Marketing Mix of Exxon Mobil
A company has to formulate its marketing strategy in a unique manner in order to build a sustainable competitive advantage. A sustainable competitive advantage gives a number of advantages to companies like ability to charge a premium price over competitors and protection against nimble footed new entrants into the market. The four Marketing Mix elements form the main part in the marketing strategy of a firm. Marketing mix refers to the actions and tactics used by businesses to position and promote a product/brand in the marketplace. The Marketing Mix elements of Exxon Mobil are discussed in detail below:
Product refers to the core and non-core products sold by a company to its customers. Being an oil and gas company, the main products sold by Exxon Mobil to its customers are oil products like gasoline, diesel, and aviation turbine fuel. The company also sells products like natural gas and petrochemicals to its customers all over the world.
Despite focusing mainly on oil and gas products, the company also has presence in other energy businesses like solar. Having found the Solar Power Corporation in the year 1973, Exxon Mobil was one of the pioneers in solar energy (John, 1999). Many analysts praise the company for predicting the solar boom in the 70s and 80s (Roston, 2015). The falling prices of oil since the year 2014 and growing preference of consumers for electric cars made Exxon Mobil to increase its focus on solar energy.
Price refers to the different strategies that a company follows to price its products that are sold to its customers. Despite being one of the leading oil and gas companies in the world, Exxon Mobil has very limited pricing power over its products. Factors like government policies, global demand and supply of crude oil, and the prices of alternate energy sources determine the price of oil and gas products sold by Exxon Mobil. However, the company commands some pricing power over its products like branded gasoline and diesel which are sold by adding performance chemicals.
Being a major oil and gas company, the Exxon Mobil sells its products both directly to the consumers and indirectly through franchisee/dealer owned outlets. Some of its products like aviation turbine fuel are sold directly to customers like airline companies. Similarly, natural gas is also sold to industries like electrical and fertilizer companies which use it in their production activities. Branded and non-branded petroleum products like gasoline and diesel sold by the company are sold through the dealer/franchisee owned outlets. Selling through franchisees saves a lot of capital expenditure to the company.
Promotion refers to the strategies followed by the company to publicize its products. Some of the common ways in which a company can promote its products is through advertising, personnel selling, and sales promotions. Exxon Mobil uses all the popular media channels to advertise its products. Similarly, the company also uses public relations to maintain its popular image by participating in various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities like promotion of education in poor and undeveloped parts of the world. As the products sold by all the oil and gas companies was similar, there was a limitation to which the company to advertise its products so that they could be differentiated from the others.
Exxon Mobil has emerged as one of the leading oil and gas companies in the world. True to its legacy as one of the direct descendants of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company which was established in the 1880s, Exxon Mobil has consolidated its position in the global oil industry.
According to the Financial Times Global 500 list, Exxon Mobil is the most valuable oil and gas company in the world with a total market value of US$ 356.5 billion. Exxon Mobil was followed by the state owned Chinese oil giant PetroChina with a total market value of US$ 330 billion. Other American and European petrochemical companies like Chevron, US and Royal Dutch Shell, UK pale in comparison before Exxon Mobil with market values of US$ 197.4 billion and US$ 192.1 billion. It has also emerged as one of the biggest companies in the world in terms of revenues. The company’s revenues too have grown phenomenally. For the year 2015, the total revenues of the company stood at US$ 16.2 billion (Exxon Mobil, 2016).
Apart from the sheer size of the company in terms of market capitalization, the company also has significant market shares in all the businesses where it had a presence. In the upstream oil and gas operations, the company has a total market share of 32.03%. In the downstream operations, the company has a total market share of 47.95%. The market share of Exxon Mobil in the downstream operations dwarfs every other competitor in the industry. The other major business area where Exxon Mobil has a significant presence is the chemicals business. In this area, the company has a market share of 28.94% (CSI Market, nd).
Being in the oil and gas industry, there is no specific demographic market segment that the company targets its products at. All the demographic segments of the market are equally targeted by Exxon Mobil. But some of its products like high performance gasoline and diesel are preferred by the younger customers in the markets where the company has its operations.
Advertising by Exxon Mobil
Since the products sold by the company are generic in nature, the company does not spend much on advertising.
However, the company tries to project its image as an oil and gas company that emphasizes on sustainable development. Most of the advertising of the company is limited to major national publications in USA and international publications like Financial Times and The Economist where the company tries to position itself as a responsible organization (Pryor, 2013). Another main target for its advertising is the investors. By projecting as one of the major energy companies with a target at the future, the company tries to woo new investors who can boost the market capitalization of the company.
External Environment Analysis
Firms do not operate in isolation. They operate in the middle of the civilization. In fact, it is the responsibility of the firms to serve the societies in countries in which they operate. Hence, other than affecting the people who are directly and indirectly related to the operations of the company, companies are also impacted by a number of forces in their external environment. The external environment of an organization includes multiple elements like the politics of the country in which the company has its operations and the latest technology that can impact the workings of the industry. The external elements that can impact an organization could be broadly divided into the following: demographics, economic, technological, legal/political, international, and social. Since Exxon Mobil’s main products are related to petrochemical products that are used by both the individuals and organizations, it could be impacted by many of these factors. Below is the analysis of the external forces that can impact the functioning of the company.
Demographics refer to the people to which the company sells its products and services. Since the money spent by its customers is what keeps the company moving, the spending power and the preferences could impact the functioning of the organization. In the years following the Second World War, there was a lot of craze for owning cars in USA due to the growing prosperity in the country. As a result, both the automobile and oil companies have benefited immensely. Owning a car was considered as a basic necessity that many of the modern cities in USA were not planned for public transport but individual cars. Even the footpath that are located to the side of the roads where pedestrians walk are missing in some of the major American cities like Los Angeles. But according to some latest reports, many young Americans no longer want to own cars (Fisher, 2015). They treat them as wasteful investments. Instead young Americans now prefer to use public transport for commuting.
Another major reason for the declining car ownership is the slow decline in the suburbs of America. Many young Americans now want to stay in the middle of the cities and avoid the hassle of traveling regularly from the suburbs to their place of work. The resulting decline in car ownership can adversely impact the performance of Exxon Mobil’s revenues.
Economic elements refer to factors like GDP, Per-capita incomes of people, inflation, and recession. These economic factors can impact the functioning of the organization in either a favorable or adverse manner. Past experience has shown that people increase/ decrease their spending on oil depending upon economic factors which could impact their revenues. During the periods of recession, people tend to spend less on oil and natural gas as they come under discretionary spending. Similarly, companies also spend less on energy as the demand for their products decline. Hence, economic factors can have a major impact on the functioning of companies like Exxon Mobil. During the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, consumers and organizations have reduced their spending on oil and natural gas due to their declining incomes. Exxon Mobil and other companies had to cut down their investments and sack employees in order to keep their organizations afloat.
There is no modern industry that is not impacted by the modern technology. Oil and natural industries are not an exception to the impact of latest technology. In the case of Exxon Mobil, latest technological advances had both positive and negative impact on the functioning of the organization. The advancement in the fracking technology made it possible for oil companies to extract oil from rocks that are located very deep in the soil. Fracking increased the total availability of oil for Exxon Mobil and other oil companies. Fracking also increased the revenues for oil companies like Exxon Mobil.
On the other side, advancements in the information technology made it possible for information technology companies like UBER to pool cars in a locality and offer cheaper fare when compared with the conventional taxis. Companies like UBER are making it possible to eliminate individual car ownership and reduce the number of cards on the road. Carpooling companies like UBER are also introducing services like ride sharing that reduce the fuel consumption. Reduction in oil consumption due to ride sharing by consumers can adversely impact the future revenues of companies like Exxon Mobil.
The political and legal forces that surround the organization can also impact its functioning. Political environment refers to kind of government (authoritarian dictatorship/democracy) that is in power in the country where the company is operating. In countries like India and USA where democracies are in power, they guarantee the independence of judiciary. Free political and legal environment provide guarantee for the investments made by companies. However, authoritarian dictatorships make it very difficult for companies to function and even threaten the investments of companies. For example, countries with authoritarian governments like Bolivia have nationalized the assets of oil companies like ONGC of India leading to huge losses. Moreover, the policies followed by political leaders can also impact the functioning of businesses in oil and gas industry as they operate in a heavily regulated environment.
Exxon Mobil was recently heavily impacted by the policies followed by governments of some countries regarding the pricing of oil. By the year 2012, the production of shale oil has increased in USA. After losing its leadership position in the production of oil and gas in the late 1970s, USA started to regain its position in the global oil market. Increased production of oil created a supply glut (excess supply than demand) which ultimately resulted in the fall of oil prices. The sanctions imposed by USA on Iran and the decline in oil production in Iraq after the USA led invasion too could not contain the resulting supply glut. While major oil companies like Exxon Mobil and leading oil analysts called for a reduction in oil production, major oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia refused to cut production. Fall in oil prices adversely impacted the profits of Exxon Mobil. For the fiscal year 2015, the profits of Exxon Mobil have declined to US$ 2.78 billion from US$ 6.57 billion a year earlier (Krauss and Reed, 2016).
Firms like Exxon Mobil which are operating in the global markets may also be impacted by the international factors that are not in the control of the firm. While some international factors can adversely impact the performance of a firm, others can positively impact the performance of a firm. Countries like UK in Europe have been encouraging the ownership of electrical vehicles and giving subsidies. The main objective of these subsidies is to limit the pollution caused by vehicles fitted with internal combustion engines. While the sales of electrical vehicles is still miniscule when compared when compared with conventional cars, they are expected to grow substantially in the future. Innovations from companies like Tesla which started producing electrical vehicles with higher range is boosting the sales of electrical vehicles. According to an estimate by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), 35 percent of new cars on the roads will be totally electric by the year 2040 (Mac Donald, 2016). Since electricity can be produced through a number of sources which include both conventional and nonconventional, the increase in the percentage of electric cars on the roads and adversely impact the revenues of oil and gas companies like Exxon Mobil.
However, the growth in the car ownership in emerging markets like India and China could open new opportunities to oil and gas companies like Exxon Mobil. India has one of the lowest rates of car ownership among the developing countries currently. Similarly, the increasing economic growth rates in Africa could increase could increase the percentage of car ownership in prosperous African countries like South Africa and Nigeria. Increase in the total car ownership can offset the lost revenues as more people start opting electric vehicles.
Social factors refer to factors like culture, religion, personal tastes and preferences of consumers that will impact the long-term performance of an organization. Since Exxon Mobil operates in the oil and gas business, the social factors that can impact its functioning are limited. However, the cultural factors and personal preferences of consumers in countries like Denmark make a significant number of people to prefer vehicles which do not require external energy sources like bikes. As the number of people who might radically change their personal habits like opting to drive bikes would be limited, the impact of social factors on the future performance of Exxon Mobil would be limited.
No company in the market can exist without facing competition from other players that operate in the market. Hence, companies need to constantly monitor the competition in the market. Properly analyzing the competition would help the businesses in understanding their business models and the new ways being deployed by them to conduct their business operations. Proper understanding of the business models will help in devising new strategies to stay ahead of competition. Business use different kinds of tools to analyze the competition in the market and device suitable strategies to stay ahead of competition. One of the key frameworks that has been used by businesses to analyze competition is the Porter’s five forces model (Porter, 2008).
Porter’s five forces analysis of Exxon will help in understanding the competitive challenges that were being faced by the company and the strategies that need to be followed by the company’s management in order to standup to the competition. The five forces that can shape an industry are: competitive rivalry, bargaining power of suppliers, threat of substitutes, threat of new entrants, and bargaining power of buyers.
Below is the Porter’s five forces analysis of Exxon Mobil:
If the company is not a monopoly or does not operate in a low competitive environment like a duopoly and oligopoly, it needs to compete with a number of players who in the market. Each of the players will try to introduce new strategies like lower prices and innovative advertising to gain an upper hand over the others. If the company is operating in such a competitive environment its capacity to raise prices above the industry average is limited unless it can differentiate its products significantly. The company which is charging higher prices might end up losing a significant market share as other competitors might respond with a price cut to seize the opportunity. Exxon Mobil operates in a highly competitive environment where it sells generic products like oil and gas which are very hard differentiate. It needs to compete very hard with other big oil companies like British Petroleum, Total, Chevron, and Conoco Phillips. Exxon Mobil can charge a premium price only on the branded petrol and diesel products sold to the clients. Here too, the company has very limited leeway as other big oil companies too sell branded petrol and diesel to customers.
Bargaining Power of Suppliers
Bargaining power of suppliers refer to the power exerted by the suppliers on the prices and quantity of raw material supplied to the companies. In some companies that depend on raw materials like coal, suppliers which control mines exert a lot of influence over the prices. Companies need to worry a lot about suppliers and manage good relations with them in order to ensure the smooth functioning of their businesses. In the case of Exxon Mobil, the company is itself the producer of crude oil and natural gas which is used by other companies and consumers after further refinement. Hence, the company need not depend upon any suppliers. It needs to just maintain good relationship with the governments and regulators who issue it rights and licenses to operate in a certain area.
Bargaining Power of Buyers
The bargaining power of buyers refers to the pressure that buyers can put on the companies to reduce their prices. Some industries are highly impacted by the bargaining power of the buyers. For example, the automobile components industry in the west started facing high bargaining power from buyers after the emergence Chinese automobile component manufacturers who could produce the same components at a much cheaper price. Due to the nature of the industry in which it operates, Exxon Mobil faces limited bargaining power of buyers.
The main reason for the limited bargaining power of buyers is the high switching costs. Users of Exxon Mobil’s products like owners of automobiles and industries that use natural gas cannot switch from one fuel to the other because it costs them a lot to buy new cars ad new equipment that can run on alternative energy sources like electricity. Another reason for the limited bargaining power of buyers is the lack of concentration of buyers at a single place. Since oil and gas are equally needed by people around the world, buyers are dispersed all over the world and hence could not unite to bargain a better price from the company. However, the bargaining power of the buyers might increase for Exxon Mobil if alternative energy sources like solar start becoming available at a much cheaper price.
Threat of Substitutes
A business can function smoothly as long as when the products sold by it do not have any viable substitutes in the market. The emergence of substitutes can adversely impact the sales of a company or can even totally put the company out of business. Many businesses had to completely close down with the emergence of substitutes in the market. For example, with the free availability of electricity to the public, a number of candle manufacturing companies in Europe and around the world had to close their business. Similarly, the growth of the automobile industry has put a number of companies which made horse carriages preferred by the rich and elite during the nineteenth century. The availability of cheap internet access is now threatening to put the print media out of business as people prefer to reading news online.
The oil and gas industry thrived since the late 19th century as there was no viable alternative energy sources that were widely available to power the global growth. Oil and gas powered the growth of American and Soviet and economies during the early 20th century. Despite the growing availability of electricity, it could not be used to power automobiles as it was not possible to store in bulk. Moreover, the production of electricity was considered to be equally polluting as most of the electricity plants were powered by coal and other fossil fuels. But the developments in the battery technology has made it possible to store electricity at a cheaper price. Advancements in electrical engineering helped automobile engineers to develop cars with higher range. For example, the latest Model S from Tesla has a range of 265 miles (426 km). Tesla uses cheap laptop batteries in bundles to power its cars and thus keeps the prices low. The advancements in solar technology resulted in a drastic fall in the prices of photovoltaic cells since the early 1990s. The entry of Chinese companies into the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells is expected to result in the fall of their prices to US$0.36/Watt (Brown, 2013). That is huge fall in the prices since the late 1970s when photovoltaic cells cost US$ 76/watt.
All the above specified factors could make cheap and pollution free electricity produced by renewable sources like sunlight as a good alternative to oil and gas products of Exxon Mobil. In such a scenario, despite the discovery of new oil fields and the new technologies to extract shale oil and gas, the demand for Exxon Mobil’s products might fall. Governments around the world to might encourage the use of renewable sources of energy. Citing the increased availability of cheaper alternatives to oil, The Economist in 2013 said that Oil might become yesterday’s fuel with little demand (The Economist, 2013). In such cases, oil and gas might meet a fate of Whale Blubber which powered street lights and factories during the early 19th century. The discovery of oil fields in Pennsylvania during the middle of 19th century made the Whale Blubber industry extinct due to its higher costs and limited availability. Products of Exxon Mobil to might meet the fate of Whale Blubber if no initiatives are taken by the company.
Threat of New Entrants
New entrants into an industry can pose a serious to the existing players. The main reason for this is that the new entrants enter the market with innovative strategies. New entrants will be nimble footed and unencumbered by the bureaucracy that generally burdens the older players. The history of business is replete with stories where new players with innovative products/services have dethroned the once unassailable players. For example, the entry of California based technology companies like Google and Apple into the business of designing mobile phones and their software have dethroned established players like Nokia and BlackBerry.
The threat of new entrants in the oil and gas industry is limited due to the higher investments required to enter the business of oil exploration and production. It takes billions of dollars in investments to discover new oil fields. Once the new fields are discovered billions more are required to setup the required infrastructure like machinery to draw oil and gas from the earth. All these factors make it difficult for new smaller players to enter the market. But, Exxon Mobil has started facing competition from smaller Shale Oil and Gas producers who have started to play a key role in the global oil and gas business. The shale oil business is dominated by smaller players who operate in smaller areas. The main reason for this is that the production of shale oil needs the digging of multiple smaller wells. Unlike the wells dug by the traditional oil companies which can produce oil and gas for decades, each well will be operational only for a few days or weeks. New wells need to be dug once the older ones dry up. As they are smaller when compared with the conventional companies, their funding requirements too are much lower.
Looking at the prospects of shale oil and gas, banks and other financial institutions offered them credit on a liberal basis. According to an estimate by Barclays, an investment bank, the total debt of shale oil and gas producers increased seven times to a total of US$ 112.5 billion by the end of 2014 which is considered as the heights of the shale boom (Upadhyay, 2016). Other countries in Europe and Asia like China too are planning to explore the possibilities of producing shale oil and gas (Critchhlow, and Apte, 2012). The entry of more such shale oil and gas producers could intensify competition in the future for Exxon Mobil and put a pressure on its bottom-line.
Basing on the analysis, it is clear that Exxon Mobil operates in a highly competitive environment which is characterized by high influence of external environmental factors like government and regulators, limited pricing power, increasing competition from producers of nonconventional sources of energy, and the entry of nimble shale oil producers. In order to succeed and thrive in such an environment, the following strategies are suggested.
Invest Heavily in Alternative Sources of Energy like Solar
Countries around the world are trying to reduce the carbon emissions in order to control the damage caused by the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. In October 2016, the German government has even resolved that the country would stop producing cars made with internal combustion engines by the year 2030 (Schmitt, 2016). Many other European governments too were tightening the emission norms which might the achievable only with electric engines.
Goal 1. Increase investments in production of solar energy.
Strategy 1. Through increased investments in solar and other renewable sources of energy, the company can aim to reduce its dependence of fossil fuels.
Benefit. Many oil companies have aggressively invested in solar and other alternative energy sources. At one point, BP was the largest manufacturer of power panels in USA. However, most of these companies have exited the business as they incurred heavy losses. Looking at the losses of these companies, Exxon Mobil has decided to stay out of solar business. The main reason was that the competition from Chines companies which could produce solar power panels at a substantially lower prices than the competitors. However, due to the falling prices of solar power panels, many consumers prefer it in the place of conventional fossil fuels. Despite dismissing solar energy as conservative, Exxon Mobil has started to invest in solar energy since the fall of oil prices since the year 20104 (Macalister, 2016). The company needs to increase this further in order to benefit from the increases preference for clean sources of energy.
Enter in the Production of Shale Oil and Gas More Aggressively
All the major analysts of the oil and gas sector agree that the future of oil companies is Shale Gas and Oil. Hence every major company should ideally have a good exposure to shale oil and gas business in order to successfully compete with other players in the market.
Goal 2.Increase the exposure to shale oil and gas business by aggressively investing in them.
Strategy 2. Aggressively increasingly increasing the share of shale oil and gas production in its portfolio to succeed in a low oil price environment.
Benefit. Traditionally, big oil companies like Exxon Mobil have invested billions of dollars in developing oil and gas wells which will be in production for decades and deliver lots of revenues. However, Exxon Mobil can no longer makes such kind of investments as the global oil and gas prices continue to fall. According to some analysts oil prices may not reach the US$ 100 per barrel for almost a decade. Some even opine that they may never reach the US$ 150 levels seen two years earlier. In such an environment, increasing the investments on shale oil and gas can help the company in keeping the investments low. It will also make it easier for the company to easily compete with other shale oil producers. In the year 2015 the CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson said that the company would focus more on shale oil production in USA to stay competent (Carroll, 2015). Exxon Mobil should focus in increasing its investments in shale oil in future.
The cost of investing in solar business is expensive. It is similar to many other kinds of businesses like starting a new offshore rig. The company needs to invest a lot of money in setting up solar power farms in open spaces. It is estimated that the cost of setting up a 1 megawatt of solar power will be US$ 1 million. Since Exxon Mobil needs to setup multiple solar farms with kilowatts of capacity, it needs to invest billions of dollars in setting up the plant. The company also waits for a long period till the farm crosses the gestation period and turns profitable. Since Exxon Mobil is cash rich, it can easily bear the heavy costs that need to be incurred. Similar to the costs for solar energy, the company also needs to make huge expenditure for expanding its shale oil business.
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