By Bob Johns
Alon Brands, operator of 300 7-11 convenience stores and fuel supplier for 500 others, builds loyalty through brand recognition, rather than points and a card.
When you are one of the largest licensees of the 7-11 brand, you have to know how to connect with customers that can just drive right by to the next convenience store or gas station. This is where Scott Shakespeare, GM of branding, advertising, and promotions for Alon Brands, steps in.
Shakespeare’s main goal is to connect with the customer is any way possible, and in the way they prefer. Shakespeare, originally a graphic designer, has a lot of experience in knowing what the customer wants. As an experienced marketer, he is used to running campaigns and creating designs for retail and made the move to convenience stores.
“They made it clear to me from the start that we were going to be more than just a logo,” Shakespeare says. “The companies I have worked for understand that in order to be big, you have to spend big and campaign big.” However, the company understands that the focus has to be on the customer. He has produced campaigns involving giving away Lamborghini’s and even produced an adventure TV show. Now that he is with Alon, he is involved in 300 stores branded under 7-11 and focuses on the gas brand of Alon at 500 locations. In this market, they partner with many different chains to sell the fuel. He focuses on branding and advertising that integrates the gas business with the partners’ convenience business. “This really requires me to get the buy-in from all of these partners,” Shakespeare notes. “We have really focused on branding the gas through umbrella programs on TV, radio, internet, and Facebook. We are on a case-by-case business with the individual chains to do specific promotions with convenience tie-ins like a free fountain drink with a fill-up.”
Separately, Shakespeare is working heavily on social media and texting or SMS. “We have all of the social media apps connected, but we have found that texting to our loyalty database is becoming huge,” he says. “Our database compares and contrasts every promotion and aligns the loyalty profile with each interaction they have, whether it is in response to a TV ad, a text message, or radio ad, each of which direct them to specific promotions.” So far, Alon has more than doubled its loyalty database year over year with very little opt-out. The majority of the creative is done in-house, allowing Shakespeare to keep his creative juices flowing while also creating specific messages for the customers. He also works with a design firm and PR company to coordinate the messaging and events.
“We try to create a synergy with the customer where they are interacting with us when they want and how they want,” Shakespeare says. “Not everyone like radio, but they may love to get a discount vis Facebook. They may not watch too much TV, but they may want to know about that special via text on their phones. Our biggest challenge is integrating POS data.” With all of these stores being owned and operated by separate entities, it is very difficult to create a loyal following without having the data in one place. All of the companies do not use the same POS and do not collect the same data and share it with Alon. This is the challenge Shakespeare faces. “We do not have a loyalty card, with the customers going to so many chains,” he says. “We have to endear our customers to us and target them with fun and funny ads. We do a lot with local charities, give away free fuel, and have car giveaway promotions. When people sign up for these events and interact with us, we build loyalty one customer at a time. We can help make their lives a little better by doing things that help keep us at the forefront of their minds. That is how we build loyalty.”