A Battle Royale for Big Oil and Gas Branding Dominance!
Gasoline is no small business. Although plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have seen growth since 2008, there are still only roughly 570,000 (PEVs) in the U.S. compared to more than 236 million gasoline-powered rides—that’s a lot of gas-related potential cash. The wait at your local gas station can attest to those numbers, as anyone driving with the gas light on and in a hurry can tell you.
Speaking of gas stations, the news of their demise has been slightly overstated (but real, nonetheless). As recently as 2013, nearly 153,000 retail stations still populated the country, dotting neighborhoods, interstates, and rest stops across the robust road system.
Everyone has been in this position: flying down the freeway, the needle bumping “E,” punching names into Google hoping that the next stop is close enough to avoid disaster. What shows up? Savvy marketers know that the key to grabbing those gas procrastinators, road-trippers and commuters is having their brand be not only the first to show up, but also the most highly rated for cleanliness, cost, and overall satisfaction. The local driver and consumer may have little brand loyalty beyond simple convenience, but it is certainly noticeable that most gas retail locations are affiliated one of the big five oil companies: Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips.
To see how two of these giants—ExxonMobil and Shell—stacked up in a competitive marketplace, digital marketing company Brandify used its proprietary software to see which marketing and branding areas stood out as strengths, and which areas fell short. Brandify looked at local marketing for 2,500 Shell locations and 2,500 ExxonMobil locations. It came down to the wire, but one company leveraged its advertising and customer satisfaction edge to come out on top.
Shell and ExxonMobil, both multinational oil companies that control large shares of the domestic marketplace, have enormous brand visibility and recognition to the average consumer. Though both excel in different areas of local branding, Exxon’s understanding of SEO and consistently high customer satisfaction were enough to overcome Shell’s superior data quality and rock-solid social media presence in one of the most tightly contested Brand Battles to date.
The Final Scores
Shell: 668 ExxonMobil: 671
Battle Rounds: Data Quality | Local SEO | Reviews | Local Ads | Engagement
Buying gas is like buying insurance—you don’t realize how much you need it until you don’t have it.
Let the internet be your guide to a full tank.
Anyone in marketing worth their salt knows that you’re only as good as your data. Gas stations hold a unique place in our consciousness because no matter where the location pin is dropped, there is an extremely high likelihood that a gas station is nearby. Still, we live in the age of smartphones and on-demand information. Failing to populate online data is a high-risk, low-reward proposition for any company vying for customer traffic. Shell’s data quality, although not perfect, showed a significantly stronger presence than ExxonMobil’s.
Looking at Facebook pages, the data quality is similar, but poor, for both. Nearly 93% of Shell’s pages are unclaimed, and Exxon clocks in at 89%. Not a great look. However, the real quality differentiator is Yelp. Only ten percent of Shell’s locations are not found on Yelp (that’s 250 of the 2,500 locations). Exxon has a staggering 78% of locations unlisted on Yelp—nearly 2,000 of the surveyed locations!
*Locations that were “not found” were not returned in any search results. Locations that were “not claimed” were returned in search results, but data about the location such as phone number and address could be incorrect or missing.
Battle round: Local SEO
Local visibility is critical for flipping gas tanks from “E” to “F.”
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the skeleton key that can open almost all local marketing locks, and gas stations battling for high-usage customers are no exception. Consider that most gas stations are also convenience stores, car washes, or grocery stores (Safeway, Krogers, King Soopers). Including those associated search terms in page descriptions and metadata could be the difference between netting customers looking for the frequent one-stop-shop, or the one-off passerby just looking to fill up on the way through.
This battle is easily the closest, with neither company showing particularly well, but with one presenting a clear and unassailable advantage. At first glance, Shell appears to do a slightly better job with SEO: 66 percent of Shell stations do not show up on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when “car wash, gas station and diesel” are the selected keywords, versus Exxon’s 73 percent. But Exxon outperforms in two crucial areas. About 32% of Exxon stations show up in the 1-3 positions in the local Google search, followed closely by Shell’s 28%. The real difference between the two is the ultimate deciding factor: Shell does not have any local landing pages for their locations, whereas Exxon does. This alone has the power to push Exxon ahead—narrowly—in this battle round.
Battle round: Reviews
Friendly staff, clean bathrooms, fresh coffee and warm hot dogs—what else could a customer want?
We’ve all heard stories about the power of customer reviews. Democratic in the right hands and manipulative in the wrong ones, reviews have the power to drop the ‘potential’ from ‘potential customers.’ To be frank, this round wasn’t even close. Exxon dominated Shell in every category from satisfaction rating to sentiment analysis. More than 70% of Exxon’s customer reviews were four or five stars, compared to just 50% of Shell’s.
For sentiment analysis, Exxon dominated again. Only 26% of the reviews were negative—not a bad rating considering the sheer number of stations reviewed. Further, Exxon was reviewed very positively for ‘service and staff’ and ‘cleanliness,’ which, let’s be real, anyone who went online to leave a review of a gas station must have had a good (or awful) reason for doing so. Also, don’t wash your car at Shell: 75% of the reviews for Shell carwashes were negative.
*Reviews for both companies spanned July 2017 to December 2017.
Battle round: Local Ads
Has anyone ever actually seen a television commercial for a gas station?
This battle round demonstrated a divergence in advertising philosophies. Digital advertising is much more complex than the traditional advertising model, so there are many ways to customize and target different demographics. According to SEMrush, Shell spends about $100K per month on desktop and mobile advertising without using location extension capabilities. Exxon spends $75K per month on desktop and mobile advertising with location extension so that viewers can see where the nearest station is.
On the surface, it might seem like Exxon’s focus on local ads is clearly the most tactical. But what we don’t know is how much those local ads actually translate to gas purchases. It could be argued that Shell’s increased spending to a non-specific audience is done more with the goal of overall brand awareness rather than trying to directly impact the sales cycle. Regardless, Exxon’s local ad buys give it the upper hand here.
Battle round: Engagement
If a brand with fewer than 25K followers Tweets, does anyone actually see it?
For years, social media was the bane of the advertiser’s existence. The race to determine ROI from social media engagement was brutal, and everyone had a different idea about what that ROI looked like. Today, social media for brands tends to skew more toward the pay-for-play model, and companies have created excellent tools to determine exactly how social media engagement impacts sales models.
Gas stations probably inhabit a different space in the social media realm: one where it is less about directly impacting sales and more about brand visibility. There are several prominent consumer brands that have made news in the last few years by dominating their social media platforms and bending public sentiment in their favor. For Exxon and Shell, brand awareness is key. The separation for the winner lies in the sheer number of likes on the respective Facebook pages: 1.5 million for Exxon vs. 7 million for Shell.
Brand Battle Winner: ExxonMobil
Brandify’s Recommendations for ExxonMobil
- DO THE EASY STUFF! Create Yelp listings. It’s simple; it’s quick; it’s a pain-free way to kick up the data quality. For a major company, missing 78% of local listings is a mind-boggling oversight.
- Create missing child FB and Foursquare listings too, in order for better data quality on those listings.
- MAXIMIZE LOCAL LISTINGS! It’s hard to argue with Exxon’s strategy of creating local pages for its locations. This is more of a kudos than a recommendation!
- ENGAGE THE HYPERTHRUSTERS! Up the social media game. It’s clearly not a priority, but the analytics drawn from tracking customer engagement could provide solid ROI in the end.
Brandify’s Recommendations for Shell
- TRY THAT LOCAL LISTING THING—IT WORKS! It’s not as bad as Exxon, but missing more than a quarter of local listings on Google is an issue. Improving those listings could be the difference between a top-three spot on the local Google search or not showing up at all.
- LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Similarly, it’s time to claim those Facebook pages. Having 93% of Facebook pages unclaimed is an easily correctable oversight. And while you’re at it, snatch up the last 10% of your Yelp locations as well—it’ll make a difference!
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! Invest in location extensions for paid ads. It can increase engagement, visibility, and relevance.
- THIS IS ALL ABOUT TRUST, AFTER ALL. Along with claiming pages (93%!), fixing address inaccuracies will only help to increase brand trust and social media engagement.
The battle was scored using Brandify’s Social Data Matching (SDM) technology with data from various channels,* including Google, Bing, Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare. Data was entered into the Brandify analytics engine to test the two companies’ local digital marketing footprint to determine a final Brandscore for each. The Brandscore is calculated with an algorithm consisting of more than 250 variables over five core location-based areas: Data Quality, Local SEO, Reviews, Social Engagement, and Local Advertising.
Street Fight and Brandify will publish a new Brand Battle each month.
*Other channel sources included in this analysis: Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.
Brandify is transforming the way businesses connect to consumers by leveraging location technology and offering unrivaled personal service. Brandify has helped hundreds of brands understand and improve their local presence. Current and past clients include True Value, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Applebee’s, Black & Decker, and more. For more information about Brandify, go to brandify.com.