Adrienne Liebenberg is global B2B marketing director for BP Castrol.

She spoke at the Festival of Marketing about how the company has moved away from traditional comms and PR and into thought leadership and a focus on how the customer interacts with the brand.

The numbers

The company is a big one to change:

  • 15,000 SKUs.
  • In 120 countries.
  • Selling direct and indirect.
  • In 85,000 independent workshops.
  • In 21 market segments.
  • Used in everything from ships to mines, cars to the Mars Rover.

Markets are changing

To look at just one sector, automotive, 50% of cars are predicted to be made and sold in China by 2020, and each of them potentially internet-enabled.

Across sectors, dry machining and 3D printing are putting pressure on the lubricants business.

Marketing is changing

PR and social have blurred boundaries, the customer expects convenience and personalisation and she is happy trading privacy for value.

At BP Castrol the marketing team needed to come to terms with these complex networks of trust and work with social and influencers beyond mere ‘Likes’.

Making lubricants interesting

Engaging the customer can be quite challenging in a low interest category like lubricants. The products are complex and customers sometimes don’t want to deal with them.

They represent 2% of customer spend and are often only of interest to the customer when they fail.

So, the challenge for BP Castrol is to see the product in the frame that the customer does, at a broader level. Similarly, the company wants to target engineers on the shop floor and make its marketing relevant.

Rather than throwing t-shirts and caps at customers, it has started to spend a lot of money getting to know the customer properly.

castrol cap

Lubricating the customer journey

One of the first things to change was the Castrol website.

It was confusing to navigate and 15,000 SKUs was too much. This was simplified, the product range was halved and international brands were reduced by 90%.

62 websites were combined into one and a comprehensive translation service was put in place to make sure that the sites’ often technical language was properly represented in the 48 languages needed to hit 98% of the web’s audience.

Teach don’t sell

Adrienne stated that some studies show the B2B buyer does not engage with a seller until 60% of the way through the buying process.

So, demonstrating expertise through learning is essential. Castrol needs to understand the challenges customers are facing.

To do this they built a thought-leadership platform and ran roundtable clinics with clients to generate content they could reuse and recycle.

The goal was to turn the communications and brand department into a customer experience and thought leadership team. B2B employees used LinkedIn to grow their personal networks and share the brands’ new content.

What content works?

With customers switching supplier only at the moment of having an issue, Castrol is responding by building a self service diagnostics platform. It also understands that a well managed complaints process in B2B drives loyalty.

It can take two years to monetise a customer and a content asset management system has been put in place to help organise content for each part of the customer journey.

Who are the customers?

BP Castrol was producing marketing such as below, with corporate speak and overstating its own impact.

castrol advertising 

However, the rig workers and drillers, as an example, don’t respond to this type of messaging.

Adrienne put this discussion in the context of the blurring of work and life in marketing. It’s key for marketers born in an analogue age to understood how customers access info in a digital age.

Customers demand convenience, they demand suppliers understand them and their business, and anticipate current and future needs. And lastly, people don’t want to be sold to.

B2B marketers need to be very brave to make these changes, but the customer demands them.