Everything from soda to computers and supermarkets accumulates customers through strong brand loyalty. Brand loyalty often beats convenience and price: It’s the reason people drive miles out of their way to get to a Trader Joe’s or why someone will pay substantially more for a Mac than a PC. But how do you establish brand loyalty when your interaction with customers is extremely limited? This is one of the biggest challenges facing any carwash, especially ones with automatic pay terminals like an exterior express model.

Your first step should be deciding how to distinguish your business from the other carwashes in your market area. Aim to make your business memorable in the eyes of your customer and the prospective customers who drive by your wash every day, but who may be going elsewhere because they don’t notice you. Give it a personality. What do you want customers to think of when they think of your carwash? Do you have the cleanest, best-maintained carwash in your area? Is your staff the most friendly? Is green your thing? Be careful of focusing on price, because as soon as you do, someone can come along who will match or beat your prices. Just ask the gas station down the street from any Racetrack brand location. Instead, develop and differentiate on key attributes about your business you know you can deliver on. Clean, fast, high-tech, friendly, convenient, green, safe … begin a list and narrow it down to three or four key attributes.

Begin with the brand

Once you have identified your key attributes, it’s time to look at that brand identity you’ve either been using for the last 15 years, are planning on redoing in conjunction with Frank down at the sign shop, or have hired a professional design company to develop for you. Does your logo look like a character from "That '70s Show" might have designed it? Is it easy to read close up and at a distance? A brand image done right will make your business appear more professional and should reinforce your brand promise to your customer. It can communicate to customers at a glance what they can expect to experience at your carwash and why it is superior to the carwash down the street. A good brand identity will serve you well for many years to come and is the foundation for moving forward with a dynamic marketing plan.

Your branding doesn’t stop with a great graphic identity. Branding is your promise to your customer. It’s everything your carwash does to communicate and execute a positive customer experience. Let’s say you are going to appeal to customers who are short on time and want to get in and out quickly. Maybe you have express in your name or some other word that communicates the speed with which customers can enter and exit your wash. That’s good, but be sure to teach the employee that guides the customer into the wash to move their arms quickly so the feeling the customer gets is, “Hey, these guys really do want to keep me moving through here.” Do you want customers to feel as though your location is a friendly, professional place to get their car washed? Smiling employees dressed in clean uniforms carry that brand message through to the customer experience. Look closely at your entire operation — are the grounds nicely maintained? Is the building clean? It’s all part of your branding.

The importance of signage

Let’s assume you have already enlisted the help of a trusted and experienced company to help you develop your corporate brand identity. It looks great, it’s different from anyone else in the market, it can be easily read from 50 to 500 feet. This is a great start. Now what?

You want to reach and connect with new customers, right? Your street signage, building signage, Windmasters and menus are all crucial. Each item should have your new corporate brand on it, bursting with energy and professionalism. The branding should be consistently executed through each one using the same colors, fonts, ratios, etc. Ask your designer for brand standards and supply it to all vendors. If you’ve enlisted the help of a professional marketing company, they will have access to these and will assure delivery. Signage is the most crucial aspect to any carwash, and with fabrication costs being what they are, you want to get it right the first time.

Outdoor advertising can pay big dividends

Once you have addressed signage, it’s time to start looking at additional ways to reach and connect with customers, both current and prospective. Every market is different, but there is one key initiative we have found that is successful for carwashes given the availability — billboards. Not just any billboard, but an easily viewable billboard with no trees or buildings blocking it within a mile of your location. Depending on traffic patterns in your area, it can be on the road where your wash is located or at a cross street/main artery nearby.

Next up is billboard design. Securing the best billboard location will get you nowhere if the design is less than impactful. Seven words or less — that’s it on your billboard. Not eight, not nine, seven or less. Trust me, it’s been studied. Two to five words, plus your directional is ideal. Once you have your short message, it’s time to focus on the graphics. One strong graphic image can be more eye-catching than several smaller images, and a picture of your building is not usually the best choice. Professional stock photo houses have great looking images that don’t cost a fortune. A strong message with your logo and a standout color scheme can substitute for an image if push comes to shove. Professional design and a catchy message will pay off down the road.

The importance of social media

Great logo and an awesome billboard, you’re getting there. Have you heard of Facebook, Google+ and Instagram? Social media is here to stay, and it’s only getting more important. Here is a space where you can dominate your competition with photos and customer reviews, all while boosting your search engine rankings. If you don’t have a social media presence, the time is now. Facebook, Google+ and Instagram are hot for carwashes.  

Before you get started in social media, develop a strategy. Who will post? Your manager is likely too busy making sure your customer experience is everything it should be. He or she shouldn’t be distracted with trying to figure out what the next wildly creative post is going to be about. Nice thought, but it isn’t happening. If you as the owner can’t take on the task, you could contact your closest university or college and hire a recent graduate with a degree in digital media and/or marketing/public relations. There are also great marketing firms out there who manage multiple social media accounts to whom you can outsource your social media strategy. Regular, interesting posts, a minimum of three times per week, that aren’t always about your carwash, should be your goal. And remember, pictures, pictures, pictures.

Lastly, consider a Facebook advertising campaign to build your likes. Facebook will “walk you through” building your campaign. You set the budget and monitor which ads are working and which aren’t. You can spend as little as $5 per day, but $10 to $15 will garner likes more quickly. There are other ways to attract likes, like boosting posts, offers and contests through third-party apps. You can see it starts to get a bit overwhelming, so many carwashes are starting to outsource this key marketing component.

It goes without saying that your business should have a website — a website that consistently reinforces your brand and core messaging. Keep your navigation simple, have all of your locations easily listed with pertinent contact information and include a blog or news page. Also incorporate a sign-up for special offers or a newsletter feature. This allows you to capture emails which you can then use to stay in touch with your customer base. A pretty website won’t get you far with search engines, so make sure your website is optimized. Google favors sites with fresh, regularly-updated content as well, so blog away. Videos are also good, but should be professionally produced. Video production companies in local markets can usually produce a two-minute video for less than $2,000.

Event marketing pays off in more ways than one

As you are building your brand and connecting with customers, there comes a time when an event can pay dividends in the eyes of your current and prospective customers. One or two large events per year will draw attention and place your business in a favorable light. Team up with a well-known nonprofit agency in your area. Such an organization should have a large donor and/or volunteer base that can help spread the word about your event to its database.

Consider giving a portion of your sales for the day to a charity. Gather prizes to give away from businesses nearby and use a registration form so you can collect emails from potential customers. Consider advertising with a local radio station and have a live remote the day of the event. Be sure to publicize in advance with Windmaster signs, flyers, emails and social media sites. Also make sure you have extra staff on those days via volunteers from the charity. Volunteers should have an orientation session, and they can be placed at the pay stations to welcome customers, hand out prize registration forms and collect registration forms at the wash exit.

Make use of your email database

Email marketing is an inexpensive way to connect with customers and provide specials and news about your business. Consider theming emails around different holidays. Develop a 12-month calendar and send one email per month. More frequently and you could become annoying, resulting in opt outs or being reported for SPAM. Constant Contact is a good choice for designing and distributing your emails if you don’t work with a company to design your marketing pieces. Remember, every person you email must have opted in to receive your emails and every email should have a simple unsubscribe option at the end.

But wait — you don’t have any email addresses? If you offer unlimited plans, you likely have those email addresses, so that’s a start. Your website should also have an easy way for customers to sign up for special offers. And remember to include sign-up forms for prizes at any events you host. Certain third-party Facebook contest apps can require an email to participate, and they are another good way to grab more emails. Always be thinking of every opportunity you have to get new email addresses.

How do companies likes Coca-Cola, Trader Joe’s and Apple accumulate customers so loyal that they actually avoid the competition? It’s through the brand’s personality and voice, which consistently shines through all of the ways they connect with their customers. Use these tips to give your carwash a personality, and in turn give your customers a reason to choose you over your competition.

 

Mary Shallies is president of AdSource, a full-service advertising and marketing agency. Shallies has worked with several carwash chains over the last few years and can be reached at [email protected] or 239-495-0007.

Steve Gaudreau is President of Brink Results, author of the books So, You Want to Own a Car Wash and Creating Exceptional Managers, has worked in the carwash industry for more than 20 years and can be reached at [email protected].