Car Wash Show’s Shiny, New Approach to Event Marketing

Author: Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes       

Car Wash Show

The Car Wash Show 2019 was International Carwash Association’s (ICA) largest show ever. (Benjamin Arthur Photography)

ICA set out to achieve three major objectives at The Car Wash Show 2019, held May 13–15 in Nashville: to deliver more qualified owners, managers, and decision makers from the car wash, quick lube, and detailing segments to the show floor, enhance an already positive show experience, and encourage earlier registrations while simultaneously decreasing the no-show rate. Here’s how International Carwash Association and mdg accomplished all three.

1. They put data in the driver’s seat.

To create a holistic picture of the show’s attendee trends, mdg reviewed years of registration data, a complex attendee database with thousands of reachable targets, and strategized among a dizzying number of ways to segment the audience. Leveraging all of these insights, the show team built a model that quantified target performance indicators, including registration page conversion rates, registration page traffic needed to maintain attendance goals, and click rates on emails, display ads, and websites.

2. Their creative approach took a different direction.

Instead of the car-centered approaches common to the industry, mdg developed a human-centered “journey” concept. Car washers say they love their profession because it’s a people business. Having a clean car gives customers a sense of pride — and the people who own, manage, and operate car washes feel that same sense of pride in their daily work. The creative campaign capitalized on that emotion and tied it to the show experience, with the event in Nashville as a “destination” at the end of the journey.

3. They were able to make quick turns.

The Car Wash Show applied the “agile” development philosophy to event marketing, starting with weekly, stand-up meetings rarely lasting more than 15 minutes (and when things were going well, just seven minutes). These cross-functional team “scrums” served to provide project status and roadblock updates, as well as to monitor performance against the digital model.

Instead of following a rigid framework for planning marketing tactics, the team responded in real time to actual data. For example, a promotional video on social media often runs for just two weeks, because that’s typically when it begins getting stale. In agile mode, the team is able to see when creative has staying power. For The Car Wash Show, one video ran for eight weeks — half of the entire campaign — because it never stopped performing efficiently and delivering clicks.

Whether following the agile model or not, quick check-ins on performance have proven to be an extremely useful way to raise questions, tackle problems, and develop cross-functional buy-in on tactics and strategy. For The Car Wash Show, it was simply the cleanest way to get the job done.

Written in collaboration with Jessica Burke, CAE, and Marc Blumer. Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is owner and president, Burke is account director, and Blumer is customer journey architect at mdg, a full-service marketing and public relations firm specializing in B2B events.

Going With the Flow

The Car Wash Show’s consumer-style approach to B2B marketing can seem risky to organizers who want to convey to prospects that their event will be professional and relevant. But ICA wanted something unique and chose to market the industry at an emotional level.

That campaign approach and its flow — a model based on data, followed by fresh creative, and executed using an agile approach — definitely moved the needle. Compared to the prior year’s performance, attendance was up nearly 10 percent, and the registration curve moved significantly earlier, with a much lower spike in bookings during the last week before the event and fewer no-shows than past years.

Attendees responded with Net Promoter Scores — measuring their willingness to recommend the show to others — that were well beyond expectations.