Marketing Marketing your vacation rental is an investment – it takes time and can eat up a significant amount of money – but done well can be profitable. But deciding on where to advertise, which social media platform to concentrate on, and how much to spend is challenging. It’s easy to part with money and hope for the best, then complain when the results are not forthcoming; more challenging, is to really work on defining the best place to be and then evaluating the results. Have you ever complained that you are not getting those results? It could be that you’ve taken a shoot gun approach and hope your marketing meets the needs of everyone who visits your listing. In short, do you know your ideal customer? There are typical guests for most properties so it’s worthwhile defining their persona, and marketing in places where they hangout. In an interview with Rex Brown of Holiday Rental Matters, he explained how knowing his customers for his three properties in Australia defined where he would list them. His Melbourne apartment appeals to city travelers and a younger demographic so he lists this successfully on Airbnb, while his country homes do well on Stayz (the Home Away owned listing site). My own properties don’t attract the young and hip groups looking for trendy locations and action packed vacations. They are better geared to country types who are OK with the nearest McDonalds being a 45 minute drive and who prefer wilderness hiking to a Segway tour. This is all well and good and most of us have a good idea of the generalized audience for our properties. The concept of a persona though is to be laser focused on the person who is most likely to buy, and to talk directly to him or her, through the platform he/she favours. What is a persona A persona is a made-up, generalized character that encompasses the various goals, needs and observed behavior patterns of your ideal guest. If you have been renting for a while you probably have a good grasp on what that person is like, and creating a model character or character can help you understand them better. Personas have long been used by marketing departments to define their ideal customers. You’ve seen the auto commercials that target the family man trying to outdo his neighbor; the 30-something guy with the fishing gear, kayaks, and paddle board strapped to the roof; the smooth suited lawyer type, and the busy shopping mom who needs nothing more than a kick activated trunk? This is what works! No automobile manufacturer is going to use their marketing budget on trying to sell a one ton truck to a city type, nor will they get very far targeting the industrial market with a zippy little city car. In short, they know their market intimately so they can sell directly to them, pushing those buttons that will motivate them to buy. And, advertising companies spend millions on getting the personas right. They aren’t quickly created caricatures or stereotyped characters. These people have names, family history and job titles; they are defined by their age, gender, income, education and social profiles. When you see a commercial that really feels as though it is talking right to you, it’s because you are their persona. And this is what we can do too, and although we don’t have to spend millions on the process, there’s a lot of research to get it right. One or Multiple Personas? You could argue and quite rightly, that in your place, one size does not fit all and in fact you have a lot of different types of people. And you may feel the need to create a few different personas which is fine. Just remember that your marketing needs to be segmented to capture them all Know your buyers Let’s imagine you own an Orlando villa . It’s very likely you have one major group of buyers – families who are going to experience Disney and other Orlando attractions. Their goals and desires are probably very similar so a single persona may be all that you need, but in other locations you may want to start by putting your potential guests into groups i.e. honeymooners, family reunions, active couples, business visitors/conventioneers, pet lovers etc. Just by doing this you can begin to see where this idea of categorising can help out your marketing. Perhaps you have a city property that could appeal equally to a business person coming into town for a convention and a couple coming for a city escape, however the marketing you need to do to attract the different groups is very different. Getting to know your prospective guests is the key to knowing how to target them. How to Create Your Customer Persona This is where it gets to be fun because you are about to create a fictional, yet completely believable person, with a name, a personality, a family, a job, and dreams for their vacation. Fiction writers do this when they create characters and give them a back story, around their place in the novel, while companies will draw on a variety of client information gained overtime to define their ideal client. We can do a very similar thing based on what we know about our guests. This is a persona written for my own cottage. Jane and Mike are my ideal guests. “The following is a persona created for a person in the ‘Active Couple’ group and is an excerpt from the ebook: Hypnotic Writing for Vacation Rental Emails and Listings Name and common demographics (age, gender, family status, salary, location, education, hobbies etc.) Jane is 35, single but in a relationship with Mike who is 36. They are planning on getting married next year and starting a family fairly soon after. She is a paramedic and Mike is a firefighter so they both work shifts and bring in an income that allows them to save for the future, and to enjoy plenty of vacations together. They live in a rented apartment in the city. They have a dog called Pickle – a golden doodle they take with them on hiking/camping trips and have a close group of friends with whom they spend a lot of their free time. Defining characteristics (organised, internet savvy, procrastinator etc) Jane is the one who always draws the short straw on vacation planning – Mike leaves all but the destination up to her, so she is on the hook for oranising accommodation, travel, creating itineraries etc, but she enjoys this because she is good at planning. She pays attention to detail and can get irritated when her expectations are not met. She has limited time because of her busy schedule so can be impatient if emails are not answered promptly or calls returned. Vacation goals (happy family, plenty to do for kids, nearby tourist attractions, room for everyone etc) Jane and Mike have done a lot of camping and this will be their first vacation rental. They want to get out hiking with Pickle and exploring the local area, but are not that keen on hitting the hot tourist spots. Their big goal is to live like a local in their chosen destination. They love Trip Advisor and use the community there to plan activities based on what other people have seen and reviewed. Needs and Wants (comfort, space, big TV, large yard for kids, extras etc) Jane wants space for Pickle to run so would not want to be near a busy road; she hates washing up so must have a dishwasher, and wants to be near hiking trails. They want to have room for some friends to come with them and because they are great ‘foodies’ a really well-equipped kitchen is essential. What are the best features of your property according to this persona The location is what has drawn Jane to the idea of a vacation rental because friends have stayed in the area and raved about it. She would love a hot tub, a large screen TV so she and Mike can stay in and watch movies if the weather lets them down. She and Mike both work long shifts and the luxury of sleeping in is one they value, so a comfortable bed is important. Fears ( making the wrong decision, being scammed, place being not-as-described etc) Since they have heard a lot about rental scams and this is their first time renting a place, Jane is concerned to make sure she is doing it right. She wants to talk to the owner or someone who has been to the property (if it’s an agency) and ask a lot of questions. She has plenty of them. Since the accommodation decision is hers, Jane wants to be assured she has made the right choice. Where does this persona spend time online (what social media outlets do they use) Jane is an avid user of social media. She uses Twitter, Facebook and more recently Google + , but her favourite is Pinterest. She explores destinations on this channel more than any other. She uses it to find restaurants, shops, and places of interest and creates Pinterest boards for every vacation to pin images of her accommodation choices, places she want to go and activities she’d like to do. She has nearly 2000 followers on Pinterest. What does their dream vacation look like? (be as descriptive as you can) Weather doesn’t matter too much to Jane as she can usually find stuff to do in the rain, however she doesn’t like to be bored. She loves to be outdoors and active, whether it’s walking the dog or renting kayaks or bikes to explore the local area. They have always liked the idea of self-catering, so although they may eat out occasionally, she and Mike want to buy fresh fish from the boat, or go to a local farmers market and pick up herbs and vegetables and chat to farmers. They both lead such busy and often stressful lives that relaxation and calm is most important. How to use your persona Once you understand what your prospective guests love, what their needs are, and what interests them, you can use this information to guide all your marketing from what you write in your listing, how you communicate with them, and what social media platforms you use to engage with them. Not only will this help boost your occupancy but you will also make your guests happy in the relationship they have with you. They will feel you have been in their shoes and value them as individual guests rather than ‘renters’. From doing this exercise you will be much more knowledgeable about your ideal guest and can plan a marketing strategy around them. You’ll have more of an idea of the listing sites they are likely to use (that would be Flipkey as they are Trip Advisor users), and the social media sites you need to focus on. While you may be skeptical of going to these lengths and also wonder about niching down too much, take a lesson from one of my best psychology lecturers. He would say “When your conscious mind tries to filter out new information because it doesn’t fit your frame, suspend disbelief, and go with the flow”. Try something new – in the long run it may be the solution you have been looking for.