak to on that retro device called a telephone, I decided to delete the app and drive on.
I was already implicitly biased toward the third gas station, perhaps due to the sincerity of the people (which seemed to be the spirit within all the staff and not just one member), and their loyalty app not only worked but beautifully so. It anticipated my needs at the pump, rewarded me for buying their product, and even promoted how I could earn and redeem rewards. I think this is going to be a great relationship.
In summary, it was the people and the process at third gas station brand that won me over. Although as I glance across the street at the station placed 87 seconds closer to home, the competition might still be on!
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].