From customers to a community
Diversifying is the first step to building a strong vacation rental business. The next stage is building a community of guests. Guests that will return to your business, and more importantly, spread your brand. The ad agency, Blade Creative Branding writes,
The people out in the marketplace who embrace the values of the brand, as customers and/or purchase influencers, are the brand’s true “owners”.
Your community are the customers that are proud to use your business, want to share their experiences, and will encourage others to use your business. It doesn’t have to be any sort of official ‘club’ or organization, but it does have to be worked on to succeed.
To have a true community, you need to have a brand that represents something. Both in the product you make, and the persona you present. We’ve outlined the ways you can make your business more community-focused and practical ways to get started with your own community of guests.
Know your customers:
The best way to create a community is to get to know your customers first. Learn why they choose your business. Learn what makes them come back to your business. It’s important to maintain this information and share it amongst your team, so every member seems to know every guest as well as you do.
Speaking in The Guardian, a Maitre D of a top London restaurant tells us how he builds profiles on his guests in order to make each experience stand out from the last.
If you have reserved a table here before, the restaurant already knows who you are. In the age of digital booking systems such as OpenTable, we are keeping a file on you almost by accident. That means we already have a note of our regulars’ allergies and dietary preferences. We know their favourite bourbon and how they take their coffee. We know not to address Mr So-and-so’s date as Mrs So-and-so because the file says he divorced his wife three years ago.
Having a team that knows your customers builds loyalty. Customer discovery and a personalized experience make your guests feel appreciated and welcome. This sense of belonging and individuality is what can start to elevate your business into something people will aspire to be part of.
Keep records of booking preferences and the tastes and interests of your guests. A subtle nod to personalization based on a returning guest’s preferences is the perfect way to mark your businesses out.
Stand for something
Focus your business and your community on the feature of your business that distinguishes you. Your community could be based on your location, or perhaps only managing a certain type or sub-section of properties. Basing your community on an activity in your area is another great way to engage people.
Your customers will never get excited about just a property. Your community has to feed an interest or a passion first. What do your guests travel for? Find something that engages you as well as your guests and build your community around this.
Engage and interact
How will you keep your community interested? Have a place for your community to engage with you and interact with each other. A great example of building a way to interact with your community is Figment by publishers Random House.
Random House built Figment as a place for young fans of their books to read, discuss and create their own fan fiction. Instead of their fans finding an existing forum, or creating their own, everything that drives that the community now has a home. They can create their own stories, read new exclusive content, and talk with other, like-minded people.
Communities can form outside of your control. If you create a platform to interact and engage with your community, you reap the rewards. Random House created a direct channel to their customers. They get a live pipeline of customer feedback and can find customer advocates to base their marketing on in the future.
For vacation rental businesses, your community can start with just a blog or a forum. A simple page or space where you can start to share things that make your community want to interact with you.
Share don’t sell
No guest will ever book a vacation rental they don’t need. One of the major benefits of creating a community is that you create need and desire for your product.
Sharing stories and experiences, especially from your customers, will create a sense of desire. Imagine you built your community about the surf experiences in a coastal resort. Sharing your favorite beaches, photos, and videos from great locations will feed your community with inspiration to book.
You are then a company that doesn’t shill an unwanted product, but the only company that meets a very specific need. You’re interested in the same things as your customers. Your service and the products you provide will reflect this, drawing more people into your network.
Be the expert
The more knowledge and experience about you can share about your chosen subject, the more likely your guests are to become part of your community.
Having local knowledge and years of experience marks your business out from larger competitors. By being specific about your niche, you limit your market size but increase the power of your brand. Your community will come back to you for your knowledge and content.
There’s an old rule about creating content:
1% of your population will create content, 9% will comment or engage with it, and 90% will just browse.
For every 10 people that are active in your community, there are another 90 that are just reading and browsing. Even if you are starting slowly, your efforts will start to have effects. You may have to drive the content of your community for months before you start to get regular community interaction, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact.
Learn from your community
My Starbucks Idea. This is a corporate masterstroke. The community of Starbucks customers suggest ideas and things they would like to see the company do. In one simple way, Starbucks has made their community feel engaged and listened to. They then get a constant stream of free customer-approved, product, experience, involvement and marketing ideas.
Having a community doesn’t just help your customers. It helps your business learn what your customers want.
The tools you need:
A community focused brand
Your brand should be clear about what you sell, but also why you sell your product. What do you love about what you do? The chances are your customers share the same passions.
Let your passion, not your product, speak first. Harley Davidson makes a great case-study on the benefits of letting your community drive your branding.
Harley is not automotive. It might have an engine, it might have wheels, and it might run on roads, but that’s where the similarities stop,” said its CMO in an AdAge interview earlier this week.”We think the best form of advertising is great experiences spread by word-of-mouth.
Email is the most common way to keep your community engaged but there are many others. Live events, forums, newsletters are all ways to communicate. With a focus on community and the tools to engage – you can build automated communication that keeps your community informed, without being chained to your inbox.
A way to manage and engage contacts
The more information you know about the members of your community, the better served you will be to personalize your content. Know your most engaged members, know the members that are likely to become advocates for your brand. Learn how to recognize customers that are not satisfied and have a strategy to resolve problems.
Keep your community active and engaged with regular updates and share stories from other members. Recognize your most engaged members. Monitor things like email open rates, forum posts, and social media interaction. Reward interaction, request feedback and make sure you post regularly, frequently and engage new members of your community.
Finally, a happy community of guests helps generate a new revenue stream through experiences. Learn what your guests want to experience during their vacation. Find the highest quality providers and make them available to your community.
As a property manager, you are in a position of trust. You have the chance to direct your guests towards the experiences and services that will enhance their stay. If your guests are happy with your service and their stay, they will trust your recommendations for things to enhance their trip with.
A strong community of guests can help your business grow. It provides your brand with a focus and a unique offering. Loyal customers are what helps elevate small businesses into powerful enterprises.
If you want to learn how Vreasy’s guest focused marketing tools can help you build your own community, click here and try a live demo of our guest experience tools.