Mobile marketing is a way for a business to reach people in a way that is optimized for smartphones and other mobile devices through apps, social media, and mobile enhanced websites.

Mobile marketing is becoming commonplace because more people are researching and making digital purchases with their smartphones.

According to Sirius Decisions, a research and advisory firm, the average American spends around five hours per day on their mobile device, whereas adults are watching about five hours of television per day (Nielsen report). Arguably, this leaves little time (or desire) for reading ads in the newspaper or shifting through mailers looking for coupon deals.


Quite frankly, if a business doesn’t have a mobile marketing strategy, it may be facing a competitive disadvantage. For example, I went to the App store and searched “car wash app” using an older iPhone 5.

The top five apps listed were Spiffy, Mobile on Demand, Washe, Everwash, and Washos. All but Everwash are on-demand mobile waterless car wash services. The next five apps listed included major retail chains such as Crew, Mike’s, Tommy’s, Zips, etc.

On my pro pad, the top 10 car wash apps that showed up were all on-demand mobile car wash services. Next there were several car wash game apps and then apps for some of the major retail car wash chains mentioned earlier.

In the case of the on-demand car wash firms, the mobile approach to business is obviously crucial because there is no brick-and-mortar store to visit. On-demand car wash services depend on branded mobile apps to provide customers with time- and location-sensitive personalized information to promote services and ideas.

On the other hand, the opportunity cost for the brick-and-mortar car wash to have their own branded app is huge in my area. Here, the population density is 3,000 per square mile — 24 percent are Millennials or about 20,160 potential customers within each three-mile radius. No car wash in my area has an app for them to use.

Mobile apps are a way for brick-and-mortar washes to wreak havoc on loyalty with a better shopping experience by engaging high-value customers at digital touch points and sending personalized messages.

Consider the Tommy Club. After landing on the website, customers and potential customers are presented a simple set of instructions to get started. Download the Tommy’s Express app on a mobile device. Enter vehicle and credit card information. Select a wash package and monthly payment options. Find the nearest Tommy’s Express with the app, which is available at the AppStore and GooglePlay.

Subsequent information on the website explains how the process works, pricing, how to manage subscriptions, and club features.


At the store level, vehicle identification is needed to link the app and POS to activate the wash. This requires hardware and software. Generally speaking, hardware is a barcode reader, a smartphone running an attendant app, an RFID or license plate recognition system, and the software, which is proprietary.

However, according to Stephen Simolari with Beacon Mobile, most car wash software has the ability to generate a wash-codes protocol, which allows for code generation.

One method to activate the car wash is through codes that are uploaded or copied and pasted into a web portal that controls all aspects of a brick-and-mortar car wash’s branded mobile app.

Beacon Mobile is a software developer that specializes in automated sales and marketing techniques for the car wash and automotive industries.

However, unlike Everwash, Superoperator and others, Beacon’s branded mobile apps don’t require joining a network nor do they eat into revenues on a per transaction basis by managing subscription programs for a fee. Instead, the branded app platform acts as a pass-through to the processor, saving the car wash operator from revenue sharing and per transaction costs.

Beacon’s flagship product is its branded app platform. The platform includes geo-fencing techniques, personalized push notifications, gamification, referrals, loyalty rewards, and virtual branded wallet. These are concepts used by major brands like Starbucks and Chic-Fil-A, now available to brick-and-mortar car washes.

Beacon is also working with major car manufacturers to build a bridge between brick-and-mortar washes and a vehicle’s infotainment center. According to Simolari, this technology is being rolled out to a select number of car washes.

This would be a directory style app that would allow existing customers to opt in to it as an alternative revenue stream. It would also help the customer to find a more local wash and switch to using the local wash’s branded app.


I asked Simolari to address some of the nuances of mobile marketing based on the concerns and questions of several car wash operators I recently surveyed.

To paraphrase, there are essentially two ways to present a mobile app to a consumer. One is a branded mobile app and the other is an aggregator or network app.

For example, Starbucks developed its own app that represents that brand whereas Doordash is an aggregator app that represents multiple available coffee brands.

Getting consumers to download an app is easy, but getting customers to keep it and use it isn’t. That’s because many app companies do not take the time to explain the value proposition to the customer on why they want to download an app, let alone have an on-boarding sequence to teach a customer how to use it as well as features that customers expect to see in a native branded mobile app.

An on-boarding sequence is a series of screens, which helps the customers to “on board” themselves and become familiar with how to use the app. For example, the approach to in-app permissions is not to bombard a new user with permission requests, but to ask for permissions as app users explore and want to use those in-app features.

Car wash operators tend to like passive marketing because it incurs minimal investment of time and costs such as setting up directory listings or making posts on a blog or on social network sites. However, it’s hard to track an ROI on dollars spent. For example, a “like” on Facebook does not necessarily equate to another car washed.

While active marketing may require more expense to get before customers, it does allow for incentive gifts or promise of a special discount through advertising to drive in new business.

There is no doubt that social media marketing dollars are better spent on Facebook than on any other social media platform. However, according to Simolari, the less you spend on Facebook, the harder its algorithm works.While Facebook is the largest social media platform, those users and that data belong to Facebook not the car wash.

Lastly, car wash operators expressed concern about sharing the customer relationship with a third party. For example, Everwash is a third-party app because it collects customer data and charges a per-transaction fee to manage the subscription program (i.e. monthly unlimited).

Beacon’s platform, on the other hand, is a hybrid second party (branded mobile software) that has a suite of features and tools that works for the car wash brand. This gives the control back to the car wash brand to own the customer, their journey, and engagement.


In the final analysis, pundits see a continued surge in targeting consumers via mobile devices including location-based services or proximity marketing.

Experts find marketers are placing a large value on programmatic mobile advertising, which is using technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence systems to automate the function of buying and selling to targeted hyper-acute audiences.

Programmatic advertising is when you search for something on Google and then see the exact thing you were just looking for 5 minutes later in your Facebook news feed.

One thing is for certain, mobile marketing is becoming increasingly more complex and it looks like a steep learning curve. Knowing the right mobile approach and executing with the right specialist will be required.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at