One of the most critical questions any petroleum company executive should be able to answer is “What makes your company different and better than your competitors?”

Unfortunately, many marketers see themselves in the commodity market and don’t have a differentiating product, service or feature. As you review this question, if nothing comes to mind, your company is simply just “another one” and like every body else, all your competitors. You need a big wake-up call. Why? Because you may not be able to stay in business through the next decade if you do not find a way to stand out from the crowd.

This month as you read this column, don’t just read. Take out a piece of paper and answer these six critical questions. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes and they could be the most valuable 30 minutes you’ve spent in months.

1) What is your company better at than all of your immediate competitors?

2) Do you offer any unique and profitable product or service that none of your competitors currently offer and would be difficult to copy?

3) Why do your customers buy from you rather than your competitors?

4) Looking at your answer to #3, will you be able to sustain the same competitive advantage in the coming years? If so, how? If not, what will you need to do to have something else take its place?

5) Of all your products and services, which ones do you see having the greatest potential for bottom-line profits over the next five years?

6) How much of your time and total resources are being devoted to the most valuable products and services you identified in #5? Is your effort commensurate with the importance and if not, what will you do daily to emphasize those products and services?

If you are not sure how or if your company stands out from the crowd, a good starting point is to ask your employees. The closer an employee is to your customer, the better they will know the true reasons customers buy from you rather than your competitors. If the primary reason customers buy from you is because you have the cheapest price in town, your company may be in for a rough ride when hypermarket competition heats up. Unless you can continue to be the lowest-cost provider, you will lose considerable market share to the big box price leaders

Hopefully, you answered question #3 with a customer buying reason that is something other than price. By discovering why customers buy from you, and then coupling that information with your answers to the other five critical questions, you will begin to see a clear path to your company’s future success.

Successful companies capture customer “mind-share” and they do this by standing out from the crowd.   Companies stand out through image (including branding), service, offerings and innovation. Savvy marketers always think from the customer’s perspective. Focus your company on providing what your customer needs before they even know they need it or ask for it, and you will hit the profit jackpot.

For example, a marketer with tremendous foresight realized years ago that family-run stores had a distinct bottom-line profit advantage over his own company operations. His stores had well-paid managers and lots of clerk turnover. He noticed that family-run stores had almost no turnover and workers that truly cared about the store’s success.

By simply noticing this trend, he built a powerful, profitable dealer network.   But, he also realized that fuel profits were beginning to get squeezed, and that these family dealers needed non-fuel ways to make a profit.

The next answer lay in non-fuel, high margin profit centers – mainly car washes and fast food. By developing these profit center programs, and either directly funding the improvements needed or making loan funds available to his family dealers, this marketer was able to capitalize on the changing market and allow his dealers to accumulate wealth independent of shrinking fuel profits. This marketer made his company stand out from the crowd through valuable dealer services and financing programs that produced profit and wealth for his company and the dealer companies. This is but one example of how a marketer can stand out from the crowd.

In the retail fuel arena, hypermarkets are predicted to clearly win the low-price fuel shopper war. With this in mind, thank goodness a large portion of the US population wants more than low prices. Is your company poised and ready to capture the remaining market segments?

To survive the next decade, you must identify your company’s unique, best qualities and then capitalize on those strengths. The next decade’s success stories will be those marketers that can successfully stand out from the low-price crowd.

PetroAnswers Stand Out from the Crowd