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According to Google, an average of about 700,000 people in the U.S. search the term “carwash” every single month. Another 100,000 search for automotive “detailing.” About another 100,000 search related terms like “hand carwashing,” “express carwashing,” “auto wash,” etc. That means close to 1 million people are searching for carwash websites every single month and that is just people using Google. We can’t say how many of those people are in your market, but chances are there are plenty.
Unfortunately, the fact that so many carwashes have old, under-maintained, or no website at all indicates that the Internet is still a lower priority when it comes to carwash marketing. However, the Internet continues to be a major weapon for smart marketers.
For obvious reasons, any Internet marketing you do begins with your website.
Imagine that a consumer in your neighborhood has decided to wash his car tomorrow afternoon. He is a stickler for making informed decisions, so he is visiting the different carwashes in his area today to see which one he will buy tomorrow.
He pulls into your lot and looks around. He looks at the building to see if it’s old or new. He looks at the landscaping and the cleanliness of the site. He sees whether the employees are uniformed and helpful. He looks in the tunnel and then examines your menu sign. Based on what he sees, he makes a decision.
This is essentially what happens every time a consumer visits your website. They look around in order to get a sense for what kind of business you are and decide whether they will be a customer, what they will buy when they visit and how loyal they will be. Even if they have been to your website before, you are still influencing their behavior.
As described in our illustration, the most important reason people visit your website is curiosity. This is the most important reason because you are communicating with a consumer that is in the process of making a decision about the kind of business you are and whether they will become a customer.
That curiosity comes from some type of initial impression. It may be that they’ve passed by your location on several occasions, or it may be that they just saw an advertisement. It may be from a co-worker that mentioned your carwash or it may be because they are near a few carwashes and need to make a decision about which one to go to.
In any event they are curious and have made the decision to search you out. Since this is the critical “first impression” it is vital that your website make the right impression. The key is making sure your website shows your unique personality and separates you from your competition. This should be immediately apparent to a visitor.
Another reason people will visit your website is to find your menu and pricing. It is important to make your descriptions appealing. They should be more than a boring list of inclusions. Just like a good restaurant menu does more than list ingredients, the goal of your menu should be to increase the perceived value of your packages. This could include details about the high-end extra services, and the branded products you use. There should also be an attempt to highlight the top package and/or express detail services.
Once you have a website, it is important that it can be found. Make sure your website is listed on all the map programs and review sites like Yelp.com.
The important point to remember is that any effective Internet marketing you do will make people curious and the first thing they will do is look for your website. Your goal should be to deliver a great first impression.
Another hot topic for conversation (and blogs and seminars and articles…) is social media. Again, this is coming from the broader retail industry where companies everywhere are trying to leverage this new platform. While the power of social media cannot be denied, for most carwashes it can be more hype than useful tool. This is because companies that successfully utilize social media have successfully done about a dozen other things first.
For starters, it is essential that a company first be “social” before leveraging social media. For example, social media mavens like Starbucks and Dell had built consumer idea websites to solicit customer feedback and then react to it long before they were using social media. In other words, they were already engaging their customers in a social way.
Mountain Dew, another great example of social media, had already been uniting their most loyal customers long before using Facebook and Twitter to do the same thing. So when they did start using the tools they had a built-in audience that was already engaged.
The other problem with the way carwashes are currently using social media is that the content is almost exclusively promotional. Retailers that are successfully using social media are sharing relevant, engaging, entertaining and useful content. The promotional stuff is always an afterthought. This makes sense because the power of social media comes from its ability to influence a large number of people in a viral way. Coupons simply don’t get people excited and the research shows that people that are redeeming those coupons are already your customers. So unless they are for upgrades like a detail or for a wash package that the customer usually doesn’t buy, than you are giving incentives to customers that didn’t need them.
Unless you are already social or are deeply committed to engaging your audience in a non-promotional way, your focus and money are better spent elsewhere. If you are the rare carwash that is already being social and identifying and communicating with your most loyal customers than congratulations- you are ready for the seductive power of social media.
The bottom-line is that customers are still clipping coupons. In fact, due to the recession, coupon clipping is up 23 percent, which represents a 30 percent increase in value. This is the first increase in 17 years according to data from Valassis Communications, which also owns NCH, one of the largest coupon clearinghouses.
Part of this increase is because marketers have been willing to offer bigger discounts to grab attention in the past 12-months. However, the numbers seem to be cooling off as marketers start to dial back the offers by lowering the incentives and increasing the stipulations for redemption.
Online coupons still only represent about 1 percent of customers, but redemptions are up to 10 percent showing that it is a fast growing coupon platform. The question of course is are you providing an incentive to a new customer or improving the frequency, or are you simply rewarding a customer that was coming in anyway.
The key is to use coupons for a purpose. Keep in mind also that retailers that use these deep discounts have higher margins and/or much higher average tickets than a carwash. Coupons have their place, but they shouldn’t be the backbone of our marketing.
Groupon and other web promotions
If you’re not familiar with it, Groupon.com, is a group buying site that offers subscribers deep discounts if enough people buy the offer. The great part about Groupon is that its emails go out to thousands of people in your area and gives you all the attention on the day you are featured. However, there is also a downside. The first problem with Groupon is the high cost. Most offers on Groupon are at a 50 percent discount and of that, Groupon gets 50 percent. Therefore the business usually is giving a 75 percent on its product or service.
The second problem is that it covers a relatively large geographic area. That means you might entice someone from a couple towns over with the offer, but once they’ve used the promotion, they’re not coming back.
This is why, according to a Rice University study, a third of the businesses that used Groupon programs found them unprofitable. And 40 percent said they would not run them again.
Another interesting development is geographic-based tools like Foursquare and others that let users find discounts where they are. Perhaps the biggest and latest development here is Facebook Deals, which was released in November 2010. Facebook users can “check in” with their location and Facebook serves up promotions for local businesses that have placed ads with Facebook. This is pretty similar to Foursquare and others, but leverages Facebook’s enormous subscriber base. This is really a result of the penetration of web-enabled smart phones and you can expect to see a lot more tools available in the coming years.
Kyle Doyle is the president of Blue Sky Image Group, a fullservice marketing firm dedicated to the carwash industry. Kyle has been in the carwash industry for 15 years. Prior to starting Blue Sky, Kyle was the C.E.O. of Compuwash and also managed a carwash in Long Island NY. He can be reached at (631) 431-2600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.