The Role of Marketing Communications in the Oil and Gas Industry
Marketing communications occupies an important position in the oil and gas industry, as promoting brand awareness and defining and conveying differentiators in a crowded marketplace is absolutely critical. Thousands of lesser-known companies, most of them small- or medium-sized businesses, are continually vying for increased visibility and recognition for their products, technologies, and services. To these companies, presenting themselves as being on equal footing with major corporations allows them to capture business that might otherwise be lost due to the perception that “bigger is better.”
Additionally, highlighting how their company is uniquely positioned to deliver something that no one else can focuses the customer’s attention on what the company can offer, not what it lacks. As many small- to medium-sized businesses in the oil and gas industry have niche product portfolios, the ability to bring the customer’s attention back to what is important can be the difference between success and failure.
Larger companies, as well, benefit from seizing the attention of a captive audience. In a market where a handful of direct competitors control dominant shares of certain equipment types and service offerings, differentiation is of paramount importance. Furthermore, an abundance of brand names, superscripted trademark symbols, and font treatments have led to marketplace confusion about what many of the products really do. Bombarded with such an excess of information, many customers simply want to be told in coherent, accessible language how buying a company’s product or service will allow them to get a return on their investment.
Presenting stories that are compelling and that humanize the often too-technical jargon of the oil and gas industry allows the company to make a more meaningful, credible relationship with a customer that is built around understanding, not around trying to outsmart them.
While the benefits of successful marketing communications efforts in the industry are fairly obvious, there also appear to be some roadblocks to such programs reaching their full potential. Marketing communications is often perceived as little more than an expedient and that it doesn’t necessarily deserve credit in an industry dominated by engineers.
Some feel that there can be something inherently dishonest about marketing efforts, which can (but should not) attempt to make both project execution and results more glamorous than they might really be. Others question why marketing groups receive budgets when such groups generally don’t create revenue—at least in the sort of tangible, measureable way that selling a physical product does. Such claims ultimately discount the role that marketing plays in an industry that is rapidly shifting and evolving. Beyond the benefits detailed above, there are two main components of this industry evolution that marketing communications can address:
|1. The Great Crew Change|
It has been well acknowledged throughout the oil and gas industry that a massive shift in experience has happened. Due to the highly cyclical nature of the business, a particularly unusual age gap exists between younger employees and industry veterans. The retirement of such seasoned employees will inevitably lead to hiring younger employees in greater numbers, and this new demographic must be attracted to companies in ways much different than their predecessors.
Powerful marketing communications crafted around the understanding that the talent market is shifting will facilitate attracting younger talent. Informing applicants that the company is a place where they can grow in their career, make a difference in the world around them, and be part of a modern, global workforce will help oil and gas companies secure the right talent. Furthermore, highlighting the areas in which the company excels while minimizing negative perceptions will allow the company to direct the conversation in a positive way. Properly leveraging modern digital recruitment platforms, as well, will be important as the industry continues to evolve, which ties in to the second component.
|2. Digital Transformation|
Having an online presence is now one of the most important elements of doing business. A website will often be the first place where a potential customer interacts with a company and will thus define that customer’s first impression of the company. Presenting content that is interesting, accessible, and modern will drive immediate interest and encourage the customer to research products and/or reach out for more information. Conversely, outdated, complicated design and boring, overly technical content will generally cause a negative perception of the company.
Much as with the creation of client-facing product marketing collateral, marketing communications in the digital space can often determine if a company will be successful or not. Tying into the younger age demographic that will be entering the industry, social media will continue its rise in importance in modern marketing communications strategies, both for employee attraction/retention and as an avenue to advertise products and technologies, project successes, and major innovations. As social media exists largely to build relationships between the company and the audience, it is imperative that the company use its platforms to foster an environment of trust, transparency, and participation.
Marketing communications also allows companies to form a digital “center” from which company information circulates to the broader community. Companies might create document repositories to house their technical papers, published materials, and case histories. Some companies might have “News” sections that highlight industry appearances, major happenings, and PR successes; others might have videos that talk about company culture and candid interviews with employees. Information that breaks down technical content in ways that even nontechnical people can understand could also be featured. The best companies, more often than not, develop all of this content and feature it prominently through their digital media channels.
Marketing communications in the digital realm further extends into areas such as search engine optimization, which demands keyword-rich content that improves the visibility of a website in search engines’ results. This content must be updated regularly to remain current and must present relevant information that is as free from gimmicky marketing language as possible. Additionally, aligning use of industry terminology with business goals and the desired audience for the search will ensure that content has a higher chance of being viewed.
Marketing communications will continue to be important to oil and gas companies; although the downturn lingers, companies must strive to position themselves ahead of their competition regardless of the economic climate. As Big Data and the Industrial Internet of Things are poised to drive great change in how the industry works, it will be interesting in the coming years to see how innovation is marketed to a new generation of oil and gas leaders.
Stephen Forrester is a marketing/technical communications writer at NOV. He researches and executes strategic marketing communications and technical writing opportunities to support the company’s diverse businesses. Before joining NOV, Forrester worked for the oil and gas division of Lloyd’s Register as a technical editor of compliance inspection reports on subsea blowout preventers and related pressure-control equipment. He holds BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Houston and has been an SPE member for 2 years.