Although text messaging has been around for more than 20 years, a number of carwash owners and marketers still haven’t tried it or considered using it as part of their marketing mix. In some cases carwash owners may have been a bit early taking the service to market, or they didn’t put the necessary muscle behind it to give it a fair chance.

Text messaging is still one of the most effective marketing tools carwash owners can use to drive sales, foster loyalty and build their brands.

The strength of text messaging is that it can be used as a channel by itself to send out text alerts with offers and promotions. It can also be used to leverage your existing marketing, making your print ads, mailers and website work harder for you and provide more data and information for your marketing decisions.

Text messages have been shown to have higher open and read rates than email, and they will not go unnoticed like email marketing can. In addition, mobile coupons have been shown to have higher redemption rates than paper coupons.

The main program available to carwashes is the mobile club. You get the customer to text in and join your club in exchange for sending them special offers and promotions. It’s simple and effective. You can set up various campaigns to track whether customers are signing up at your business, on your website or in your ads. You can also send out and test various promotions. Many carwash owners use text messaging to send offers early in the morning, after a period of bad weather, slow days, etc.

Texting fits into the marketing mix

You can now take the mobile club up a notch by incorporating mobile text coupons into your print ads, website and other marketing initiatives.

Here is a scenario using the mobile coupon as an example. With a regular print coupon, a customer must cut out the ad and remember to bring it in order to redeem it. If a customer wants a coupon from your website, he or she will need to have a printer in order to print it.

Therein lie the problems and limitations of print and Web coupons. What if the customer doesn’t have a printer or their tablet is not connected to a printer? You don’t know if and when the customer cuts out a coupon, and often  customers forget where they placed it. People do forget to bring them, and because of this they may choose another carwash.

Text message coupons answer this problem and offer a number of advantages. One of the advantages is you will know in real time if someone requests a text message coupon and which ad it comes from. You can track redemption with generic or unique codes and send reminders to customers before the coupons expire. By adding a text message option to your website, you make it easy for all your customers to access your coupons whether they have a printer.

You can also give the customer an option of opting in to your mobile club if they have not already done so.

Another advantage of mobile coupons is viral sharing. Imagine having your customers helping you with your marketing by forwarding your coupons to their family and friends. That’s powerful.

Loyalty can be a commanding force

Text messaging can also encourage loyalty. The days of the old punch card may be numbered. Most text message providers are able to incorporate loyalty features into the service. The loyalty systems usually work from any tablet with an Internet connection and are placed near the payment counter.

Customers sign up by inputting their phone numbers, and within seconds they are joined to the loyalty program. You can reward customers by the number of visits, offer different levels of incentives based on their visits and other options. The loyalty program complements your mobile club or it can be a standalone service.

Keep in mind that the ideas and programs available out there are all based on customer’s opting in and agreeing to receive messages. Any reputable text message provider should be able to help make sure your campaigns are compliant, adhere to Telephone Consumer Protection Act rules and are set up to ensure success.

Text messaging can also be used to assist your social media efforts and vice versa. Links to like your company on Facebook or other social sites can be included in the text messages you send out. You can also include your mobile club sign-up information on your social media sites.

Text messaging is often underutilized for surveys. What better way to capture customer feedback and information than by posting a sign that says: “Let us know how we did today. Text your comments to xxxxx and win a chance for a free deluxe car detail.”

Start the conversation

Text messaging and mobile marketing in general are about engaging and having two-way conversations with customers. Text messaging is still a preferred way people communicate these days, and new advances in text messaging services present new opportunities.

One of the new services to hit the market is the ability to text-enable your 800 or landline business number. You will be able to market your business line with “Call or text us at 800-YourNumber” and have auto responses to the text messages set up with your business hours and directions. The messages can also be forwarded to your email so you can reply in real time.

Marketing in the real world is all about testing. There are a number of reputable providers that can help you get started, and some even offer free trials. It may help to look at your current marketing efforts to see where you are spending your marketing dollars and determine how text messaging can fit in to complement that marketing. If you are running print ads in the newspaper with coupons, you can try adding text messaging to the ad to make it work harder for you and provide more information.

Your customers are texting; shouldn’t you?

Steven Levine is the president of Mission Mobile and a leading mobile marketing strategist. Mission Mobile provides text messaging and other mobile marketing services to the carwash, oil change and auto service industries. He can be reached at 310-396-5577, ext. 115, steve@missionmobile.netor www.missionmobile.net.