Editor’s note: Heather presented on this topic at the 2018 VRMA European Conference
In recent years, the online travel platforms have made the business of renting out a property so much easier. This is great for us as property managers, but it’s now just as easy for a property owner to do their own marketing, advertising and administration. Apps and online resources for sourcing and managing cleaning and maintenance have streamlined the process, and with travelers being so used to communications kept within the OTA platform, it now makes little difference to them whether their vacation has been arranged with the owner or a property manager. In fact, your carefully branded properties may be reduced to being ‘an Airbnb’ in popular terminology, with guests having little knowing — or caring — what the original booking source was.
The question, ‘What can you do for me, and for your commission, that I can’t do for myself with Airbnb at three percent?” comes up ever more frequently. Not only do we need an answer to that, we also need a marketing strategy that convinces prospective owners that passing their property to a third party is a valuable option to consider.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Historically, property managers have tried to fit all their owners into one basket, often just referring to them as ‘units’. We’ve even seen blog posts referring to them as ‘those pesky owners’. This is forgetting that they are the lifeblood of our business, and without a stream of new clients, we’d not be in the best position to continue at all.
To capture new owners in these times requires a very different approach.
First of all, we need to recognize that each owner has unique needs and goals, and developing and sustaining a relationship with them requires an understanding of their motivations.
Think about how car manufacturers market their vehicles. They use persona-based marketing and tightly focus their advertising to meet the needs of each persona. For example, an ad for a people carrier showing a bunch of kids piling in with musical instruments, hockey gear and craft displays, is targeted at families, not millennials. That demographic gets the commercial that features the surfer dudes driving the Jeep onto the beach, and unloading the boards from the roof racks.
To connect fully with prospective owners, it’s important to identify different personas, then deliver the ‘what’s in it for me’ to each one. Offering an identical message to every new client is like playing darts with a blindfold on. You have a good idea of what you’re aiming for but there’s no guarantee you’ll be on target with those messages.
Once those personas are established, the next step is to develop strategies for each one.
The Attraction Strategy
From the owner area on a website to lead magnets sent in an automated email sequence, and the educational components of an onboarding strategy, each aspect needs to be tailored to the owner persona.
The differences may be subtle, but think about developing multiple landing pages so when your prospects reach your website, they are seeing images and text that capture their unique needs, and are not as generic as they would expect. The same goes for any downloadable materials and resources.
Website – Owner Pages
Most vacation rental websites pay little attention to the owner area. There may be a single page or contact form, but no attempt to really attract a new owner to connect with the company and to stay on the site. This is in spite of it being the best platform to welcome, educate and convert an owner to a registered client.
Marcus Sheridan in ‘They Ask, You Answer’ says that if you answer every question your prospective client may have, on your website, they are far more likely to seek out your company when they come to a buying decision. So, consider creating separate pages for answering questions, such as ‘How much does your service cost?’, ‘What happens if a guest damages my property’, and ‘Where will my property be advertised?’
The argument that this is proprietary information you don’t want your competitors to know isn’t relevant since they’ve probably already done their secret shopping. There’s more benefit in sharing information up front with owners than any drawbacks in the risk of another agency finding out your commission rates, or that you use Booking.com.
People like to find information that is not easily obtainable elsewhere, so will generally be happy to exchange their email address for a valuable download. This is where your personas come into play again. Millennial investors would be interested in practical financial giveaways such as cash flow forecasting spreadsheets, or information on the types of home automation that will appeal to their guests. Baby boomers who may be reluctantly entering the vacation rental market in order to maintain their homes for the next generation need more education on the changing nature of guest expectations in the form of a handbook on getting ready for rental. And new owners of destination homes would welcome ideas on making it more family-friendly, or how to decorate and furnish for a particular market.
Creating persona-based lead magnets such as these can make the difference between a prospective owner visiting, and then leaving your website without your knowledge, and one who immediately connects with you for more information. This is your opening for a relationship to develop and for an automated email sequence to drip-feed additional (and exceptional) information to them.
In the stages that come before an owner signs a management agreement, property managers have opportunities to create trust and invite confidence. However, once again, the one-size-fits-all approach can deliver its own obstacles.
Owners who are hesitant and tentative about entering the rental market may need to be nurtured and offered an extended period of handholding as they become more comfortable with the concept of rental. On the other hand, an investor persona might be looking for a more businesslike and arms-length relationship style. Another owner might benefit from a partnership relationship where they feel involved in decision making in setting rates, dynamic pricing and general marketing strategies.
The persona-based method doesn’t end with registering an owner onto your management program. The same principles can be applied to keeping them, as taking different approaches with varying personas undoubtedly contributes to better retention rates.
It’s useful to establish the level of ongoing attention an owner will require in the onboarding process.
Consider the different owner types when assigning owner liaison personnel, developing marketing plans and in general communication plans. Some owners will expect regular contact while others will be just as happy with money going into their bank and an occasional newsletter update.
Those owners who enjoy a partnership-style relationship can be invited to join a focus group where they can contribute their ideas on marketing and strategic development. They relish inclusion and are often the best ambassadors for a business.
At the root of all this is understanding that getting and keeping owners requires more effort, creativity and investment in the client relationship. As more homeowners give rental a consideration and explore all the options open to them, the property managers that are willing to go the extra mile to secure these clients will see success.