Guest Blog by Neely Khan of Neely There
There is an obvious irony with the title of this blog.
I was actually sitting on the fence about it for a long time. But eventually, I decided to follow my gut-instinct for two simple reasons:
1) The title rings true. And you should hopefully understand why, after reading this piece in-full.
2) The titles shows pizzazz and personality (but I may be biased).
The latter point excites me most. Since my early days as a hospitality writer, I quickly realised that personality creates tone-of-voice. And a distinct tone-of-voice is fundamental for any memorable brand.
As a short-term rental operator, this is one of your biggest advantages over online travel agencies (OTAs).
Ultimately, your STR brand has the power to generate a colossal number of direct bookings from people who are far more likely to become loyal, repeat guests, than if they booked with you via an OTA.
This may seem hard to believe when you think about the marketing budgets of OTAs, as well as their aggressive marketing campaigns.
But when a whopping 86% of consumers say that brand authenticity is a key factor for them, when deciding to part with money – there is no reason why you can’t get a slice of the action, and increase your own direct bookings.
In my line-of-work, I have grown to understand that branding goes far beyond logos and pretty graphics on a website. Successful branding is not just something you “create”. It is something that you practise, religiously; and this is best done via strategic and consistent content marketing.
Like many other marketing terms, the idea of content marketing has become a bit fuzzy. As a hospitality writer, I will be focusing specifically on written content marketing for your STR business today; and hopefully, help you see past some of the ambiguity that surrounds it.
CONTENT MARKETING BUILDS TRUST AND MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR GUESTS
Content marketing is having conversations with your target audience(s). I have read many superfluous definitions of this term, but the idea of initiating and having conversations sums it up best.
It truly is a mindset thing. When you approach your content marketing activity, with the intention to engage, educate, and entertain your followers (and not necessarily sell to them), the entire set-up of your content will change, for the better.
According to Contently, over half (61%) of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that deliver unique and consistent content. That statistic alone is remarkably telling.
Essentially, this is because when consumers follow authentic content from a brand over a period of time, they begin to trust them; and trust is a huge factor in the STR sector – especially given the current coronavirus crisis.
A detailed Phocuswright report once addressed why most travellers in developed countries (61-75%) have generally preferred to use OTAs to book short-term rentals. The graph below, sourced by Pegasus, highlights “trust” as the third most popular reason.
Due to the global health crisis and the general nature of modern-day travellers, we can now predict that “trust” will become an even bigger deciding factor for travellers who are looking to book short-term rentals.
In the past, consumers have warmed to big brands like Airbnb, because these are the brands that they have been most exposed to; and are therefore, most familiar with. In Pegasus’s analysis of the Phocuswright report, this was literally justified as “more content aggregation”. Note, this is something you as an STR operator can independently achieve, with high-quality content marketing.
The question is, how do you go about this exactly?
DON’T BE A LAZY WRITER: HERE ARE 3 WAYS YOU CAN USE CONTENT MARKETING TO ATTRACT MORE GUESTS
Thanks to the advancements of digital technology, content is everywhere. Whilst your decision to increase your content marketing activity will be a wise one, remember that you will be up against serious competition.
During the current pandemic, the digital space is awash with textual content – a lot of which is simply “churned out” just for the sake of it. For your STR business to stand out during and after COVID-19, it is absolutely vital that you invest the time and effort into creating unique, consumer-focused content.
This means, getting to know your audience inside-out, figuring out what they’re interested in, analysing their online behaviour (for example, which websites do they like to visit?) and of course, learning how to speak their language.
When you have gathered all this valuable information, and have a solid understanding of your brand values and “core message” (which is another lesson within itself), you can begin to create compelling content that will first and foremost add value for your audience.
By doing this, your audience will inevitably become your brand ambassadors, and this will eventually convert into more direct bookings.
Remember, anybody can rustle-up a quick 500-word blog. And doing this every once in a while is unlikely to yield the results that you’re looking for. Now is the time to attract your guests with content that is centred around something they genuinely care about, in a creative and sophisticated way.1. EMAIL MARKETING
Statista, 2020 claims that in 2019, a phenomenal 3.9 billion people were using email. This figure is set to rise to 4.3 billion by 2023, (that’s half of the world’s population).
In a nutshell, if you are not using email marketing as a way of keeping in touch with your guests, you are losing out on engagement and future direct bookings. There are a number of free e-mail marketing tools such as Omnisend, SendPulse, and MailChimp that take care of scheduling and templates for you, so you don’t need to be a tech-guru to do this properly.
The trouble is, a number of businesses have jumped on the “newsletter” bandwagon as of late; which is usually code for “boring, generic, and blasé content”, that readers aren’t particularly interested in anyway.
To increase your open-rate and read rates (which in 2020, should be around 15-25%), encourage yourself to think outside-the-box.
Recently for a hospitality client of mine, we have introduced a series of letters written by a fictional character (who epitomises the brand’s tone-of-voice) that are being delivered to their email subscriber list, weekly.
These letters encourage a meaningful “pen-pal type” relationship between the brand and its guests, and are filled with philosophical life lessons, that very softly promote some of the client’s products, as well.
There is no reason why you cannot adopt a similar creative format for your email marketing. For instance, consider a series of short travel stories, that take your readers on a journey as they read each email from you. The stories could be set in the destination of your STR business, and you can embed all your city’s benefits and tourist spots into each piece, without seeming aggressively “salesy”.
If written compellingly, you can build a healthy following with your email marketing. The trick is to remain consistent, not be overly verbose with your writing, and take heed of things like design and delivery times.2. LONG-FORM CONTENT & REPORTS
The common argument against long-form content is that “nobody will have the patience to read it”. And whilst this might be true for some people, it is remarkably untrue for others, if and when executed correctly.
Admittedly, we are navigating through an age where video and audio content (such as podcasts) is becoming increasingly popular. However, never underestimate the power of textual content, as the art of fine copy cannot be replaced.
Believe it or not, people still read – and they will always make time for something that is enriching their minds in some way.
As a basic guideline, long-form blogs are usually anything over 1000 words, and provide detailed insights about a particular subject. This is an excellent way of positioning your brand as an authority amongst competitors, and attracting the right kind of attention.
Bear in mind that lengthy articles require precision-planning, as it is much easier to go off-track when you are writing something that is more than 1000 words long.
Ensure that you understand who your target audience is first, and be clear on your CTA (call-to-action) even if it’s a soft one. You will also benefit from researching what kind of questions your guests ask most online, i.e, “trending topics”. Online tools such as BuzzSumo and SproutSocial are great for this.
You might be wondering, why your ideal guests would be interested in reading pages and pages of copy before directly booking with you. It is an easy assumption to make. However, 2019 research from travelagentcentral.com shows that 65% of the general population are influenced by brand content when planning a trip/ short stay.
Say if you were to publish a long-form blog on your website about “The 20 Top Tourist Attractions in Italy”, and your short-term rental properties were based in Italy. The benefits of this would be vast:
- You would place your brand as an expert/ industry-leader within your niche.
- You would be promoting Italy as a desirable tourist destination; and giving guests more reasons to book with you.
- Your guests would be likely to revisit this piece of content several times, because of the value it would offer; therefore, increasing trust and brand loyalty.
- You would generate more traffic towards your website as long-form blogs are excellent for SEO.
In my business, we specialise in long-form content; and report writing is one of our leading services. Through my experience, reports that are packed with insights, research, and statistical analysis are extremely well-received by followers. They give brands a real edge of sophistication, over their competitors.
If you have a corporate market for your STR business, report writing is absolutely something to consider. Should your budget allow it, have your reports professionally designed and be sure to repurpose them across social media, and even an email marketing campaign. Better yet, mention other industry leaders in your report and encourage them to share the content for you; this is known as “ego baiting” and can give your long-form content the exposure it deserves.3. EBOOKS, GUIDES, & PUBLICATIONS
Two years ago, I set aside three days to write and design a detailed “Content Creation Guide” for my audience. It is still available as a free download on my business’s website, and I still receive messages from people who have read it.
The beauty of eBooks, detailed guides, and travel publications is that for the most part, they are evergreen. Occasionally, they may need to be tweaked and updated; but you can re-share the bulk of the content over and over again.
I have deliberately saved the meatiest stuff till last; but I assure you, the rewards of mini books could be phenomenally rewarding for your STR business (and for your pocket).
As daunting as it may seem, all these projects require, is a write-up on Microsoft Word, decent design skills (or you could easily outsource for not much money), and time. It takes effort, yes; but is also a lot easier than most people assume.
Imagine a digital eBook that you could gift to ideal guests, that offers nothing but value.
“Spanish Food Stories, for the Culinary Curious”
“Indian Summers that Last a Lifetime”
“The Ultimate Guide for Single-Parent Holidays”
Very few of your competitors will be offering the same. This shows a true commitment and care for your guests interests and “problems”; and will do wonders for your brand loyalty.
So, if you are serious about distracting your target audience(s) from the OTAs that are costing you money; this form of content is definitely worth looking into. You can offer it as a free download on your website, promote it on your social media platforms, and if you have a larger budget, you could even print paper copies and use it as lumpy mail for a direct mail campaign. Don’t be afraid to be as creative as you like.
2020 IS THE YEAR OF DETAIL-RICH CONTENT FOR YOUR STR BUSINESS
There is no doubt that the travel industry is facing an existential crisis as a result of COVID-19. However, when travel resumes (because it certainly will) we can easily predict a surge unlike any other, from travellers who will be keen to book STR accommodation, worldwide.
These travellers, your ideal guests, will be looking to businesses like yours for affirmation and reassurance. With the current Airbnb crisis and the general backlash against dominant OTAs, this is your opportunity to build a consumer-focused business, that will in-turn, thrive on direct bookings.
During a time where 80% of consumers in the US and UK alone have reported to consuming five times more content (according to The Global Web Index), there is no excuse to not be creating consistently high-quality content for your STR brand. Even after the pandemic has passed, we can almost guarantee that the way travellers consume content, will have permanently changed for the future.
Earning trust and credibility will now require more effort than ever from the short-term rental sector. So, get ahead of the game whilst you still easily can, and write your way towards more direct bookings, and an STR brand that will be strong enough to survive any future crisis.
Neely Khan is a hospitality writer and founder of Neely There; which helps hospitality businesses build memorable brands and loyal audiences through storytelling, content marketing, and above all, writing that’s in a league of its own.