Car Wash Advertising Has To Be Customer First

By Margaret Link

Customer responsibility instruction signs are an incredibly common form of car wash advertising. As such, let’s investigate how (and why) to make them effective.

This post isn’t so much about car wash signs as it is about customer messaging — with car wash responsibility instruction signs demonstrating an excellent example of a common communication device that could be executed far more effectively. How so, you ask?

Well, when you are trying to arouse action out of consumers, you can go about it in several ways. Customer responsibility instruction signs like the one below hope to achieve specific changes in customer behavior via the most direct path possible: dogmatic directions. This method can work, certainly, but let’s think about this from a customer’s perspective. When a “Customer Responsibilities” sign forces readers to consider why a car wash is instructing them to do something, it creates extra effort for customers — which is never a good (ahem) sign.

Image source:
Apostrophe Abuse. “Turning off all radio’s.” Published 4 August 2008. Retrieved August 18, 2015.

Car Wash Advertising Messaging In Action

With these 7 instructions, the sponsoring car wash talks in terms of what it wants. Effectively, “Dear customers, do X, Y, & Z, so that we can minimize liability once cars enter our wash.” What’s missing is communication about how these instructions are a mutually beneficial proposition. Joe Customer definintely wants to keep his prized spoiler safe from damage just as badly as the car wash wants to avoid damaging it.

In essence, messaging that speaks directly to customers should present information in terms of what CUSTOMERS want, rather than what the car wash wants. As Dale Carnegie once wrote,

Remember that the man you are talking to is a hundred times more interested in himself and his wants and his problems than he is in you and your problems. His toothache matters more to him than a famine in China that kills a million people. A boil on his neck interests him more than forty earthquakes in Africa.

Think of the difference between Person A telling you, “Do not run through that field!” and Person B telling you, “Do not run through that field because it’s an incredibly dangerous minefield and running through it would put your life at risk!” Although both persons have the exact same goal  — to keep you from running through the field — Person B frames the recommendation in terms of what you want, and as such creates a far more effective message than Person A.

For instance, take the sign’s instruction: “TURNING OFF ALL RADIO’s” (let’s happily ignore the incorrect apostrophe — this piece isn’t supposed to turn into the Grammar Police). Customers are forced to think, “Hmm, why do I need to turn off my radio? Is turning off my radio going to be advantageous to me in this car wash?”

Instead, car washes should connect the dots for their customers, and in doing so, they can deliver messages much more effectively. While a bit wordier, how about, “Turn off your radio so that you don’t risk snapping your radio antenna?” Now we are talking in terms of what your customers want — they don’t want to snap their radio antenna, and now there’s no risk of them thinking that this instruction is simply arbitrary and holds no benefit for them.

This same outcome could come from putting a useful illustration alongside the instruction. For example, a picture of a snapped antenna next to Instructions #5, #6, and #7 would effectively convey the same message to customers in their terms — to keep antennas intact.

Car Wash Advertising Has To Use The Voice Of The Customer

There’s of course no reason to confine the mindset of communicating with customers in their own voice to on-site messaging. You should extend the application of this concept to every single piece of content that you intend for consumers to see. Before you write out an advertisement for a website or create a road sign, think to yourself: Who am I hoping to reach with this message, and what specific action am I trying to cause that group to take?

EXAMPLE: The Upsell Sign

Let’s say we want to make a sign promoting an upsell service like a Lava Shield or Hot Wax. Immediately, we know we have to determine three factors: audience, objective, and messaging.

  1. How do we begin to think about who our audience should be with this type of sign? Well, it would be hopeless to try to upsell someone who still hasn’t even tried your lowest cost option. With those people, you should still be focused on the more fundamental marketing battle: to get them on your lot in the first place, even if they choose your least expensive service. So we know that we want to specifically target this upsell sign toward current customers.
  2. Our objective behind this sign is simple enough: encourage people to select a more expensive service option. So we have our audience, and we have the action that we want to cause this specific audience to take.
  3. One final question remains: what do we want to say to our current customers to cause them to select the Lava Shield or Hot Wax? This is the critically important juncture of the marketing process. You need to put yourself in the minds of your customers if you ever want to communicate effectively with them.

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember to ask yourself this final question every time you craft a message towards an audience: what does that audience want, and how can you convey that you have the capacity to give them what they want?

In our example, the customer doesn’t want a Lava Shield or Hot Wax. Otherwise, they would already be purchasing these services regularly and we wouldn’t be making this sign in the first place. However, despite the fact that consumers don’t want Lava Shields or Hot Waxes, how many upsell signs have you seen across the country that advertise the Lava option with a sign like “Try our Lava Option! Just $5 more!” or something to that effect? Tons! Why? The car wash wants customers to try the Lava option for $5 more.

To be clear, this is the wrong approach! Smart car wash advertisers are not going to shove something that the car wash wants in customers’ faces. What customers want is for their car to be clean. Cleaning their car is what brought them to the wash in the first place. So, think about what the customers want, and convey how your car wash can give them an even better version of what they want.

A sign like, “If you love our normal wash, our Lava option will have your car sparkling brighter than the day you bought it for only $5 more,” (or something to that effect) will blow your customers’ minds. You’re talking in the voice of your customers, showing how you can give them what they want — a cleaner car.

Moreover, If you’re really trying to upsell your existing customers, another proven option is to create a rewards program whereby customers can try a superior service option for free when they have “earned” it by coming into your wash a predetermined number of times. If you believe that your upsell service options provide enough additional value to your customers to warrant the increased price (which all good car wash operators should), then you should have the confidence to give it to your best customers with the expectation that a meaningful number will continue to pay for it after receiving it for free.

(Now, if only there were a rewards program that allowed car washes to run upsell campaigns like this with the click of a button….)

Above all, every time you are communicating with your customers, whether it be marketing or on-site messaging, you should carefully consider:

  • What action am I trying to cause my customers to take?
  • How can I effectively convey that this action is actually in my customers’ best interests, and not just my own?

This article is the 3rd in a series about car wash marketing. You can find the first @ 6 Ways to Get Millennials into Your Car Wash and second @ Car Wash Signs Work Well — But Only When Done Right.

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