Providing a clean, dry, shiny car is the first step to building a successful car wash brand. The second, arguably harder task, is making your brand synonymous with these capabilities to your customer.
Over the years, car wash operators have relied on a host of brand-building strategies from print advertising, direct mail, billboards, and more. While those approaches are still a staple of many car washes’ advertising and promotional plans, modern digital-first strategies are helping multi-site car wash operators increase their reach and connect with current and prospective customers on a more engaging level.
Digital marketing efforts anchored by email, text, and social media allow car washes to connect with consumers when, where, and how they want to interact with the brand and help build a meaningful two-way relationship between the wash and its customers. However, these personalized digital approaches are just the tip of the next-gen marketing iceberg.
ZIPS Express Car Wash is experimenting with a mix of sports and influencer marketing to grow its brand in critical markets, portraying an aura of hip not often associated with a local car wash. The growing express brand has partnered with 16 major universities, including some of the most well-known in the country, aligning themselves with their athletic programs and student-athletes to increase the wash’s brand awareness while simultaneously upping its cool quotient.
“When you can start to build up a brand and offer something beyond convenience and value and become a destination, that’s when the brand really becomes meaningful,” says ZIPS chief marketing officer Mark Youngworth. “It’s always been important for us, being in 24 states, to build the ZIPS brand while staying locally relevant and connected.”
To build this far-reaching yet locally significant and connected brand, Youngworth and his team have forged mutually beneficial relationships with some of the most prestigious collegiate athletic programs in the country. Through the partnerships, ZIPS can use the teams’ names, logos, etc. in its marketing efforts; attend on-campus school events; advertise during sporting events; and overall be associated with the university as its exclusive car wash sponsor.
“Our strategy is to grow the overarching brand,” says Youngworth. “There are not many marketing channels that allow you to do that. We felt this was a great way for us to jump in. The sponsorship layers the schools’ IP and assets in smart, unexpected ways that allow us to stand out locally and grab that attention and brand affinity. We want to utilize that IP across as many channels as we can. Not only are we getting an opportunity on stadium LEDs and within their digital and print channels, but we also pull it through our onsite and digital channels.”
In addition to the marketing efforts with the universities’ athletic departments, the express chain has forged relationships with individual student-athletes to build the ZIPS brand further. Through Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) campaigns ZIPS launched its Car Wash Convos video series last year and enjoyed astounding success.
NIL allows student-athletes to be paid for the use of their personal brand, while retaining their amateur status, which was against NCAA rules just a few years ago. The new NIL rules opened the door for collegiate sports stars to earn some income from their fame while remaining student-athletes.
ZIPS signed NIL deals with 12 student-athletes from the University of North Carolina, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Tennessee for the first season of Car Wash Convos. In each episode of the video series, a student-athlete is interviewed by a fellow student-athlete host as the pair drives through a ZIPS Express tunnel. The fun, light-hearted videos can be viewed on ZIPS’ YouTube channel and are posted on major social media platforms.
“Not only did we want to do something unexpected with these Car Wash Convos, but we wanted them to be authentic,” says Youngworth. “It was important that the athletes were interviewed by fellow athletes. It provides a different level of conversation that is much more genuine. It is very much like a friend talking to a friend than a scripted conversation.
“The inspiration for Car Wash Convos came from James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. Those videos are a blast to watch because they’re funny, engaging, and feel authentic. For us, we wanted to try to tap into some of that same energy and do it in a way that showcased the most interesting part of a car wash: driving through the tunnel.”
The first season of Car Wash Convos has been nothing short of a rousing success, capturing more than 800,000 views combined across channels. For a car wash to garner nearly a million views for its video content is unheard of and is undoubtedly helping solidify the ZIPS brand among fans of collegiate athletics.
“For most of our marketing efforts, we look at our return on advertising spend, or ROAS score, to gauge success,” says Youngworth. “But it gets a little bit trickier when you are trying to measure brand building. That is not quite as black and white. Looking at overall brand building metrics of page views, likes, engagements, membership, etc., you start to see that this has many benefits beyond just return on spend from a revenue perspective.”
While the relationships the wash has formed with student-athletes and their universities is bringing awareness to the ZIPS brand and helping drive traffic to their sites, it still comes down to providing a quality product at the tunnel exit. All the branding efforts and influencer deals in the world will not make up for a sub-par wash experience. Thanks to its dedication to customer service and top-notch car wash technology at every site, ZIPS is not only meeting consumer expectations but surpassing them.
Youngworth points to three key factors that set ZIPS apart from the competition and gives it a leg up in the markets it operates in: wash quality, market penetration, and its reach across the US. “If you’re a member at one ZIPS, you’re a member of them all,” he says. “Wherever you live, work, or play, you know we’ll have a ZIPS conveniently available for you. We focus on having a great customer experience, superior site-level associates, and providing the value equation in terms of car wash quality, location, convenience, and price.”
While ZIPS has nearly two decades of car wash experience, it is not afraid to go out on a limb and try something new. Its decision to partner with universities and student-athletes has paid massive dividends and is helping take ZIPS brand-building efforts to the next level.