These days, the digital marketing executive is as common as the store clerk. Headlines each day range from "10 Ways to Turn Customers into Brand Advocates" to "The 5 Most Effective Ways to Build Your Brand Online." It's difficult to sift through the noise, simplify the message and prevent becoming overwhelmed. Before the days of digital marketing and social media, you might rely on occasional word of mouth and print publications to spread the word or encourage repeat customers. You visited a local sandwich shop because you saw a flyer with a coupon. You advertised in a local magazine. You hired your realtor because your friend recommended her. You booked a hotel because a friend stayed there or a travel book mentioned the beautiful rooms and trendy restaurant.
Today, the notion of "word of mouth" has evolved through social media. Our friends and peers still massively influence our purchase decisions. The difference is we usually find their opinions online, and those opinions have evolved from simple words to multimedia messaging through 10 different digital locations. Phone books have become Google directory listings. Paper flyers have become email newsletter campaigns. Travel guides have become photo sharing websites and guest reviews. While the basic notion of communicating authentically remains, true, the way we market the message has changed dramatically, and it's time to lose yesterday's misconceptions. Let 2017 be the year we put these old ideas to rest.
Misconception 1: My Website is Enough
Many businesses still boast they spend no money or time marketing their business online. Unfortunately, the harsh truth is they likely harness a very small market share. If you've leveraged Kigo to publish your vacation rental listings on multiple travel websites, you are off to an excellent start. That said, people can't magically find your vacation rentals online. Organic placements (SEO) are far outranked by paid listings (SEM and paid social). It takes multi-channel efforts, which is a fancy way of saying - you've got to participate in social media, email marketing and partner marketing. After you create and manage your rental listings, then you must distribute the listings in many different digital locations in order to generate customer awareness. Expecting free search traffic is likely going to leave you unsatisfied and frustrated.
Misconception 2: My Properties are the Best
Your customers are afraid to make the wrong decision, so they browse nine or 10 different travel websites. They read every guest review - not just on TripAdvisor but Google, Expedia and Facebook. They view your photos - but they trust guest photos more. For example, #vacationrental has been tagged 76,804 times on Instagram. Pinterest has over 70 million active users pinning to over one billion boards every day. Facebook is testing a new social travel planning product called City Guides. In short, you are no longer just competing against other vacation rentals in your immediate vicinity - you're competing against every travel global destination. People begin and end the customer journey online, and if you're not a part of the conversation - you are losing business opportunities. Ask your guests to contribute "social proof" by sharing positive experiences on various social media and review sites. Then, thank them for their contributions and promote their online profiles. They’ll appreciate the fact that you’re helping to boost their online reputation, facilitating a win-win situation on both sides. Respond to reviews - both good and bad - on websites featuring your properties. A thoughtful response shows potential customers that you are paying attention and you are truly listening.
Misconception 3: Social Media is Free
Organic reach is dead, so beware of agencies offering free "SEO and social media services." Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Pinterest have all become media companies. Their tools help you find new customers and target them with text, video and photo ads. The good news is that Instagram is owned by Facebook, meaning your advertising audience is well over one billion active and engaged users. Depending on your budget, you can create very narrow audience groups, but even $500 will exponentially increase ad visibility. Learning social media advertising is not difficult - it's just new and it's changes often. As with any marketing plan, the first step is to decide who you want to reach and which platform they use most. Start small (a few targeted Facebook or Instagram ads) test what's working, and scale slowly. Accept the inevitable - social media is here to stay, and you have to pay to play. If you are going to use social media to help promote your properties, it's time to accept that your advertising budget needs to include it. Your competitors are almost undoubtedly doing the same.
Misconception 4: No One Reads Email
This might sound surprising, but email is still the most effective free marketing channel. Your email list is your best and most valuable asset and should be utilized as such. According to a recent Inc.com article on email marketing, "nearly 68 percent of teens and 73 percent of Millennials said they prefer to receive communication from a business via email. Furthermore, more than half rely on email to buy things online." The goal is to utilize email thoughtfully. For instance, if a guest books your vacation rental property for a week in March, send the guest an email the following December and ask if he/she is planning another trip. Include links to recent reviews and photos contained on your social media channels. Consider including an email coupon that can be shared with friends and family members. Facilitate advocacy and engagement through repeat contact and promotional incentives. Yes - an email that contains zero valuable content will be trashed quickly - very similar to disposing of a traditional direct mail piece. But create personalized, thoughtful emails and your customers will appreciate the human touch.
Now that we understand the misconceptions, let's focus on the new ideas.
1. Get Discovered
Just posting your content isn't enough - you have to distribute it. Social media and user reviews are how your customers find you and talk about you. Actively participate in the conversation by soliciting/responding to reviews, posting photos and videos and asking guests to do the same. Remember - the discovery phase is what leads a potential customer through the booking path.
2. Create a Brand Advocacy Program
A happy customer has great potential for repeat business and referral business. Maintain communication in a 90-day booking window - ideally before a tourist season begins. Offer incentives to refer friends and family, such as rate discounts, ski lift/attraction tickets or a free week of subway rides. Be thoughtful, personal and remember to include links to recent photos and reviews.
3. Create a Multi-Channel Travel Marketing Strategy
The customer booking path now begins with social media or word of mouth, leads to extensive website browsing, includes social advertising and ends with customer reviews and post-stay surveys. The key is to build a solid process based on your customer demographics and then repeat it for every new lead. Think of the process like baking a cake - you can't omit ingredients and expect recipe success. Your social media followers and your email database are the top weapons in your marketing arsenal - use them strategically.
Would you like more tips about how to use various social media platforms to market your vacation properties? Download the Kigo ebook: How to Use Social Media to Increase Leads today!
(Editor's note- we have updated and republished this article to benefit readers new to the Kigo blog.)