How Sarah Bolding, Kathleen O’Brien, and the Phillips 66 team developed their Conoco brand’s unique social media campaign targeting millennials

Phillips 66 Senior Director of Brand Advertising Sarah Bolding and Associate Director of Social Media Kathleen O’Brien recently collaborated on a massive undertaking: A complete overhaul of the Conoco brand’s social media presence.

Millennials are influencers -- they share a lot, and there's a lot of word of mouth, and a lot of inspiration from friends and peers. Sarah Bolding
In 2015, the Phillips 66 team conducted a consumer segmentation survey for Conoco which yielded some interesting results. A refresh of the segmentation was completed in 2018 — validating previous findings while enhancing insights into the millennial mindset.

Sarah says, “Based on the segmentation for each of our brands, we’ve identified core typologies or target audiences to really focus on for our brands.”

They found that Conoco’s main market was in Denver. “And we saw the trend in Denver was a lot of growth and companies moving there,” Sarah says. “We knew a younger group of people were moving there, so we really wanted to focus on millennials — and more specifically young millennials.”

Choosing to target millennials was also advantageous because of their social sharing habits and the marketing opportunities those habits create. Sarah explains, “Millennials are influencers — they share a lot, and there’s a lot of word of mouth, and a lot of inspiration from friends and peers.”

With the help of a third-party agency, the team crafted a direction for the new social campaign.

The Phillips 66 brand team brought on an external advertising agency, Carmichael Lynch, a year and half ago. The agency helped them identify some key insights on how to market the Conoco brand. They found that, while no one likes to fuel up, a full tank of gas gives the consumer a certain amount of freedom. So, the Conoco brand wanted to capitalize on that — motivating their audiences to go out and do something with that freedom.

“Fill up your tank, go live — take Instagram with you out into the mountains or hiking or boarding or whatever it might be,” Sarah says. “Go and we’ll fuel your adventures.”

This concept led to the new Conoco tagline: “Choose Go.”

Fortunately for the Conoco brand, Phillips 66 management was willing to take a leap of faith by letting the team (and their agency) try out new and quirky ideas for Conoco.

Look at the commonalities between those who follow you or those who like your content. Sarah Bolding
Conoco’s new target audience and tagline were completely different from what the brand had been doing — and was essentially unheard of in the gas industry.

But after nearly 16 years in the ad agency world, Sarah says she was always most inspired by any brand or client who took a leap of faith on an idea or campaign. The management team trusted the brand team to take a risk with Conoco and gave their team leeway to completely refresh the brand’s look and feel.

With a backup plan in place, the team moved forward with the unique campaign.

They collaborated with an animator from the show “Bob’s Burgers” on some new imagery, created a temporary new logo and changed the brand’s name to “ConoBo” on social media as a play on IHOP’s “IHOB” campaign, worked with a caricaturist for Facebook Live and YouTube videos on National Selfie Day, and even created their own Conoco manga character who makes recurring appearances on their Instagram page.

“For us to be allowed to try something like this was a huge tool for our team and for the agency, too. And so far it’s going well.” Sarah says, “No one said stop, because they’re choosing go.”

Because this type of campaign was unprecedented in the gas industry, properly measured insights and metrics were especially important to Sarah and Kathleen.

We've had some posts that are so successful that our organic reach has overtaken our paid reach. Kathleen O'Brien
Kathleen says, “No other gas brand is doing what we’re doing. No one is interacting and engaging the millennials like we are.” And without similar campaigns to emulate in the industry, the team was prepared to test different ideas and learn from them.

“I think that a lot of it just came down to making sure our insights and everything were spot on,” says Sarah. The team wanted to make sure the campaign was resonating with millennials — as well as Gen Z.

Sarah adds, “When we look at our work compared to our competitors’, it’s completely different and we just love it. We’re exhilarated by what we’re seeing and the feedback we’re getting.”

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and the Conoco brand team has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of organic engagement the campaign has received.

No other gas brand is doing what we're doing. No one is interacting and engaging the millennials like we are. Kathleen O'Brien
“We joke that we’re breaking social media,” says Kathleen.

She goes on to explain that the number of people sharing and engaging with their posts are equal to the number of people being served the ad. Kathleen says, “We’ve had some posts that are so successful that our organic reach has overtaken our paid reach.”

Sarah adds, “We’re really trying to be really socially relevant and in-the-know without overdoing it.”

Moving forward, the team plans to make tweaks to their current campaign so it can evolve with their audience.

After doing a new consumer segmentation refresh, the team found that Conoco’s target audience is 90 percent unchanged from three years ago.

They intend to continue to use the “Choose Go” tagline, and minimally tweak the campaign and media buys. Sarah says they want to see how they can extend the agency’s concept work for next year and evolve it, continuing to watch the trends in their channels and what people are interested in and leveraging common interests.

For anyone attempting a similar social media campaign strategy, Sarah and Kathleen recommend researching your consumer, their trends, what they’re interested in.

Sarah suggests studying who your consumers are from every angle. She says, “Look at the commonalities between those who follow you or those who like your content.”

Then use those commonalities to appeal to your audiences. Sarah continues, “That’s really where your key insights are going to come from and where a lot of the magic is.”

Sarah Bolding and Kathleen O’Brien have been members of since 2017 and 2018, respectively. You can connect on LinkedIn with Sarah here and Kathleen here.