Alaska Auto Rental created moving billboards by renting out its promotional vehicles to customers for $25 per day.
How do car rental operators market, advertise or promote their company to the local market?
Eleven operators share various tips that have helped get their company name out there — everything from traditional marketing (radio or TV advertisements) to social media contests to more out-of-the-box ideas like presetting radio stations in exchange for radio spots on local stations.
Free Radio Spots
Inspired by his son’s idea, Terry Taylor made a deal with local top 40 radio stations for free marketing: he would preset his rental cars’ radios to these select radio stations in exchange for free radio advertising.
“The No. 1 slot and No. 2 slot would be the top two local radio stations,” says Taylor, owner of Taylor Automotive Solutions in New Brunswick, Canada, a Discount Car and Truck Rentals licensee. “Their competitors wouldn’t even be programmed in the cars; the other preset radio stations would be public program stations like the CBC.”
So far, the marketing swap has equated to about $2,500 per month in free radio advertising for Taylor’s company, he says.
Neal Remz, a Budget licensee operator in El Paso, has used trade outs to create more local marketing opportunities. Working with the local minor league baseball team, Remz would provide the affiliated major league team with a mid-size rental car while the team was in town.
In exchange, the Budget licensee received two 30-second advertisements on every radio broadcast of the game (home and away), as well as a billboard in the stadium’s outfield.
Remz also traded services with a local radio station. In exchange for free radio advertisements, Remz provided a rental car to the radio station’s technician, who would come into town around three to four times a year.
“How long the technician had the car would determine how many radio spots we got,” says Remz. “I would provide the dialogue, and the radio station would produce an ad to air.”
Outdoor advertisement isn’t limited to billboards. Peter Chapman of Alaska Auto Rental turned his rental vehicles into moving billboards.
After rebranding the company, Alaska Auto Rental had no name recognition, according to Chapman. “In order to gain local visibility and name recognition, we created promotional vehicles covered with our logo and advertising that we offered to customers at discounted rates.”
Inspired by U-Haul, this advertising campaign was a win-win, says Chapman. Not only was Alaska Auto Rental getting great visibility, but customers liked receiving a discount on their rental car. A renter could rent a promotional vehicle for as low as $29 a day — compared to approximately $89 a day.
Effective Facebook Engagement
With social media becoming the new marketing buzzword, how can rental operators use it as an effective advertising tool?
For Gil Cygler of AllCar Rent-a-Car, it’s all about keeping interactive social media content and trying to engage local users. In fact, Cygler has had more marketing success creating an interactive Facebook page than buying banner ads on the Facebook page. “During the contest time, we have noticed more ‘likes’ on Facebook.”
As part of his company's marketing strategy, Matthew Holowinski provides Greenberg-branded towels in each of his rental trailers.
To create a stronger social media presence, AllCar has developed Facebook contests with a local flavor. “You want to do something of value where contest winners are local,” says Cygler.
With a grand prize of a three-day AllCar rental and a two-night stay at a local bed and breakfast, contestants entered by visiting AllCar’s Facebook page and signing up for AllCar’s newsletter. After AllCar chose the winner, the goal was to have that person take a picture in the rental car on the getaway and post it on AllCar’s social media pages, says Cygler.
For Jimmy Fitzpatrick, general manager of Leisure Car Rental in St. Martin, social media marketing wasn’t an overnight success. “We started using Facebook as a marketing tool in 2011. We continued to post updates but saw no results for a year.”
One day in 2012, a customer sent an email thanking Fitzpatrick and his team for their rental service. In the email, the customer included a photo, posing next to the rental car. With the customer’s permission, Fitzpatrick uploaded the picture and posted it on Leisure Car Rental’s Facebook.
Soon after, “customers started telling us that they found us on Facebook,” says Fitzpatrick. Now the company regularly posts photos of its customers with the rental cars.
Low Cost, High Impact Giveaways
Henk Tysma of California Baja Rent-A-Car gave customers a little something extra with their rental car purchase.
With each rental contract, customers would receive a pair of sunglasses. According to Tysma, the sunglasses would still have the price tag on them — these prices could range from $12.99 to $14.99.
To save money on the sunglasses, Tysma bought the sunglasses in bulk from large department stores. Since they were left over from the previous model year, the glasses would end up costing about $1.25 apiece, according to Tysma.
Targeted TV Ads
In October, each Alaska resident receives an annual $2,000 permanent fund dividend. Tom Prunty uses this as an opportunity to market his rental company’s “rent to own” program: “you get $2,000 in your pocket, come get a car from Alaska Car and Van Rentals …”
Prunty purchases television ads to reach the local Anchorage market. “If you commit to a six-month or year contract, the local television stations will produce the commercial for free,” he says.
Maps for Free
High Life Auto Rental put an advertisement in a local hotel's Phoenix map guide.
After advertising in a local hotel’s map guide, Cole Randall of High Life Auto Rental wanted to make a Phoenix map guide for his rental company customers.
Because advertisers paid for printing costs and distribution, no out-of-pocket expenses were needed to create a map guide for his company, says Randall.
“I had been looking for a good map to pass out to our customers, but the cost was very high,” says Randall. “This is perfect timing since the Super Bowl will be held here in Phoenix in February 2015.”
To gain more business in insurance replacement, Nick Mariano of Priceless Rent A Car created a referral rebate program.
If a referral results in a rental, the referral source receives 10% of the total rental fees. Because the average insurance replacement rental bill is $700 to $1,000, 10% could be as much as $100 for the referral source, according to Mariano.
So far, the program has been getting a good response. “We have taken two new referrals in the last two days: one from a body shop that never uses us and one from an insurance agent who hardly ever uses us,” says Mariano.
Online Sales Excitement
Andy Zay, owner of Zay Leasing & Rentals in Indiana, had an idea to showcase his vehicles as well as bring more traffic to his company’s social media sites.
Using the sites as a sales and liquidation tool, Zay set up reserve auctions to sell his rental vehicles. “Typically, you use a vehicle that’s a little stale. You put a premium price on the vehicle and maybe cut it about $100 per day until it sells. As you keep posting each day, more people will follow it as the price goes down.”
And as you post the decreasing prices, you can also post messages in-between, promoting other vehicles and getting your company name out there, says Zay.
Creative Branding Opportunities
For Matthew Holowinski, portraying the look and feel of his company is key to his marketing strategy. Whether it’s creating his company’s website or designing the rental trailers, Holowinski wants to make sure that Greenberg Rent A Camper’s branding looks professional.
To Holowinski, it’s about the details that give the premium trailers a personal touch. From creating posters to hang on the walls to providing guests with Greenberg-branded towels, he adds extra touches to each trailer.
He even adds a personal touch to his website — he will be adding his own photos and videos to Greenberg’s redesigned website.
Blogs: Cost-Effective Online Marketing Tool
Blogging may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about marketing strategies, but blogs are a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your website, especially if shared through your social media channels.
Stefan Jagot, social media coordinator for Bluebird Auto Rental Systems, recommends blogging about things happening in your local community — find topics outside of car rental. Start by blogging once a week and then find a regular pattern. Try to establish yourself as an “expert” in your industry, says Jagot.
“A blog is more about brand awareness than driving direct sales,” says Jagot. “Blogs can help get potential customers to your website to make the transactions.”