This article is part two in a special three-part series on marketing to today’s energy industry.
Not 10 years ago, many in the energy industry believed North American production of hydrocarbons had peaked. Yet in 2013, the U.S. produced 35% more natural gas than eight years earlier.1 Driving this remarkable comeback is a wave of innovation that continues to transform the industry today.
As industry author Robert Bryce observed, “Today, drilling rigs are so good that they can punch holes in the earth that are two miles deep, turn the drill bit 90 degrees, drill another two miles horizontally and arrive within a few inches of the target.”2
Innovation isn’t a luxury in oil and gas. As Bryce states, “In all, there are roughly 12,000 different companies in the oil and gas sector whose very existence depends on finding better ways to do things.”3 In a report on industry innovation, PwC found that the number of patents related to extractive industries doubled from 2005 to 2010, concluding that those with an edge in innovation have an advantage over competitors.4 A survey of oil and gas industry executives found 83% believed innovation is important to their businesses and 43% said it is a “competitive necessity.” 5
Disruptive Technology Calls for Game-Changing Marketing
Launching new products and services in a notoriously conservative and risk-adverse industry can be challenging, even among buyers who have witnessed how trying something new can pay off big in immediate gains and in long-term ROI. Product and service innovation won’t unseat incumbent technology, capture market share, repay R&D investment and deliver against profit goals without equally innovative commercialization. When solutions are new to the world, a different kind of marketing is required to disrupt the status quo and shape the prospect’s vision of what is possible.
1. Educate to fuel inbound interest
Old school hard sell isn’t enough to introduce products that target audiences may not yet have imagined, much less demanded. Because disruptive technology is, by definition, new to the world, a successful market launch often requires a lighter hand—equal parts education and salesmanship—to convince decision makers that it is in their interest to engage and investigate. Start by understanding the type of information and answers your prospects are looking for and how your unique expertise can add value to their search. Educational information, or “thought capital,” that anticipates and addresses their needs is the fuel that helps alter the status quo and drive inbound interest and engagement.
2. Publish deep and wide
Today’s oil and gas industry is dynamic and alive, crowded with new products and services, each fighting for share of mind. You’ll have to compete with all of that clutter to gain prospects’ attention and generate demand. Aggressive inbound and outbound marketing approaches are called for, supported by your thought capital. Leverage the influence and credibility of established media outlets by contributing articles and case studies and participating in interviews. Engage with prominent consultants to gain exposure in their blogs. Volunteer to contribute to the blogs and forums of others. Participate in social media conversations across industry networks on LinkedIn and other channels. SPE and other industry groups are extremely influential, and participation in their events and authoring peer-reviewed papers will earn you high credibility and valuable exposure.
3. Market across the value chain
Account for well-entrenched industry supply relationships and the power of third-party influencers in your targets’ decisions. Deliver messages to the consultants, subcontractors, distributors and others who are in a position to champion your innovative product or service, or who could block it. If you have a message that will appeal to the interest of broader societal stakeholders, pave the way for adoption by investing in public relations, social media engagement and paid promotion to foster pull-through influence on your commercial targets.
4. Build a solid foundation
Your efforts to disrupt the status quo and engage with prospects will be wasted if you don’t build the infrastructure you need to monetize disruptive marketing investment. Start with a robust website to fulfill the interest your marketing creates. By publishing educational content online, you will attract search engine traffic and initial visits from interested prospects. Links included in your social media, blogs and other online marketing activities will deliver additional website traffic.
Your website provides the chance to reinforce your expertise and desire to be helpful. Include video demonstrations, presentations, frequently asked questions, the full text of white papers, case studies and technical papers (including links to your content on SPE and other respected third-party sites). This is also your chance to begin exposing prospects to your value proposition and share supporting information that demonstrates that your innovation is market ready and available now.
5. Prove your claims
Remember that careers can hinge on high-stakes decisions in the energy industry. While excitement created by disruptive technology can spur investigation, overcoming the emotional barriers associated with risk requires solid evidence that your innovation is a safe choice. Apply accepted industry measurements to demonstrate the performance and results your solution delivers and feature the proof points prominently in your marketing messages.
Case studies can provide compelling evidence that your new solution meets and exceeds performance and other requirements in real-world applications. Testimonials from third-party experts and early adopters will also help you validate claims. Calculators or modeling tools on your website will enable prospects to gauge the impact of your solution under their specific conditions or preview their potential savings over time.
6. Understand the table stakes
You can’t afford to overlook the threshold requirements that are the price of entry in energy industry decision processes. Make sure all of your marketing proves you are knowledgeable and competent, reliable, accepted by others, compliant with regulations and committed to delivering on your promises today and tomorrow. Warranty coverage, availability of replacement parts, service capabilities and other customer support information are essential to build confidence that your solution is “easy to live with.” Sustainability is extremely important in today’s oil and gas industry. For products subject to environmental, health and safety oversight, demonstrate that your solution is a responsible choice.
7. Support their decision process
The decision process surrounding major new innovations is unlikely to produce an immediate order. Pilot tests, field demonstrations and trials, and other extended validation processes may be necessary before the final sale is negotiated. Be prepared to address these requirements with marketing offers that reflect the first steps prospects need to take before committing to a deeper sales conversation.
Validation processes can be costly and time consuming for both you and the prospect, so identify ways to prequalify opportunities. Consider using an app or other online tool to provide an initial glimpse of performance. If the results are promising, it can help obtain the prospect’s immediate commitment to a trial and a sense of urgency to get started.
Fueling Disruption With a Different Kind of Marketing
Disruptive innovation continues to transform North America’s energy industry, creating vast opportunities, but also challenges, for marketers. To build awareness and drive demand, leverage your organization’s expertise to engage and educate target audiences, delivering messages across multiple channels. At the same time, pay close attention to the other fundamentals that drive high-stakes decision-making in today’s energy industry.
At Blue Flame Thinking, we apply deep energy industry experience to help you successfully engage and sell innovative technology to oil and gas decision makers. Contact Lynne Hartzell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-382-9000 to learn more.
Join us soon for part three of our series: “Match Marketing to the Needs of Energy Buyers Across Their Journey.”
 Robert Bryce, “How innovation in oil and gas production is giving the U.S. a competitive edge,” pbs.org, posted June 19, 2014, retrieved Sept. 2, 2014.
 Gateway to growth: innovation in the oil and gas industry, PwC, 2013, page 1.
 Gateway to growth, page 3.