It’s one of the most common questions in detailing related groups and forums, especially since the start of the current Corona pandemic: How should I market my (mobile) detailing services? How do I get more customers? How do I hook the first customer?
Before we start, I have to tell you that I am not a professional detailer. I am what most of you would probably call a semi-professional detailing enthusiast: I like detailing – a lot, actually – and I test and review detailing products for the YouTube channel called “XaronFR”. I know how detailing works and probably would have the knowledge and skill to start as a professional so ultimately, I can’t speak from experience and I can’t tell you about my “secret sauce” when it comes to this topic. But what I can talk to you about is marketing in general and marketing from a scientific and academic point of view, as I studied it intensively for years at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, as I’m responsible for marketing in my own company, and I am teaching marketing classes for dog trainers over here in Switzerland. And dog trainers are exactly like you: very small businesses, almost exclusively run by single persons trying to reach as many customers as possible which they then can offer a service.
1. What is marketing?
The American Marketing Association (2017) defines marketing as follows:
“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
I know, this definition sounds complicated – as it’s often the case with scientific publications. However, it is important that you actually understand this definition because of the popular misunderstanding and misconception of marketing in the public. I especially want to stress out the following two aspects for you:
- Marketing is not just (selling) products: If you look at the value chain of a firm, then in general, a firm goes through the following processes to create a product or service: (1) research and development, (2) sourcing of raw materials or other input factors, (3) the actual production, (4) the distribution, (5) selling at the point(s) of sale, and then (6) after sales or service offerings. In the public’s mind, marketing is often just and exclusively about selling stuff and i.e. selling you stuff you don’t want, so step (5) in the above mentioned value chain. And there’s some truth to this conception because marketing is often misused by marketing professionals with a lack of integrity. But the fact of the matter is that marketing is and never was just about selling stuff. It especially isn’t anymore in today’s ever evolving, globalised, interlinked, and complex world. Service offerings – like a detailing job – for example and in general follow the same value chain, but with a few minor but very, very important differences – which we will talk about in a second. Today, in most developed countries, service offerings account for the biggest economic sectors and so the point of view that marketing is only about selling products is outdated from the get go. More importantly, marketing in today’s world can’t be boiled down to just one step within a company’s or your personal business’ value chain. VW’s Diesel scandal for example had it’s roots clearly within the R&D department, but the scandal’s consequences hat a huge impact on VW’s marketing and sales activities and the company as a whole. Nestlé’s and Greenpeace’s very public dispute about the use of palm oil in their sweets technically should only affect the sourcing step of Nestlé’s value chain, but clearly had an impact on the company’s marketing side, as well. And why do you think that big grocery stores started to offer online shopping with home delivery, so adapting and evolving their distribution? Yes, you’re right, this also has something to do with marketing. And then there are political campaigns which today share quite a lot of similarities with traditional marketing campaigns for products. Heck, every selfie you take of yourself and post it on social media is, to some extent, marketing. So, as you can clearly see, marketing is not just about selling products (anymore) but it rather affects everything a company does and should be considered in every step a company takes.
- Marketing is not about lying: Yes, theirs is a lot of lying going on in the world. And yes, there are a lot of professionals and companies alike who are not quite straight with you as a customer. More importantly, there is a grey line between straight up lying and not quite telling how it is. I’m sure you have seen the adverts and videos by Shine Armor, for example. And I’m also sure you have realised that in their videos, they use video cutouts which do seem to reappear in ads for other products, as well. Then there are companies which try to sell you traditional paste waxes made of carnauba and bee’s wax with some sort of magic “ceramic” ingredients in them which suddenly gives them a claimed durability of several years, when in fact everyone knows that on daily driven cars waxes last a couple of weeks, at best. And don’t even get me started on promises about ceramic or graphene coatings… Marketing having the reputation of being about lying to people, selling them stuff they don’t want or need, or just stuffing something down their throat until they choke on it is based on the activities and behaviour of professionals and business owners trying to gain a competitive advantage by showing a lack of integrity that’s almost shocking in some cases. To be absolutely clear about it: marketing is not about lying. It never was and never will be. Do you really think companies like Red Bull, Apple or Porsche reached their today’s status by trying to sell products that don’t deliver on what they promise?
All that being said, let me give you my definition of marketing which hopefully let’s you better understand what marketing is and should be about – not just for you: marketing is the art of creating a certain behaviour or a change in behaviour within a specific target audience. This is the phrase you have to remember while going through the rest of this article because everything we will talk about from here on will always come back to this definition.
2. The baseline of all marketing: customer needs
One of the biggest mistakes I personally see made by a lot of small businesses and business owners is that they start their marketing activities on the wrong foot. Let’s do a little exercise at this point: let’s say you run a detailing business. And let’s say you e.g. do posts on Instagram to promote your business and try to find new customers. Can you answer the following three questions without having to think hard about them?
- Who are you trying to reach?
- What is it that the people you are trying to reach want and need (from you)?
- Which underlying and basic need are you trying to solve for those people by your services?
Most people don’t go about marketing in a methodological, scientific thought process, but rather by their gut. And that’s fine if your gut is right. If it’s not, then the issue is that you will most likely jump from one “solution” to the next, following the advice from several different people, follow a deadly trial and error process and never end up with a marketing strategy that actually works for you – and then you’ll start blaming everything and everyone else around you as suddenly it’s your competitors’ fault because they don’t act fairly, it’s the economy’s fault, it’s Covid19’s fault, it’s the governments fault, …. The reason for this downwards spiral is that most people never really thought about what it actually is that they are trying to market and who they are trying to market it.
And this is why the following sentence is one of the single most important ones you have to take away from this blog post: the baseline of every marketing strategy and activity are people’s needs.
Needs are what drive people. Always have. It was the need for food that let our ancestors start going out and look for berries and other stuff to eat. And it was the same need for food that let them start hunting animals. It was then the need for a warm and safe environment that let them start to live in caves and later on let them start building houses. It was the need for engaging with others, starting a family and having a social life that let people start living in larger and larger groups, which then again strengthened the need for food so they started harvesting crops. It was the need for more land and power that let some people, kings, and leaders start wars with each other. It was the need for faster travel that let us invent the automobile…
It’s not like this basic scheme has changed now that we live in a civilised world. We still act and follow our needs, it’s just that our needs have changed and developed because for most of us in developed countries don’t have to actually think about fulfilling our need for food. On the contrary, there’s too much of it and now we follow the need for the right and healthy food because we feel the need to look good and therefore we think about what we are eating. And we still go out and buy guns and kit them out with military-grade accessories. Not because we prepare for a war, but because we still feel the need to be safe.
As you can see, needs are what let people buy stuff. And if you don’t know what the underlying, basic needs of your customers are, how are you supposed to know how to effectively market your services to them? Because what if you are thinking that all your customers just want a clean car and that they feel some kind of joy from looking at a clean car, but in reality they try to fulfill completely different needs by letting you wash their cars? What if they actually are in some sort of a competition with their neighbour for the best looking, shiniest car? Wouldn’t it then be much, much better if you not just wash their car, but offered them training courses so that they can let their car look better than their neighbour's on their own? What if they actually don’t care at all how their car looks but just want it to look good so that they can post pictures on Facebook or Instagram? Or they run a company car and just care about their company’s image when people see that car with a company’s name on it? Wouldn’t it then be better if you not only washed their cars, but also offered to take professional pictures of their cars for their social media channels or offered some kind of protection which lets their cars looking cleaner for longer?
You have to understand and know your (potential) customers’ needs in order to really know what it is that you should try and sell or market them. There exists a rather simple to understand model which helps you conceptualise people’s needs and it’s called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”. In short, Maslow in 1943 published a model which ranks humans’ needs in a pyramid of hierarchy. From bottom to the top of this pyramid, human needs are ranked as follows:
- Physiological needs: e.g. food, water, warmth, rest
- Safety needs: e.g. security and safety
- Belonging and love needs: e.g. intimate relationships, friends, family
- Esteem needs: e.g. prestige, feeling of accomplishment
- Self-actualisation needs: e.g. achieving one’s full potential, creative activities
What’s important to understand regarding this hierarchy of needs is that the different types of needs build on each other – which is why they are visualised as a pyramid. The lowest two types of needs form the base of the pyramid and therefore are labelled as basic needs. If those needs are not fulfilled, then the other needs higher on the pyramid are not present or felt. Belonging and love as well as esteem needs are so-called psychological needs and stem from social interaction with others and living in society. Self-actualisation needs are the tip of the pyramid and are also referred to as self-fulfillment needs. They only occur if all the other needs placed lower on the pyramid are fulfilled.
This is why I said above that basic needs like food or safety are not that important for people living in developed countries anymore because they are pretty much a given. Going back to the example of people buying guns one can actually better understand how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs works: guns in their basic form give people a sense of safety, so they fulfill the second lowest kind of needs (safety needs). But they also give people the feeling that they are able to protect their families and communities with and that they, by buying a gun, suddenly belong to a chosen circle of people who are important for others, so fulfilling needs of belonging. It could stop there, but does it? Why do you think that people then start to kit our their guns and rifles with lights, lasers, better triggers, red dot / holographic sights or LPVOs which gives them the opportunity of engaging a “target” up to several hundred meters or let them paint their weapons in expensive Cerakote designs? And most importantly: why do you think people make pictures of their guns and rifles and share them with others, even strangers?
It’s not only weapons: fashion, fitness, travel, and pretty much every single consumer product category you can think of. Social media, which started as a way of fulfilling needs of belonging and love, has nowadays become a way of tackling esteem needs. The whole concept of a selfie is a crystal clear manifestation of these esteem needs. Because as soon as someone reaches the tip of the pyramid, he or she doesn’t care about what other people think anymore, they just want to reach their own goals and feel like they achieved something great which doesn’t depend on other people’s opinions.
In other words: starting with sports because your doctor told you that you are too fat and that you will die in a few years if you continue the way you life, that’s based on physiological and safety needs. Starting sports because you want to spend more time with certain people, that’s based on belonging and love needs. Starting sports because you want to look good and show your abs on Instagram, that’s based on esteem needs. And starting sports because you want to become the best and fittest version of yourself without anyone noticing or knowing, that’s based on self-fulfillment needs. It’s completely possible that things we as humans do is based on several needs a once.
Car manufacturers are especially good at knowing what their buyers’ needs are and placing themselves within one of Maslow’s hierarchy levels:
- Dacia fulfills the absolute baseline need of getting from A to be B. That’s it.
- Volvo always was about getting you (and others) from A to B in the safest way possible.
- The Toyota Prius wasn’t as successful as it was only because it was one of the first hybrid cars, but because it let anyone around you know that you drive a Prius and an environmentally friendly car exactly because the way it looked. If Toyota would have made the Prius look like any other car, then it would not have worked as well. I’d actually say that the Prius was a success because it looks so ugly and not despite it.
- Mercedes, Bentley, Rolls Royce amongst others sell you cars that boost your esteem levels because everyone knows that you drive a car that’s obviously more prestigious than others.
- Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and – on the other end of the price spectrum – also MINI not only boost your esteem levels, but they go a step further and offer you something more: the opportunity to be unique, to co-create something that expresses your personality (by customisation) and that let’s you feel like you achieved something for yourself.
I’m sure you realised by now that the question of where on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs your customers’ needs which your products or services try to fulfill can be placed also has a significant influence on the pricing of what you offer. Basic needs are – indeed – basic, don’t really offer much room for differentiation, need to be solved quickly, convenient and therefore also cheap. If your products and services only fulfill basic needs, then you are and always will compete with others by the price level of your offerings. The higher the needs of your customers are placed on Maslow’s pyramid, the less price plays a role in their buying decisions and the more money you can ask. That’s probably one of the most important lessons you should take away from this article.
Offering and presenting your car care services in different packages, ranging from a basic and quick wash and wax up to a full interior and exterior detail, polish and protection bundle, is a typical expression of trying to offer something for all types of customers and their different needs. But in my personal opinion, this doesn’t go far enough and just shows that you are copying what everyone else is doing without understanding why they are doing it. Because at the end of the day, these kind of packages all address the same basic need, which is getting a car as clean as possible. And in fact, what you are telling your (potential) customers is that they only get their car as cleans as their budget allows. If we are honest, that’s quite a negative way of telling your customers what they can get from you. Which is why I want to encourage you to try harder, find out what your (potential) customers’ needs really are, try and think of different ways of addressing those needs, and how you can communicate your offerings in a way that your customers can actually see that you know what their needs are – and that you have the perfect solution to fulfill their needs.
If you’re really interested in marketing, if you want to really learn about it so that you can make a difference for your own business, then the one thing I want you to ask is to be better than all the other guys out there who just copy-paste the list (and pricing) of services all the others guys in your area do and start thinking about what you can actually do to create value for your customers. And if you do that based on people’s needs it should become obvious to you that getting the cars of your customers as clean as possible as quick as possible for the least amount of money is only half the story. There are so many other needs which could result in people wanting that you detail their cars which do require different offerings from your side.
So, make sure you know what your customers’ needs are, which one of them you can and want to fulfill, tailor your offerings accordingly and then – most importantly – market them to the people that actually care about them. And this is what we look at in the next paragraph.
3. Why pricing isn’t important: Marketing strategy
Let’s go back to the detailing industry and let’s assume you run a (mobile) detailing business. I’m sure that you also have realised that a lot of discussions amongst detailing professionals in Facebook groups and forums are about the pricing of the services they offer. In the following, I hope to be able to explain to you why I personally think that pricing isn’t and shouldn’t be important to you, that if you are competing with others based on prices you’re doing something wrong, and that you don’t have to compete with others by prices if you have understood the basics of a marketing strategy.
If we once again look at the car industry and focus on their pricing, then it’s rather interesting what one can observe. There are brands which just try to offer the cheapest car possible, e.g. Suzuki, Dacia, Daewoo or Daihatsu – one could get the feeling that a car whose brand name starts with D hast to be cheap… Then there is a large part of brands which offer cars at pretty much the same price levels: Ford, GM, Opel / Vauxhall, GM, VW, Toyota, Nissan, Renault, Peugeot, Hyundai, … and then there are just a few brands which are able to charge higher prices: Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, …
It gets even more interesting if we have a closer look at those brands and their competitive position. Would you be able to tell me within a few seconds how cars from Daewoo and Daihatsu differ? What about Opel and Ford? Hmmm, Renault and Peugeot, then? You see, most of those brands who compete on a similar price level aren't that different from each other. But let’s look at the higher price spectrum of the car market. Can you name some differences between Mercedes and BMW? Porsche and Ferrari? I think it should become easier for most of you and this is based on these manufacturers’ abilities to differentiate themselves and their offerings from others.
And this is why I told you above that the pricing of your offerings are not actually that important and why it also shouldn’t be that important for you. If you are that guy in a Facebook group asking about how to find the right pricing of your offerings or complaining that your competitors are offering detailing services for ridiculously low prices, then what you are actually saying is that you are still competing with them over prices and that you were not able up until now to differentiate your services to a point where it doesn’t matter how much you charge because to (potential) customers, you offer exactly the same thing as the next guy.
In other words: if you ever heard the sentence “I have a guy that does it for less than you” from a potential customer, then you have all the hints in the world that you are doing a poor job at explaining people what it is you do and why it is different than what the other guys and girls are doing.
Above, I told you that human needs are the baseline for all marketing activities. Understanding what your (potential) customers’ needs are only allows you to create and offer what people are actually looking and craving for. But that’s only the base for everything else that follows in marketing, as much as food and water are just the basic human needs. It doesn’t stop there.
Because as soon as you have identified what your potential customers are looking for, you’ll start to realise that there most likely are too many people in the world which you could potentially serve with your (detailing) offerings. And this is where the concept of “S-T-P” comes into play: segmentation, targeting, positioning.
3a Segmentation: group your potential customers
Segmentation means that you try to divide the whole market, so all people all around the globe who could, would and should benefit from your offerings, into meaningful segments. Meaningful is the important part to remember here because in theory you could use any characteristic of people to divide them into segments. You could e.g. divide them into Coke and Pepsi drinkers. Or meat eaters and vegetarians. Or gun lovers and gun haters. But would that really help you in deciding which ones you want to reach with your offerings?
That’s why segmentation sounds easy and straightforward in the first place, but is actually rather hard to do in reality. Remember this step forms the foundation for all other following decisions you will have to make in regards to your marketing strategy. If you’re not doing segmentation right and don’t take it seriously, everything else you do afterwards will quickly start to fall apart – and then you’re back to the drawing board and/or blaming others.
The single most important aspect of segmentation is that you try to divide the market into homogeneous segments, meaning that all people within one segment are rather similar in their respective characteristics. And that’s why simple segmentation's by just one characteristic usually don’t work and pay off. If you e.g. segment people by their gender, or their age, or their profession you end up with segments which are (a) still too large to effectively work with and (b) still to heterogeneous to tailor your marketing efforts to them.
It’s not my job to do this segmentation process for you, but I still want to provide you with some simple guidelines and tips on how to do it:
- Usual segmentation criteria when it comes to people are: age, gender, nationality, political / religious beliefs, region of living, level of experience, household income, …
- As a mobile or stationary detailer, at least some sort of geographical segmentation criteria will most likely be necessary. It’s extremely cool if your detailing company in Dubai has such a good reputation that guys fly their cars over to you, but this most likely will not be an appropriate strategy to follow for you. However, don’t set your geographical area of business too narrow because I personally think that you don’t want to miss out on opportunities just because someone is located outside the city your are currently living or working in.
- What you are doing and offering has something to do with cars. And when it comes to cars, people usually “segment” themselves which could make your job easier. There are countless car clubs based on interest (outdoor, off roading, track days, …), brands, tuning, car meets, … try to think which ones of those groups could actually be interested in (your) detailing services. In fact, trying to find market segments which do form by themselves is one of the most effective ways of going on about segmentation, because these kind of groups can (but don’t have to) be extremely homogeneous.
- A good starting point for the market segmentation for a (mobile) detailing service in my opinion would be to think about archetypical car owner types: the Millionaire hyper car and super car collector who doesn’t have time to look after his cars’ detailing needs but wants them to look perfect when he takes them out; the casual Cars & Coffee goer who wants his car to look shiny when he takes it to a meet but doesn’t really care about its state the rest of the year; the sales women who drives a company car that needs to look good when she visits potential customers; the tuner guy who wants his car to outshine all others at the next parking lot meet or for his Instagram channel; the guy who is interested in detailing his own car but is completely new to it and wants to learn it from someone else; …
It all goes back to finding out about your (potential) customers’ needs: if you know what those needs are, you should be able to come up with a meaningful market segmentation. And this then is the basis for all your next marketing steps because if you were able to form homogeneous market segments, then it will be much, much easier to come up with marketing instruments to actually reach those people – because they are alike. And that’s the reason why we are following a segmentation approach. If you find yourself jumping from one marketing instrument to the next without knowing which ones actually work at reaching which people, then it’s time to start with segmentation!
In that respect, advertising your (mobile) detailing services in detailing-related Facebook groups or forums shows a shocking level of ignorance for the basics of marketing: why would you offer to detail the car of a person that is in a group that is all about detailing your own car? It’s the same as going to a cooking class and offering there to deliver pizza. Be smarter than that!
One important note: segmentation does not mean that you already decide which segments you actually want to serve with your offerings. Quite the opposite: you do segment the market so that you know which segments of potential customers there are because maybe there is a segment of people who you never thought of before but could be quite lucrative for you; because you also want to know which segments you don’t want to serve which acts as a guiding line the next time you come up with the feeling that you need to just take on every job there is; and you maybe find segments which could be interesting for you but don’t quite fit your current setup, yet, meaning you could try starting to work towards also serving that segment in the future.
3b Targeting: choose your customers
In this respect, once you've segmented the market, it’s then time to decide which of those segments you actually want to reach. This step and process is called targeting. As you probably have realised, targeting comes down to an actual decision by you: the decision of which market segments you want to serve with your detailing business. In general and according to marketing literature, business related (buying) decisions can be divided in four types:
- Impulsive (buying) decisions are based on gut feel and intuition. Those decisions usually and mostly refer to low price items and can be highly emotional – not a good idea for something that drives your whole marketing efforts in the future.
- Habitual (buying) decisions are based on positive past experiences and countless repetitions. If you’re a CocaCola or McDonalds guy and you never were disappointed by those brands, then you will automatically grab a Coke or steer to a McDonalds and not even think about getting a Pepsi or giving Burger King a try. These type of decisions usually and mostly affect often repeated buying processes like e.g. food and drinks, so they are also not really suitable for such an important decision as which customer groups your want to (exclusively) target with your business.
- Limited (buying) decisions are based on a limited number of known alternatives. They are usually not taken lightly and have some thought behind it, but mostly come up in situations in which the number of known alternatives is given by outside circumstances. So in a situation in which you decide your business’ marketing fundamentals, you’re usually not facing a fixed set of alternatives, as the mantra should be: everything is possible.
- Real (buying) decisions refer to highly analytical decisions based on numbers, facts, referrals, test results and so on. Emotions and impulses don’t really play a role in this type of decisions as they usually concern something that has a significant (financial) impact and this is what we are looking at when we talk about targeting.
I not only told you this because of the targeting decision you have to make, but also in order for you to understand what type of buying decisions your (potential) customers make. This is relevant for you because if we e.g. talk about a simple wash and wax offering of yours, it’s more likely that your customers will follow an impulsive buying decision and “give you a try”. But this will only work for the cheaper offerings within your service range and in order for you to trigger such a decision, emotions play an important part. However, if we talk about a whole detailing process from A to Z including a polish and protection regime, then we talk about an expensive service and therefore your customers will also be faced with a limited or real buying decision in which you’ll have to make sure to give them the information they need to make the right decision – which is going with you.
A very simple instrument to base your targeting decision on is called a utility analysis. There are countless templates for that on the internet, but what you are basically doing is writing down all the important aspects for you (e.g. willingness to pay, amount of cars, size of cars, number of repeated business opportunities, amount of detailing products needed to do the job, …), you then assign each of those aspects with a importance rating (e.g. from 1 to 5), and then you rate all the alternatives (market segments) you are facing also with a number (e.g. from 1 to 5). You then simply multiply the importance rating with the number you gave an alternative for every aspect you wrote down, add up all the numbers and then end up with a total number / rating for each alternative (market segment). Logically, the ones with the highest ratings are the ones you should choose to serve.
At some point, you’ll have to realise that you simply can’t serve the whole market, meaning you can’t wash and detail everyone’s car – at least you can’t do that on your own. And this is why you have to segment and then target potential customer groups. Don’t be that guy that just blindly promotes his detailing services in any car- or detailing-related group or forum and don’t just throw business cards at everyone at a parking lot. It’s annoying, it probably is against some group rules or laws, and it most importantly shows that you have not done your job right when it comes to the basics of marketing. Because what you are actually saying by doing this is that you will just take any customer and do anything detailing-related, no matter what. And this, if put like this, probably doesn’t sound attractive anymore and is not the type of image you want to associate yourself with, is it?
3c Positioning: make yourself unique
Do you think Paul Daulton from Miracle Detail aka the guy who made the most expensive car wax in Swissvax’es lineup, Paul Dolden from Paul Dolden Details aka the funny and relaxed guy from YouTube, Jim White from White Details aka the guy with the incredibly clean and bright detailing workshop or Larry Cosilla from AMMO NYC aka the guy with the world’s largest detailing channel on YouTube who details the most expensive cars in the world really and permanently have to bargain on their prices based on customers stating that the next guy is doing it cheaper?
Above, we came to the conclusion that it is far easier to differentiate Mercedes from BMW or Porsche from Ferrari than it is with Peugeot and Renault. This is because those brands were able to significantly and permanently differentiate their offerings in a meaningful way for potential customers. Once again, meaningful is important here, because it is perfectly possible to differentiate your (mobile) detailing business in a way that is completely irrelevant to – or even worse: negative for –customers. I don’t think you want to be the guy that cleans cars and smells of garlic while doing it…
A Mercedes offers the highest levels of comfort and the brand is the leader when it comes to product innovations which then become a standard in the industry. A BMW offers driving dynamics unmatched to any other car in its class (or that’s what is was like until a few years ago). A Porsche offers extremely high quality and performance that matches much, much more expensive cars. And a Ferrari, even if it isn’t red, offers an unparalleled emotional experience regarding design, sound and performance. But more importantly, those aspects are well known by pretty much everyone, not only people who are interested in cars as those brands have established a very, very clear image so that potential customers know what they can expect even if they never drove one of those cars.
This kind of brand image will be very difficult to achieve for you as a (mobile) detailing business and it also takes a long time. But the basic premise of positioning is the same for you as it is for BMW, Mercedes, Porsche or Ferrari: you look at the market as a whole, find out what all the others are offering, choose a market spot in which no one else is operating in, then go for that gap and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Finding a market gap in which no one else is operating in and actually differentiate yourself based on that gap is hard. Really hard. As you not only have to find that gap in the first place, but you then not only will have to try and communicate to potential customers that this gap exists, but also that you successfully occupied that space. And as we discussed above, that differentiation also has to be important for potential customers. The understated but high performing image of Porsche works for the German car maker because their customers actually like it. They can drive to a business meeting with their grey 911 and arrive there in style and happy with the experience, but the car doesn’t draw a lot of attention to it and is broadly accepted. A bright yellow or red Ferrari that can be heard from 30 miles away will not be able to deliver on that need – again, it’s needs we are talking about – but on the other hand will give people who are looking for it the most emotional experience possible as well as looks by bystanders – because that’s what Ferrari customers want, along with the much higher degree of exclusivity the brand offers compared to Porsche.
Again, I’m not here to develop your marketing strategy for you, but a good starting point for your differentiation strategy could be one of the following aspects:
- The products you use: Are they over-the-counter detailing supplies everyone can get in the local hardware store or are they exclusive, new, cool, good looking, nice smelling (if the customer is with you when you detail your car) products from local manufacturers of whom you can tell a story?
- The service experience: Do your customers just deliver their cars to you or do you just pop by and then work on them and give them back when you’re done or is the detailing process some sort of an experience your customers can take part in? Are you sending your customers pictures or even videos of what you do along the way?
- Just the Big Mac, not the whole menu: I’m sure you have come across those incredibly detailed and horrendously over complicated tables of service offerings, bundles and their prices by detailing business and mobile valeters. The fact that you’re into detailing strong enough to actually wanting to make a business out of it shows me that you should know that detailing is called detailing because it always just starts with a hand wash and always ends up in a three-stage correction and polish job including the application of some sort of protection in the end. Isn’t it frustrating detailing a customer’s car and not refreshing its faded black plastic trim parts? Or not adding a nice carnauba wax to that beautiful single stage red paint? Or having to work with glazes instead of properly removing paint defects? So why can’t you e.g. be the guy that only offers one detailing service and this service always includes everything for a fair price? It would incredibly simplify your offering, customers would understand that they get everything possible out of a detail job and you would never have to ask yourself “should I do this or do I leave it as it is because the customer didn’t pay for it”.
- The purple cow: Are you exactly like the next guy in everything you do or do you bring something truly unique and special to the experience for your customers? Is there something about you and your service that only you can do?
- The extra mile: I know this one is controversial amongst detailers as you can’t and shouldn’t do more than the customer is actually paying for, as it creates an upward spiral of higher and higher expectations and wrong expectations amongst potential new customers, but one way to truly differentiate yourself from others could for example be that you go over the car with your customer after you’re done, show him or her what you have done and what you haven’t but could have done. Imagine e.g. handing your customer a list of things that you could do next time (refresh plastic trims or tires, add a wax, apply a glass sealant, clean exhaust tips, remove deep scratches, …) with a rough estimation of prices so that he has something to think about and gets the feeling that you really really had a look at his car. Or imagine if you would check the tire pressures of your customers’ cars and either pump them up or tell the customer if you find that they don’t have enough pressure in them. Or you make your customer aware that their tires are too old. Or that one of their lights isn’t working properly. It’s the little things that count and when it comes to cars, there are so many things we as detailers can do!
- Adding additional value to the customer: Above, we talked about needs and that not all people who let you detail their cars are actually only looking at getting their cars clean. Have you ever thought about partnering up with someone who follows you along the way and makes a video of you detailing your customers’ cars so that you then can use those videos for your own channels and/or can give those videos to your customers for their respective social media channels (esteem needs)? Have you ever thought of offering a training course in which your customers clean their car together with you and learn everything that’s important in car care, including a starter set of products you chose for them that you can hand them over when you are done? Have you ever thought of offering consulting services for detailing beginners which include that you build a starter set together with them?
One aspect that is extremely important in differentiation is that you try and find something that makes you unique that others can’t simply copy. Real competitive advantages and truly long-term differentiation success is based on some degree of ownership of the one thing that makes you special. A lot of other cars are red, low, loud and look amazing, but only Ferrari combines all those things in the way they do, also based on their racing history and the whole brand image. So handing over flowers to your female customers when they pick up their cars is a nice gesture, but is it really something that only you can do?
Another important factor within the differentiation step is to realize that your competitors are not just the ones you know about. In this respect, the so-called “five forces analysis” by Michael E. Porter can help you understand the competitive forces that drive your industry better. Porter said that there are five important competitive forces in each industry:
- The direct competition within the industry itself, meaning all the other (mobile) detailers in your region.
- Bargaining power of suppliers, in our case meaning the potential power suppliers of everything you need to detail can have over you. This includes water, manufacturers of pressure washers and detailing supplies. Now, I personally think that the competition amongst detailing manufacturers is too fierce that one single manufacturer could have serious bargaining power over you, so that’s not necessarily a competitive threat you have to watch out.
- Threat of new market entrants, meaning new guys and girls who start a (mobile) detailing business. In my opinion, this threat is serious as it doesn’t really take anything to start a detailing business. You just decide to start one and boom – you’re ready to go. There’s no formal education in detailing, there’s hardly any standardised detailing schools, so the threat of new entrants is imminent, especially as there are almost no entry barriers into the market. But once again: the more unique you become, the less you have to fear for this threat.
- Threat of substitutes, because let’s face it: there are a lot of substitutes for your services: automated car washes, YouTube detailing channels which educate people on how to do it themselves, detailing services by car dealerships, … So again, it is your job to create a totally unique service experience for which there is no substitute. This includes creating the offer as much as educating (potential) customers about what makes your offerings unique.
As you should have realised by now, every single step to develop a marketing strategy I just told you about – finding your customers’ needs, segmenting the market into customer groups, target specific groups, and then create differentiated offerings for them – massively helps you. If you know your customers true needs, you are able to develop offerings that exactly serve those needs. In the best case scenario, you are the only one who identified these needs and the only one offering a solution for those needs. By segmenting the market, you know exactly which customer groups there are and which offerings could serve those groups as a whole – because within those groups, potential customers show similar needs. By targeting specific customer groups, you are not wasting time running around and just trying to market your services to everyone. And by differentiating yourself and your business, you are making yourself indispensable, you are reducing the risk that new market entrants or substitutes are a danger to your business and – most importantly – you will not have to compete with others over prices. And that’s the real beauty of a successfully formulated and executed marketing strategy and it’s why I told you in the beginning that marketing is not just about selling stuff. It’s also about developing an idea of what you want to offer to whom in the first place.
4. Execute your plan: the 4 Ps
After you successfully identified customer needs and customer segments as well as which ones you want to actually offer your services to and how you can make your offerings unique, the journey of telling people about all of this starts. In this regard, the straightforward model of the 4Ps or “marketing mix” can help you in not forgetting about important aspects within the execution of your marketing strategy:
- Product (or service): what is it you offer?
- Price: how much are you asking for it?
- Place: where do you offer it?
- Promotion: how do you tell people about it?
The model was further developed over time and additional Ps were added by some authors, but we will stick to the simple base model for now. What’s important for you is to remember that potential customers will want to know about the first three Ps, meaning what you offer, how much they have to pay for it, and where they can get it. Those three aspects should always be a part of your communication efforts.
However, that doesn’t mean that all those aspects always have to come together on all marketing instruments you use. We often talked about prices and pricing within this article and that it shouldn’t be important for you. Now, of course you do need to have a pricing in place and at some point, you will need to tell your customers about prices. But is it really that important to include the prices on a flyer or business card on which there is limited space available, anyhow? And wouldn’t that automatically mean that you are competing with others over prices all over again?
Regarding your product and/or service offerings, you should be aware of the so-called “life cycle stages”. In short, this model tells you that almost all products and services (with a handful of exceptions) go through different stages of interest by the market and that, at some point, people start to lose interest in them or that new technology steps in. Why do you think that Apple introduces a new iPhone every year? Why do you think that car manufacturers present facelifts of their models after just 2-4 years? Be mindful about the life cycle of your offerings and don’t think that once you established an offering you’re done for life. In fact, I personally think that a lot of struggles by detailers can be explained by this model because some (older) guys start to become sceptical about everything new at some point, are not willing to try new stuff and therefore could end up in a situation in which their offerings are completely outdated. Think about the development from waxes to sealants to ceramic coatings, in that respect.
If you have difficulties determining the prices for your offerings, then there are three simple and easy way to find a price for any product or service:
- You calculate the costs it takes to offer a service and then add a win margin on top.
- You estimate the willingness to pay of customers
- You look at what your competitors do
In reality, all three aspects will play a more or less important role in determining the prices for your detailing service offerings. However, and as stated many times above, it should not be that vital to you what your competitors are doing. And it especially shouldn’t be your strategy to just be the cheapest guy around because that usually doesn’t end well.
Two additional aspects regarding pricing strategy that may help you and are actually quite handy are price discrimination and price psychology. Price discrimination describes that you create different prices for different customers or customer groups. If you decide to do this, it’s extremely important that such a price discrimination is not perceived as unfair by the different customer groups and that there isn’t a way for customers to circumvent it. You could for example think about a special “lady’s week” in which female customers get a special price for your detailing services including a nice add-on like a massage or pedicure by a specialist you partner up with while you detail their cars or a gift box by a (local) cosmetics company you can start working with. Or you could offer detailing cars in the evening or at night if customers only have time then for an additional charge.
Price psychology e.g. comes into play when we look at large numbers and only really care about the first one. This means it is better to charge 499 instead of 500 because customers then somehow feel that the actual price is closer to 400 than 500. It’s the same effect when we split up large numbers into several rates – the whole concept of leasing is built on that effect. So instead of stating your service package with 500 over 499, you could also say it’s 100 or 99 per hour and then include that the service takes 5 hours. But remember: marketing is not about lying, so always be fair and don’t push the limits of what’s perceived as fair when it comes to those aspects.
If you’re not a mobile detailer, keep in mind that the place you are working at also has an effect on how you, your business and your brand can be perceived by potential customers. I’m absolutely aware that not everyone has the money to invest into his or her dream detailing shop right from the beginning, but I also think that there are cheap and effective ways of creating a nice, presentable, clean, cosy and unique place in which it is not only nicer for you to work in, but also nicer for your customers to come and pick their cars up. Your detailing shop in fact offers such an incredibly high potential for differentiation strategies based on your customers’ needs you found out about. Would I take it too far by saying that if you are mainly focusing your efforts on detailing cars from JDM and tuning fanatics that it is highly likely that they are also into gaming or Japanese culture and cuisine? And wouldn’t it be fantastic if you had a corner in your detailing shop in which your customers could try out the newest games and game consoles or have LAN parties in while you are detailing their cars? Or if you would partner up with someone who always wanted to open up a Ramen kitchen?
If you are a mobile detailer, then you of course have less influence on the actual space you are detailing your customers’ cars. But then again, the state of your own car or detailing van becomes much, much more important. Plus, there are ways in which you can create a special occasion and experience for you and your customer even if you are mobile. In this respect, I urge you to become creative on your own and think of ways to decorate your mobile detailing environments so that – once again – you and your services become unique. If I would e.g. call my detailing business “The King of the Jungle Mobile Detailing”, then I would definitely go on and get myself a set of artificial flowers I can place, work with Dodo Juice’s Rainforest Rub and place a few soft toy animals on my gazebo. And if I would name myself the “Detailing Samurai”, I would try to bring a bonsai, samurai armor statue and other stuff along to create that special occasion that could set me apart. Because even if my customers would not be around to see it, pedestrians passing by maybe would. And if they take pictures of me and my stuff and then post it on social media, I just benefited from free advertising.
Regarding the promotion of your services I can’t tell you what can and will work for you. What I can definitely tell you is that just posting on Instagram and Facebook is not advertising and is not marketing! It’s the lazy and modern way of posting an ad in a newspaper and then waiting for customers to come along. It doesn’t work that way, neither in detailing, nor in any other business. In general, you’ll have to think about four main aspects when it comes to promotion:
- Success measurement
We’ll start at the end of that list because this is something almost everyone gets wrong. If you don’t measure the success of different marketing measures you take, then you will never be able to focus on the ones that actually work for you. And today, it has never been easier to measure success in marketing as you can e.g. work with different coupons and codes which customers can type in when they register for a detailing job on your homepage. So, no matter what you do, measure what works and what doesn’t!
The message(s) you choose is (are) the most important aspect of every promotional activity. And it needs to be in line with everything we talked about so far: your customers’ needs, the segments you target and your differentiation strategy. In the end, the message(s) you communicate is (are) what makes all the other prior steps tangible and visible, which is why it is extremely difficult to come up with messages that work. But don’t worry, that accounts for you as much as for big brands, as well. General tip here: less is more. We all tend to try and stuff too many things into marketing messages as we normally think that there is so much that we do different or better than others. Even if that would hold true, customers can not comprehend this much information and more importantly they probably also don’t care. They don’t care if the Ferrari 488’s engine is a quadrillion times more efficient and a world war II tank more powerful than the 458’s. And they also didn’t care about Ferrari’s incredible achievement that it really didn’t felt like a turbocharged engine. What they did care about was that it didn’t sound as good as before. It all boils down, again, to your customers’ needs. And if you followed this article closely and did your homework, it should actually be comparably easy for you to come up with your main marketing message, because it needs to address the main need(s) of the customer group(s) you targeted as well as what makes you different.
Regarding channels and formats it’s a bit simpler: choose what works for you, what you can afford and what suits your message. It doesn’t make sense if you really really want to advertise on a large detailing forum if the only thing they offer are banner advertisements, but there is no way you can transport your main message with a banner ad.
Also, have you realised that if you ask within a Facebook group about marketing tips that all you get are tips on which channels you should use? And that most of the times, Facebook pops up in those tips? Wonder why that is the case? Well, if you visit an ice cream shop and ask what’s the best dessert is, what do you think that they will tell you? If you go to a Ferrari track day and ask which is the best track day car, would you wonder why Ferrari pops up most often?
In fact, those kind of Facebook discussions where the reason why I wrote this article, as I really had the feeling that all those discussions didn’t reached far enough. As you should have realised by now, marketing is much, much more than just choosing channels. More precisely, the decision about which channels you should use to market your services is one of the least important ones when you derive a whole marketing strategy.
Moreover, one very important aspect a lot of people forget about when they suppose that you (solely) use channels like Facebook, Instagram or Yelp is that you are relying your whole marketing strategy on others because those channels are run and owned by others. And I’m not only talking about the companies actually hosting those online channels, I am also talking about admins of Facebook groups, opinion leaders and top posters within those groups, experts in SEO, …
So, my advice when it comes to choosing marketing channels always was, still is and will always be: try to build your own channels which you own. What if you completely rely your whole marketing strategy on Facebook ads and Facebook postings and this social network suddenly decides to totally abandon ads? What if the group you rely on so heavily suddenly closes or you get kicked out? It is way better to try and think about channels you can create and grow on your own. Yes, this is much harder, will take more time and money, but those channels then belong to you. You control them, you decide about their faith, and you – once again – have something in your hands that makes you unique. Why don’t you e.g. try to set up a legendary car wash event in your region? Why don’t you try to partner up with local business owners so that your business card or poster can be found in every store and shop where you live and work?
Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Google SEO and others are great ways to attract customers. But they should never ever be your only way and channel of marketing! They should be an add-on, the icing on your cake.
5. Your secret weapon: customer satisfaction
The beautiful thing about detailing is that the results and the quality of your work (can) speak for themselves. In this respect, detailing is much like cooking: if you’re doing it good, you will definitely know it by the reaction of your customers. However, from a business perspective, there’s actually much more behind customer satisfaction than the reaction from customers to one single time working with you. To better understand this, let’s talk about the so-called “Kano model”.
In essence, the Kano model states that there are three types of needs or requirements customers have when they rate and review your work or products:
- Basic needs are the ones that have to be fulfilled. In a restaurant, those could be that the place (including toilets) is clean, that the waiters and waitresses are friendly, that the food is warm, etc. Those basic needs have to be fulfilled because otherwise customers will experience severe dissatisfaction. However, if they are fully fulfilled, they will never lead to satisfaction because customers basically expect them to match their expectations. In that respect, customers theoretically know that those requirements exist, but they are not conscious about them until they are not fulfilled.
- Performance needs follow a simple rule: the more, the better. In a restaurant, those things could be the size of meals you get, the space you have on your table and between tables, the general atmosphere, someone quietly playing the piano, or the waiting time (in this case: less is better). The more of those requirements are fulfilled, the more satisfied a customer is, the less of those are met, the more dissatisfied a customer is. It’s a simple equation and customers are also actually aware for those needs, as those requirements are generally known as widely accepted. If you would write a review about anything and include a star rating of certain aspects, those aspects would most like be such performance needs.
- Delighters are things which customers don’t know about and don’t expect. In this respect, if they are missing, then customers are not dissatisfied. However, and because such aspects come as a positive surprise, they can lead to astronomical satisfaction levels. In a restaurant, such things could be extremely creatively arranged food platters, free extra food tastings, waiters and waitresses singing “Happy Birthday”, and so on.
I think it’s rather obvious what requirements of customers are perceived as basic needs and performance needs when it comes to professional detailing jobs. If they let someone else clean and detail their car, they want it to be clean – end of story. So, things like white polish or wax residue on plastic and rubber trims, a spot you missed while washing the lower parts of the cars, streaking from the protective product you applied and similar mistakes will lead to massive dissatisfaction levels. People who give you their cars believe to give it to a professional and expect corresponding results. That’s why it is e.g. so incredibly important that you don’t start offering to apply ceramic coatings if you have never done if before or as a mobile detailer working outside, as there are just too many things that could go wrong.
Delighters are the aspects which are most likely suitable to create the kind of differentiation that we talked about above. They surprise your customers, they set you apart, they make you special, helping you to further differentiate yourself from others – see how it all comes together? The main issue here is, as discussed before, that you have to watch out that you don’t permanently give customers something that they don’t pay for. I think it’s important to try and walk a fine line between finding delighters that work for you but don’t ruin you business-wise. If a customer e.g. is only paying for a simple wash procedure, it would be complete overkill if you polish it and apply a ceramic coating. But if you would just go for a quick and easy to use quick detailer or spray wax or even a paste wax with some filling capabilities that is applied in under ten minutes, this may be something that would positively surprise and delight your customers. And now we are only talking about detailing-related stuff, as there are so many more things and ideas on how you could surprise your customers.
Do you know why all of this is so important? And why it is more important today than it ever was before? Because we have the internet, and because we have social media. People have always talked with each other about their positive or negative experiences with products, brands or services. But today, those experiences can be shared with thousands and even millions of others in a matter of seconds. And this is why you should care about customer satisfaction. Yes, unhappy customers can mean serious harm to your business. But even more so, satisfied customers can, should and will be your secret weapon in your marketing arsenal, because they will be willing to talk to others about their experiences – without you even asking them.
That’s why the quality of your work is the single most important piece of marketing instrument you as a (mobile) detailer have!
6. The fundamentals and unique aspects of service marketing
Everything we talked about so far would also hold true for products. But detailing is a service and not a product you offer. And services do have some unique characteristics compared to products which are important to know and consider. The four main aspects are:
- Intangibility: Services don’t have a physical form, meaning that you’re customers can not feel, touch or hold your detailing work, they can only see (and feel) the results of it. This also means that the ownership of services cannot be transferred, the actual value of services stems from consumption or experience with it, and most importantly that the quality of a service is difficult to almost impossible to evaluate prior to the actual consumption or purchase.
- Inseparability: The production and consumption of a service cannot be separated, unlike with physical products which can be produced at one time at one place by one person and can then be consumed at a different location at a different time by a different person. A service can only be produced and consumed at the same time at the same location by the same person. Services are therefore labour-intensive and cannot be (completely) automated and are therefore subject to human error.
- Perish-ability: Services are ephemeral because in contrast to physical products, services cannot be stored or inventoried. This means that services cannot be produced in advance and then be stored to work around fluctuations in demand. Unused capacity therefore can’t be reserved and creates high opportunity costs.
- Variability (or heterogeneity): Because services are usually performed by persons, they face (human) variation in their actual delivery. On the other hand, services are inherently variable in quality and substance and they can therefore be better tailored to individual customer needs. At the same time, service quality is and can be difficult to manage or standardise.
So, what does all of this mean for you and your detailing service. I think the main aspect to take into consideration here is that potential customers can’t really evaluate the quality of your work before they let you actually work on their cars. But you can help them with pictures and videos of your work, with the state of your own car when you first visit or meet them, and most importantly with reviews by prior customers. Encourage your customers who are happy with your work to share it with others, spread the word and therefore help you find new ones. Satisfied customers, especially repeated ones, are the single most valuable resource in marketing you have!
The other thing that I want you to keep in mind is that because you offer a service personally, meaning you as a single business owner are the one doing the job, everything you do is marketing! And I really really mean everything: the quality of your work, the way you treat and talk to or about customers, the way you write emails, the way your invoices look, the way you talk to people about your competitors, the way your own car looks, the things you write in Facebook groups, the stuff you have to say on economical, environmental, political or society-related topics, the products you use and what they stand for, the clothes you wear, … literally everything can and does have an effect on the perception of your brand.
If you think that’s stupid: it is! But it’s part of the game if you are a self-employed business owner and it (unfortunately) is the way the world works today. You are your own brand and you are inseparable from your work. You benefit from this circumstance if people like you and your personality, but you also suffer from it if people for example don’t like your political views when you express them on Facebook and you are friends with you customers.
7. Summary and main lessons
I know that this was a lot to swallow. Yes, I could have made it shorter and simpler, but then this blog post would have been one of those stupid “6 most important things for marketing a detailing business” articles which are just throwing random tips at you. Instead, I wanted to hand you in-depth tips and background information that actually provide you with the knowledge and information you need to come up with a marketing approach that actually works for you. This is based on my experience and strong belief that most times someone struggles with marketing it’s not because of the flyer design or wording of Facebook postings he or she does, but because of the lacking fundamentals: customers’ needs, market segmentation, targeting and positioning, understanding customer satisfaction, and the unique aspects of service marketing.
Let’s just quickly go through the main lessons from this article:
- Marketing is not just about selling (your) stuff. And it’s especially not selling (your) stuff to people that don’t actually need or want it. It should be the other way round, your job is to find out what people actually want and need, then create and offer something that fulfills their needs and then market it to them.
- Marketing is not about lying. As soon as you feel the need to stretch the truth or don’t say as it is – even if your competitors are doing it – I urge you to stop right there and start thinking again about the basics of your business: what is it that people actually want and need, how can I give it to them and how can I tell them about it. Lying isn’t and never was good business practice and will never be the base for long-term success.
- The base for all business and marketing decisions is finding out what your (potential) customers’ needs are. You probably started your detailing business on the wrong foot believing that it’s all about people wanting to have clean cars. I encourage and urge you to think about this underlying assumption of yours and really think about what drives people to seek help from professional detailers. Finding the true needs of your customers will be the foundation on which all your marketing activities will build on – which is why it needs to hold!
- Divide the market of people who need detailing services into homogeneous segments and then target specific segments. By doing so, it will become much, much clearer what you have to do to reach which people because those segments usually can be tackled with the same kind of marketing approach. You will become much more efficient with your marketing as soon as you find out which segments respond to which marketing instruments the best.
- Position yourself in a market space in which no one else is operating in. Make yourself and your offerings unique so that you are not offering the same things as everyone else, anymore. By doing so, you won’t have to compete with others by prices and you will not have to fear new market entrants as much anymore.
- Advertising your (mobile) detailing services in detailing-related groups or forums shows a shocking level of ignorance for the basics of marketing: why would you offer to detail the car of a person that is in a group that is all about detailing your own car? It’s the same as going to a cooking class and offering there to deliver pizza. Be smarter than that!
- If you are able to differentiate yourself and what you offer enough, then you don’t have to compete with others by prices anymore. Prices are only important if potential customers feel that you offer the exact same thing as the next guy.
- When executing your marketing strategy, you need to think about four things: product/service, price, place, promotion.
- Know the very basic requirements your customers have about your work and deliver on them. If you fail to do so, they will get extremely unhappy.
- Surprise and delight your customers, as this will lead to extreme satisfaction levels.
- The quality of your work and satisfied customers are the single most important pieces of marketing instruments you as a (mobile) detailer have: happy customers will tell others about you. For free!
- Everything you do is marketing: the quality of your work, the way you treat customers, the way you write emails, the way your invoices look, the way you talk to people about your customers and competitors, the way your own car looks, the products you use and what they stand for, … literally everything can and does have an effect on the perception of your brand.
I hope that you now feel empowered enough to go ahead and develop your own marketing strategy for your (mobile) detailing business.