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Cheap Gas, Clean Toilets, and Marketing

David Bowman
David Bowman
BY: David Bowman ON June 18, 2013

Marketing DifferentiationWhile on vacation, driving South through tropical storm Andrea on I-95 in Georgia last week, I saw billboards for everything from churches and attorneys to motorcycle dealers and pecan vendors.  However there were two billboards for rival gas stations that got my attention as a marketer.

The first billboard was for a gas station called El Cheapo.  The name of this chain of Shell stations pretty clearly implies that this organization is competing on low price.  The billboard was pretty basic.  It focused mostly on the brand itself and communicated the idea of cheap.  Not living in the area, I am not sure of their ability to deliver on this promise, but again, the implied message “we sell cheap gas” was clear.

A few miles later, I saw a billboard for another chain of gas stations called Parker’s.  On this billboard, in big bold letters, was the phrase “Spotless Restrooms.”  Note that the products the chain sells both at the gas pump and inside the convenience store were not the focus.  Rather, they identified a different need that the interstate highway consumer might have – a biological one.  They are selling something free to the consumer, in hopes of then selling something for money in the process.  Parker’s appears to be guessing that while some travelers may exit the highway in search of the place where they can save a few cents on a gallon of gas (El Cheapo), others who not only need gas but also have an urgent need to “play an away game” will want to do so in place that is clean, safe, and hygienic.   I am also not sure of Parker’s ability to deliver on this promise, but their message was clear and very different from El Cheapo.

This simple example illustrates the idea of differentiation.  On the surface both stores are selling gas as well as candy bars and sodas.  They are basically the same in terms of core product offering.  However they are trying to sell these things in different ways by speaking to different consumer needs.  One is selling cheap gas while the other is selling clean toilets.  Undoubtedly, some consumers will be motivated by one and some by the other.  The key takeaway is that while they are similar, they are being sold as different.

What about your brand?  Are you simply selling your core product offering the same as everyone else in your industry or have you done something to be different and create unique value for customers?  If a highway gas station can find a way to do it, you probably can too.


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