Mobile 2 Go (New Blog): Alon Brands Opts for Mobile Simplicity--Texting

Seeking emotional "love" connection to gasoline brand

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Angel Abcede

[Editor's Note: In anticipation of the annual NACS technology and PCATS conference, The Tech Event, May 6-10 in Dallas, CSP technology writer Angel Abcede is starting a series of columns, called "Mobile 2 Go," on mobile and cellphone ties to the c-store space. And watch for more technology coverage in the May issue of CSPmagazine.]

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Of all the things that Scott Shakespeare says, the thing that makes the most sense to me is that texting is the best way to reach most mobile customers.

Granted, he operates in Midland, Texas, and surrounding towns where technical literacy may be lower than average, but given that, the concept of simple ideas being at the other end of a convenient little buzz of my phone is more compelling to me than downloading an app.

Shakespeare, who spoke at a recent mobile-retailing conference called RAMP, is one of Dallas-based Alon Brands' marketing executives, and he's overseen the development of the chain's text-based, relationship-building program that he considers more informal than technical. Having no data analysis at the back end, the program simply works off of a database of online, opt-in customers who then receive texts about Alon's promotions and giveaways.

In place about two years, the program's success is tied to its large and growing database and an extremely low opt-out rate. His ultimate goal: "Love." Or more precisely, that emotional connection to--of all things--a gasoline brand.

How does he attempt to do this? "Have you tried to make someone love you?" he asks. "Well the truth is, you can't. But you can be the best you can be and hope that person falls in love with you."

In the past, offers have included free gasoline, contests and promotional specials. They've given away $100,000 in gasoline and $50,000 in merchandise (typically iPads) during their customer-engagement timeframes. Ad campaigns featuring an informal, personable vibe communicate a relatable image, as well as touting the incentives to sign on and enter to win.

This year, their initial work at this texting program will be put through a new cycle. As the company went through a dramatic fuel rebrand (from FINA to Alon) through 2012, it meant visual reimaging and instilling a "Clean Team" program. The program's operational component created incentives for its company-operated staff and dealer network to reach a certain level of cleanliness.

Today, that program is extending to Alon's retail, gasoline-buying customers. Backed by phases of scheduled advertising, customers will be enticed to go onto the web and opt into a "code card" program. Customers find the codes at Alon-branded locations and are able to enter them onto their accounts. Over time, they're able to choose which of several local charities will receive a free car, and as individuals, will also be eligible to win a car of their own.

Again, most of this communication is via online or SMS text. During the communication, information about the Clean Team program and its goals also get passed on to the consumer.

Will it work? Shakespeare and his Alon team members have their internal metrics, but what does seem logical is how your average Joe or Jane might appreciate the simplicity of a no-frills, read-when-you-want text.

A convenience-technology writer for more than 20 years, CSP senior editor Angel Abcede is starting an ongoing series of columns called, "Mobile 2 Go," on how mobile technology applies to convenience retail. You can reach him at [email protected].

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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