Owners Studies by neuroscientists have shown that ancient neural circuits in the brain are activated when decisions are made on the importance of objects in the environment, allowing us to make rapid assessments and judgements. This is what we know as ‘first impressions’ and this work has shown how we form them within the first 30 seconds, and those impressions are usually lasting. Much of the research has been on first impressions in human interaction but it relates just as well to our initial judgements of other aspects of our world including how people choose and evaluate vacation rentals. This post is an overview of the presentation I gave at the Home Away Summit in Phoenix on Saturday 18th May 2013, and includes all the resources and additional information mentioned in the session. The slides (and hopefully a video) of the presentation will be available on the Home Away Community site in the coming weeks. I kicked off the session talking about an experience I had with my son Mike, about 11 years ago. He and I were on a trip to Quebec viewing properties to include in our cottage brochure for Clearwater Holidays (the UK company I was running at the time). Mike had just completed a 6-month tour of duty in the British Arms in Kosovo, and this was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with him and have some quality mother/son time. We’d spent a great five days exploring the beautiful province and staying in some wonderful chalets and cabins, and had reached our last destination at Mont Tremblant, which is ski resort north of Montreal. Our accommodation for the night was a nice log cabin but had been built for rental and lacked a little ambiance. However, it was going to be fine given its location and it did have some pleasant, if not particularly memorable features.Nature’s Greatest ExhibitionIt was an early September evening and after we’d had a steak on the barbecue and settled in to write some notes and get an early night, Mike headed outside to put some garbage in the trash can. I heard him shout out for me, and thinking he’d maybe seen a bear or other wildlife, went outside. The night sky was lit up with what looked like laser beams and was spectacular. Thinking we were getting free admittance into a Mont Tremblant laser show, which we knew they held frequently, Mike found us a blanket from his car and we spread it on the ground and lay on our backs to get the best view of the show. Almost as soon as we’d done that, the laser like beams changed colour and the sky was filled with a green ethereal glow that shimmered and danced above our heads and we realized simultaneously we were experiencing the Northern Lights for the first time. It was stunning. For two hours we lay back and watched natures greatest exhibition and I lost count of the amount of times we said “WOW”. When events happen that transcend normal expectations, the brain makes neural connections that can result in strong memories of the situation and surrounding aspects. Now, 11 years on, my recollection of that evening includes everything about the cabin; the colour of the linens, the comfort of the beds and the style of the furnishings. I can even remember the pattern of the dinnerware! This is what the power of WOW is. And if we can create events and situations for our guests that generates a wow reaction, we are causal in imprinting it on their minds. Of course, it would be impossible for you to promote the Northern Lights as a feature of your listing, unless you live in the far north, and even then it is too unpredictable to claim as a guaranteed feature. What you can do is to make sure that at every stage of your guests’ vacation they are presented with moments that exceed their expectations, and deliver a wow impact. Here’s three examples of images that have generated such a reaction from both my own experience and from guests at our agency properties:Flying ToucansWhen we decided to go to Costa Rica in 2012, we had no real idea of where to go or what we were looking for, so were pretty much open to what we could find on the net. Once we saw this photo, our search stopped. We just wanted to experience that infinity pool with the ocean beyond and to recreate the image. This was the WOW moment that had us changing our vacation dates and increasing our budget to make sure we go it.Mackenzie LodgeI spoke with a mom recently who was charged with selecting and planning her families vacation. She told me her children had seen this image and were adamant that was where they wanted to go – once again, to recreate the experience of jumping off the swim platform. She booked. Osprey CottageThis is my place and frankly, not one of my favourite pictures, but it is the one that many of my winter guests tell me was the deciding factor in their vacation rental choice. They could imaginge themselves in the hot tub, in winter, with snow gently drifting down. I give that photo credit for giving us maximum weekend occupancy throughout this past winter. The ‘I Want That' CultureWe are in a new era of wanting instant gratification with online booking driving decision making and choices and if we don’t hook our potential guests with dramatic images and appealing text right from the get-go, they will just move onto the next property that does. How Staging WorksStaging works as a magnet to attract clients. Not just the realm of the real estate business any more, staging has hit the vacation rental market by storm. Just like those images above were staged for maximum impact so everything you do in your marketing effort should be designed to appeal to the maximum number of people. Staging works to:Promote desire – I want that and have to have it nowCreate confidence – This vacation will be the best ever because we’ve chosen wiselyInspire sharing – I have that and want to let everyone know itI want to blow a myth though that many people seem to have bought into, that: Staging is not just……A bowl of fruit A vase of flowers Or a niftily folded origami swan towel on the end of a bed. It’s more than that.Staging is an indirect path to revenueWhen the first impression we generate creates a WOW reaction it can lead to sharing which becomes another driver to your bottom line. When your clients share those moments, they become ambassadors for your business and best of all…….this is free. How we process informationAn important point to note when we are talking about getting clients to create neural connections that will drive them to share, is that we must appeal to the different ways they process information. By this I mean how they use their senses to make judgments and decisions. Some will have more of a preference to visual input; others respond better to auditory stimulus; then there are those whose opinions are strongly swayed by what they feel. How to Wow with your listingVisual processors – Like strong images and video, and descriptive text using visual words and expressions such as ‘Imagine a day on vacation here – picture yourself with a glass of wine watching the sunset at the end of a glorious day’ Auditory processors– Want you to tell a story; make it sound spectacular and describe it like this: the sound of the waves will lull you to sleep – listen to the call of the loons – make sure you jazz up your vacation with a trip to the local music venues. Auditory processors like to read an About Us page. Kinaesthetic processors– Feel the heat and the cool and want to know how comfortable the place will be, so tell them about the warmth of the fire in winter or how the gentle breezes will cool them on a hot day; how they will sleep well in the comfortable beds and feel rejuvenated after a good nights sleep. And to a lesser, but still important degree, the sense of taste (gustatory) and smell (olfactory) come into play as well. More of that later.How to Wow in your communicationRespond quickly – An immediate response to an email is the easiest way to appeal to guests who want instant gratification. So many owners don’t reply at all, or delay for days that it clearly benefits the responsive one who gets in quickly with a comprehensive reply Recognise your auditory processors – Look for clues in an email. If the person is asking you to ‘tell them more’ or would like to ‘hear from you’, this is your cue to pick up the phone. You will probably create rapport quicker than with an emailed reply. Respond using their languageFollowing on from the previous point, if you don’t have a phone number then make sure you use the same language when you reply – ‘Is there anything more I can tell you?’; “How does that sound?” for your auditory guests, or for the visuals, after you have finished describing the place and answering their questions finish off with, “ I hope I have painted a good picture for you – you will love the place when you see it’. Create subliminal rapport in email greetingsHere’s a great tip for creating immediate rapport and it’s so simple….just use the same greeting your guests use with you. If they start their email with “Hi” then so do you but you go one step further and add their name – “Hi Jane – thank you for your questions”; if they kick it off with a Good Morning or Good Afternoon or Hello or even Greetings (that one might be spam!), just respond in kind, again using their name. They won’t realize why they feel good about your reply – they just will. Add a visually rich documentIt’s difficult to appeal to primarily visual processors in an email unless you have some images to promote their interest. If you have a Frequently Asked Questions document you generally send to potential guests, think about adding some visual stimulus in there – a couple of images or even cartoons, to liven up the text. You could also attach additional photos that are not shown on your listing. Continue to WOW during the StayYour marketing and staging efforts don’t finish at the point the reservation is made. In fact this is where some of the hardest work begins because your task now is to create consistent and continuous wow moments during your guests’ stay. What your guests seeSignage – It seems almost insignificant but it’s amazing what an impact a good sign can have. Guests arrive at your place and seeing a well-kept sign identifying the place they have been imagining for months will immediately alleviate any fears they may have had about the actual existence of the property. For your visual processors it’s important they see in reality what they have been picturing in the lead up to the vacation. So if there are photos of outdoor furniture set out, don’t have them arrive to chairs stacked up ; if you show images of the place lit up at night, make sure they see this when they arrive in the dark; and of course, it should go without saying the place inside is immaculately presented. A Welcome Board is a wonderfully visual expression of your thoughtfulness, particularly if your guests names are on it – they will reward you in their reviews because it is such an unusual touch. What your guests hearThe simple act of leaving a radio on to a light classical channel can have a great impact on auditory processors, if this is what they hear when they first open the door. They will most appreciate a phone call to ask if everything is OK and that they arrived safely.“The nice touches of music playing, and the phone call to make sure everything is OK, where the person calling knows your name, these are the little things that make this cottage stand out” (Ontario cottage owners guest book)What your guests feelI call them the ‘touchy feelers’. They are the guests who will comment on how wonderful the bed linens were and what a pleasure it was to have the fire lit for them when they arrived. They will often comment on how great the shower was and how they enjoyed the ambiance of the property. When you create a space that feels welcoming and is not overwhelming with ‘stuff’, they will appreciate it.What your guests smellThis one is important as olfactory processors have a very keen sense of smell. I know this because this is my strongest sense. I can tell immediately I walk into a place if there has been a smoker in it (not necessarily smoking inside but with that lingering odour that sticks to clothes and bodies). When my departing guests have enjoyed a heartly last breakfast of fried bacon and sausage, or spicy curries the night before, I am in a whirl trying to eradicate the smell and create a wonderful smelling environment for my next guests. My number one tip here: avoid any chemical or artificial room sanitisers – no plug-ins or freshening sprays – and instead make your own natural fragrances that will suck the nasty odours out of the place.What your guests tasteAppealing to our gustatory guests is important. After all, many people choose vacation rentals because they particularly want to cater for themselves, which means you will have a fair share of food enthusiasts. You can recognize by the things they say: “I have no stomach for this”, “that’s so sweet of you”, ‘That’s a bit hard to swallow”. Of course some of this is a bit tongue in cheek, but once you get started on really listening to the things they say it will all become clear ( now that was a great mix of styles!) So, plant a herb garden; grow some tomatoes and salad greens your guests can help themselves to; surprise them on arrival with a basket of baked goodies ( I always leave my guests a gluten free date and walnut loaf and whatever fresh fruit was on the farmers market that morning – blueberries, strawberries etc)ShareabilityThe goal of all I have talked about here is to create ‘shareability’ – an experience your guests will want to share then and there. We live in a culture where everything is shared on social media, so your goal should be to connect with this desire to spread an experience as widely as your guests can. You are hooking into their networks and all the staging you have done along the way will pay back in increased revenue as word of your wonderful place spreads across the net. Just imagine what would happen if a video one of your guests did, winds up going viral on YouTube. If it’s there because of a WOW moment you have created, just sit back and enjoy the fall-out!WOW moments can be simpleHere’s a few examples of some WOW moments from a few of my own experiences – all of which I shared:“Love this book collection at our vacation rental – full of best sellers and latest titles, plus some oldies. It’s now a reading vacation!”“Holly was well looked after in our Ontario cottage rental this weekend. Even a temporary address tag in case she chased rabbits and got lost”Rediscovered Licorice bombs at this property – check out the jars of candy – sparked off lots of childhood memories So, this has probably been the longest post I’ve ever written but I hope I’ve been able to share the message of the Power of WOW and how important those thirty seconds are to create an impression your guests will want to share.I’d love to hear your WOW momentsWhat do you do to get your guests neural networks firing? Please post a comment if you have enjoyed this post, and let me know if you were are the presentation in Phoenix too. I would love to hear from you.