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Shell fuels customer relationships through e-mail

Peppers & Rogers found that the oil giant's e-mail strategy does a lot more than just improve customer communication.

Shell Oil Co. is more than the familiar brand that consumers see at the gas pumps. It actually has several divisions, providing a variety of products and services to both consumers and business customers. When the oil giant had new information to deliver to its diverse customer and distributor base, one of those divisions turned to an e-mail strategy to reach the exact customers the organization needed.

Over the last year, Shell has had plenty to report. In 2002, the company acquired Pennzoil-Quaker State, and also began a new branding strategy. The company needed to make sure its customers and distributors understood how they would be affected by these events.

Shell Lubricants, a division of Shell Oil Products U.S., markets lubricants, coolants, services and solutions to consumers and business-to-business customers, as well as Pennzoil, Quaker State and Rotella oil products. It also operates more than 2,000 Jiffy Lube service centers. The division wanted to present company happenings and other Shell-related messages to its niche distributor base of 1,500 subscribers more quickly and efficiently. E-business manager Chris Guerrero, who spearheaded the project, says that e-newsletters were able to get relevant information out quickly, and eliminated a need for a costly print magazine that was ineffective in keeping up with company changes.

"Up to that point [when the e-newsletter launched], the primary method of communicating with distributors had been a bit disjointed," says Guerrero. "There was a need for a single voice, a single message being delivered consistently to distributors through this process."

Eight issues of the e-newsletter were published between January and August 2002 and sent to 1,500 subscribers. Open rates reached 58%. But that isn't the only benefit Guerrero sees. Unlike a print publication, an electronic one allows the sender to track who opens the newsletter. Through technology from e-markeing firm iMakeNews (which competes with Interwoven, Aptrix and Cofax), the lubricants division creates and tracks the success of each newsletter edition.

"It's not just important to know that 58% opened your e-mail and read it," says Guerrero. "There are distributors or customers who you may want to make sure saw an article. From the metrics, you can find out who didn't read an article that you thought was important. We wanted to get to a granular level to see what did the owner of ABC Distributing read this week and how often did he read it." From there, the company can follow up with a local sales rep to make sure that a particular distributor or customer is aware of the news he missed in the e-mail.

Shell is working on targeting content to distributors the company obtained as a result of the Pennzoil-Quaker State deal. Guerrero explains that now content is placed into specific buckets, "so when we send a certain newsletter out, [recipients] only get the information that pertains to them," says Guerrero. "If you're a lubricants distributor and you only handle the Pennzoil brand, you only get articles that we've checked off as applicable for someone with the Pennzoil brand or to everyone. If we have messages specific to Shell, you won't get those."

Shell's success has spread across the organization, and other divisions are following suit. Rotella recently re-launched an e-newsletter of its own, which has averaged around a 20% open rate in its first five months of publication. In addition, Shell is also creating internal newsletters for its employees.

To read more articles like this one, visit Peppers and Rogers Group's Web site at

Copyright © 2003 Carlson Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Peppers & Rogers Group is a Carlson Marketing Group Company.

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