Last month I attended the More Bookings Direct conference in London, giving a talk on the importance of branding for the short-term rentals industry.
It was an honour, and an amazing learning curve for me. I met some incredible owners and managers who understand the importance of securing more direct bookings and came to share knowledge with peers.
I also learnt so much from our group of seasoned industry speakers:
Mark Simpson from Boostly kicked off the conference discussing Email Marketing and GDPR, Chris Maughn of I-PRAC discussed the importance of consumer confidence, Yvonne Halling of Bed and Breakfast Coach talked about social media, Phil Tester of Laurels Tech talked us through Google My Business – and how to set up a perfect GMB listing; Alan Egan of Vacation Soup talked around SEO and creating Mobile First websites, Deborah Labi of the Have You Got Network talked about the importance of industry collaboration and Moriya Rockman from Smiling House showed us how to get active and find new travel partners.
Damian Sheridan of SEO Connect organised the conference, and is already hard at work on future conferences that will be announced shortly.
Until then, I am sharing my presentation on The Power of a Consistent Brand. You can watch the video slides, or read the script below.
It’s a 20 minute presentation, so put some time aside, make a coffee and enjoy! Don’t forget I am here for questions and help with creating your own rental brand!
These days, we live in a world of infinite supply…
In just a few clicks, anyone can start a business. Anyone can create a product, build an online store, publish ads, and reach an audience.
This means that every market: our short-term rental market – is becoming flooded with businesses offering the same product, the same features, and solutions, as we do.
To stand out we need to develop a rental brand that our ideal guests connect with, and care about.
So what is a brand?
Many would say it’s their company name or logo. And that is one facet. A very important one, but a brand is so much more.
What do the experts say?
If we draw those three concepts together, we could conclude that a brand is the identity of your business, it’s your customer’s perception of your product and service, and how it makes them feel.
Brands are not instantaneous. And they can’t be forced. A brand crystalizes over time with constant and consistent actions and practices that you put out in the market.
When you deliver constant & consistent actions & practices, you end up creating perception. This is a result of a customer’s experience with your business. It’s highly pivotal in turning your business into a brand.
Brand perception starts with awareness and ends with loyalty.
What makes us choose one brand over another?
I guess there are a few brands above that we love… and some that we dislike?
Love isn’t a word that we tend to use in business. Some might argue that it’s too fluffy. Too soft.
But when we are discussing the acquisition and retention of clients. We DO want those potential clients to love us. To want to book with us. To want to return to stay with us.
So my first takeaway today is…
We only get love back, if we first put love into our business.
What love do we need to put into our business to develop a successful rental brand?
Patience: Building a brand takes patience. You need to maintain consistency to see positive results.
Attention to detail: You need to appreciate that every small detail and every guest interaction is important.
Client understanding: Understanding your customers aspirations is essential.
Care for the industry we work in: Giving back to the industry, understanding regulations, networking and sharing ideas with our peers all create positive brand perception.
Innovation & Creativity: It’s all about giving customers what they ‘don’t expect’. This builds interest and excitement, because we are choosing to be different. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just improve on the current design.
Our team: Your people. Because they are going to be your first brand ambassadors.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying. But how can becoming a brand help our business?”
Developing your business into a brand, will give you the edge with really important stuff like:
- Pricing power
- Customer loyalty
- It can lower our advertising costs
- And it will inspire your employees
Before we crack on with the four steps to help you make the leap from rental business to rental brand, it’s important to cover the importance of defining business values.
Defining business values
A successful brand focuses on both company and customer values.
In other words, we need to be both ‘us-centric’ and ‘customer-centric’. Our values should reflect who we want as brand ambassadors. It’s going right back to the ideal guest – targeting a niche not mass audience.
An us-centric business understands its core values and creates a business around those values. And in turn a customer-centric business knows how to turn those values into unique and memorable experiences for our ideal guests.
If we match our us-centric and customer-centric values together we can align them, and this starts to deliver brand perception.
The simple graphic below demonstrates how that works.
The overlapping elements are our aligned values. They are what we stand for and what our customers care about. They will translate into our differentiator and help us identify who we want to champion: our ideal guests
When Damien asked me to speak at the More Bookings Direct conference, I immediately thought about one vacation rental brand that in my opinion is one of the best in our industry today. And I wanted to talk about them.
Not Airbnb, or Homeaway, or any of the other big corporates, who have unlimited marketing budgets. This is a business that has worked tirelessly to become the world’s best villa company. They have stayed small, but are admired by all… The Thinking Traveller.
I asked Rosella of The Thinking Traveller about the development of their brand values and she told me that they built their brand around core values which are both us-centric and customer-centric. They are…
Only exceptional villas: We’re defined by the quality of our villas and take on only a fraction of those we are offered. All are available exclusively through us, because only then can we create the enduring partnerships that deliver the quality our clients have come to expect.
Always informed: Whether we’re helping a client to choose their perfect villa, planning the details of their holiday or supporting them whilst they are there, we make it our business to know what’s what, who’s who, and how things work.
Going the extra mile: We’re driven by the desire to deliver exceptional experiences, to exceed expectations. We’re proactive and we understand that little things can mean a great deal. Our clients know that we’re with them all the way.
I asked her how difficult it was to stay true to those values when starting out. When getting heads on beds for their owner clients was all important?
Rosella told me: We didn’t find it too hard, as we only work with owners who understand and share our brand values. We do not compromise on any of them.
These values translate to the brand story or mission statement. In the case of The Thinking Traveller their story is:
“We are a dynamic, family-run company with a passion for travel, a thirst for life and a simple mission: to hear our clients say, “That was the best holiday we’ve ever had. We’ll be back.”
Step One: Know what your ideal guests care about
Most of us are really good at explaining the “what” and the “how” of our business:
- We manage short-term lets.
- We are a property management company
- We provide short-term lets to business travellers
How we do what we do and how we explain vary, but it will generally involve some form of short-term let, Airbnb, or booking message.
Stop for a minute…
Do any of these messages make us stand out from our competitors? I’m afraid they don’t.
What will help you stand out from the competition is when you move away from the what and how, to the WHY.
The “why” is what will make a potential customer choose your business over another. The “why” is your differentiator.
In general, your clients aren’t too fussed about how you do your work, such as the tools you use, your internal processes, and stuff like that.
What consumers care about is: “why does this business matter in my life?”
How do we find our why?
Customer research is a great place to start. If you don’t already undertake customer research, you need to start right now.
You should be asking for feedback pre, during and post-stay and delivering a better experience with every piece of guest feedback.
Getting positive reviews is amazing, and helps future guests make the decision to book us. But actual research helps us to learn how our accommodation business has helped them, and importantly what they did or didn’t like about us over the competition.
The ‘so that’ rule
A simple exercise I use with clients when writing their vacation rental copy, which delivers the ‘why’ into our messaging, is the ‘so that’ rule.
Think about what you do and how you do it… the boring stuff… and then decide how that actually benefits your guests. It becomes a ‘so that’ in every message you deliver to the market.
The ‘so that’ format answers a customer question and delivers a solution in one simple phrase.
The examples above show how the ‘so that’ format works on a basic level, but when you take it up a notch, it starts to resonate on a much deeper level with your ideal guest. Once you do this, ‘so that’ won’t necessarily feature in your messaging, because you have already worked out the ‘why’ and how to deliver it perfectly.
Here’s an example:
You’re really hands-on property manager. Meeting and greeting is important to you, and offering ‘little extras’ that make a world of difference to a guest stay’.
“We provide luxury surroundings ideal for families and short term visitors – on business and leisure, who simply want something more relaxed and akin to the atmosphere they have at home. Our secret is simply that we look after our guests, very well. Whatever they ask for – if we can, we will!”
Step Two: Technical, functional & emotional benefits
Once you’ve done your customer research, you can begin to think about the various types of benefits your business offers to guests.
To help you define your benefits try creating a brand pyramid framework.
Ewww.. one of those outdated nineties marketing tools.
Old-school they might be, but they still play a key role in brand strategy today. In fact, Google used this pyramid strategy when it was developing the Google Play brand.
Pyramids help you to answer fundamental questions about your business and its place in the market. Three of the key elements of any brand pyramid are the specialist, functional and emotional benefits your business offers consumers.
At the bottom of our pyramid, we’re thinking about the specialist benefits of our rental brand. Essentially this helps us to define what we do as a company. At this stage we’re asking questions like: How is our business benefiting customers? How will it make money? What are we offering?
In Rental Tonic’s case we say:
– We offer a holistic marketing approach for the short-term lettings industry
– We work by really getting to know the owner, the property or properties, and the destination
– We want to inspire holiday rental owners. To be a source of learning, best practice and resources to help them earn more money from their business.
Next up on the pyramid are our functional benefits. These are essentially what our customers get when they buy our product or service. In Rental Tonic’s case…
Next up are our emotional benefits. They are really makes one brand stand out from another. They are how your rental brand will make a client feel based on your message and what you do for them. They are the why…
For Rental Tonic we want our clients to feel…
– Empowered: we help owners to take charge of their rental business
– Confident: we give them the confidence to price correctly
– Motivated: we motivate them to create great experiences
As you go through everything you’ve learned during your customer research phase, start looking out for emotion-based words your customers, or potential customers, use to describe your company or the problem you’re solving.
Whenever someone says “I feel”, “I liked”, or “it made me.”, these phrases will help you to identify the emotional benefits your company delivers.
Your brand persona is a compilation of your values, personality traits and attitudes in business that when showcased can help you connect with your ideal guests.
It’s a bit like when you develop your ideal guest profile. Only turning it on your business.
One way to develop your brand persona is to take the positive reactions you receive from guests and convert those into your persona.
Here are some examples of client feedback and how we translate that into the Rental Tonic persona:
- “We really felt like Rental Tonic cared about helping our business grow” – Rental Tonic is passionate and convicted: every client matters to us.
- “They are great fun to work with”
We are playful: Over everything, we love to have fun and make our clients smile with our ideas.
- “We had no problem putting our trust in Rental Tonic”
We are reliable: We build relationships not just offer a service
At the top of the pyramid, we have the brand idea: The essence of your brand and what drives positioning.
Your brand idea is the underlying reason why customers care about your brand. It’s condensing everything you have learnt from the pyramid into one short sentence.
For example, the essence of Apple’s brand is “empowering people through technology”.
Brand essence is your company’s DNA, what it stands for and what differentiates you from the competition.
Step Two: Crafting a simple tagline
Just Do It. Think Different. Belong Anywhere
These are all examples of great brand taglines. And by saying just these two or three words, I bet you can all guess the brand.
So, your next mission is to condense your message into something simple, and memorable.
The thing about branding and marketing, is you can do years of research. But if you can’t boil it down to this thin sliced tagline it doesn’t matter.
Is it easy? No it’s not…
And it’s incredible to think that such a simple statement acts as a guiding light for everything you do. From the content you post on social media to the product or service that you sell. It boils your whole business down to one sentence. And you can’t force it.
How do we go about creating the perfect tagline?
Step one: One of the best ways to craft the perfect tagline is to share your concept and create space for idea sharing. With your team, family, friends, peer groups or an agency.
Step two: Sometimes the best ideas come outside of the office. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, and away from your desk.
Communicating a clear message in just a few words is very difficult. And I am a copywriter! One way I’ve found to come up with taglines for my clients is..
Step three: start long and edit down.To begin with…
Step four: write exactly what your business delivers for customers in as many words as it takes — this could be a paragraph or two, maybe even longer.
Step five: Remember to think about the emotional benefits here too, not just the technical and functional benefits you offer.
Step six: Next, you’ll want to take what you’ve just written and edit it down to just one or two sentences.
Step seven: Repeat that process to make it one sentence, or just a few words.
Step eight: Then take that final piece of copy and play with a number of different versions: Rewrite it, change out words, and experiment with different lengths.
This process will help you to distill all of the thoughts you wanted to share about your business into a short, memorable tagline.
And one of the most important tips I can give you as a copywriter is always to be clear, not clever.
What you should have at the end of this exercise is:..
- Clarity of message
- Creativity of phrasing
- Inclusion of a benefit
And voila… you have a tagline!
Step Four: Ensure your business lives and breathes your brand
Finally, we’re on the last step to creating your successful rental brand. To be successful, and for guests to trust your message, you have to live your brand.
Following the steps we have covered in the presentation will help us to achieve this:
- Your Values and those of your customer
- Your ‘Why’s’
- Your experiences and constant improvement from guest feedback
- Your technical, functional and emotional benefits
- And your brand essence or mission statement
Every Why, Every Experience, Every Action and Message must always stay consistent and constant. You have to live by your brand.
To go back to our short-term lets business model. If your “mission” is to give business travellers the tools, concierge and comfort they need, to enjoy a successful business trip, you need to ensure all of your messaging and website content supports this mission.
Ultimately your brand is the identity of your business and how it makes people feel. So every single touchpoint where someone can interact with your business should represent what you want your brand to be, and how you want people to feel.
If you want help creating a successful rental brand, get in touch with me today.