How & Why To Properly Brand Your Short Term Rental (STR)

When my wife, Kelly, and I decided to invest in a vacation rental home we knew we had our work cut out for us. Along with the hours and hours of manual labor and the countless trips to the hardware store we also had to plan out the personality of the home.

Our vacation rental is in the Lake Michigan town of South Haven. Just before we decided to invest, the town had put a moratorium on new short term rentals (<30 day rentals) in the area of town where our future property sat. Part of the purchase for us was having an existing, and approved, STR license. However, we knew that the license to rent the home to vacationers was not enough alone to succeed.

We quickly began discussing what we wanted the house to be. Why we wanted this house. And how we would best represent our vision for the home to vacationers. In short, we focused on the brand. Like all proper branding exercises we looked both internally and externally.

We did research on the home.

  • Who had lived there?
  • Was there an interesting history to the home?
  • What would future guests find interesting about the home and the legacy?

We then thought about our own personal style(s).

  • What do we want to be there when we visit?
  • What types of furniture reflect us?
  • How do we make it represent the two of us?

It was now time to think about our future customers.

  • Who would be renting this kind of home?
  • From where are they traveling?
  • Why types of groups would be interested in a home and property like ours?
  • What other homes are they currently renting?

With a good idea of the answers to all of these questions, we set off on creating our brand. It started with a proper name. We quickly settled on the Peach Mansion to pay homage to the history of the home that was built by a prominent peach farmer in the area. This name would both be memorable and tease the story of the home. Next we had to create a guest experience that would also reflect the history of the home, while also attracting the guests we expected.

Our brand became about a place where memories are made. A place where old meets new…and where togetherness and getting lost by yourself are all part of the experience. This guest experience – demonstrated by photos and the company name and reinforced by the space itself and the amazing customer service of our property manager is the living example of our brand.

We have been open for three summers now. We listen intently to our guests and what they love about the house. We also listen to any challenges or issues that arise – as they certainly will from a 160+ year old house. It is this direct intelligence that allows us to continue to tweak our brand and the guest experience.

The Peach Mansion brand will continue to evolve, but it is built securely on a foundation that both sets us apart in the local marketplace and offers a unique experience that is bound to create memories.

As you look to brand your vacation rental, you need to look internally and externally as we did. You will need to find what are guests looking for that might not already be available. Do your research on who travels to your area. When are they traveling…and with whom are they traveling? Then “shop” the competition. Luckily market research is very easy with platforms like VRBO and Airbnb. Their story and their photos are all out there in one convenient place. But that’s why this is such an important exercise. If the competition is easy for you to shop, it is easy for your customers to shop and compare too. If you don’t resonate and stand out, you will not be as successful as you can be.

When you go to South Haven, MI you won’t find another 5 bedroom property sitting on 1 acre of land. You won’t find another place that boasts the amount of places to enjoy in one property as we do; inside and out. And you won’t find another property that tells a brief history lesson on the town and how the industry in South Haven has evolved other the years. And finally, you won’t find a property that has the same level of design and style as the Peach Mansion. Our furniture is not all purchased from the same place. It is a collection. Just like the home is a collection of memories…just waiting for the next ones to be created.

What is your brand? What sets you apart? What do your guests want when they visit your town?

Why Branding Is Important

Now you know how to properly brand your STR. The why is much more simple. For us, we want to drive as many people to rent directly from us as possible (http://www.sohapeachmansion.com). While I believe that AIRBNB and VRBO are both well worth the money to get found and to be the marketplace they are, I’d rather not pay them their hosting fees and I’d rather our guests not have to pay their guest fee. When people book direct they typically save about 10%. That’s a significant value to many travelers. And while the guest pays about 10% less, the host actually makes a little more too.

A strong brand is important to grow your business. People want to do business with brands that reflect their style and interests. A strong brand also drives direct sales – which should turn into higher margins.

25 Marketing and Branding Lessons Set to the Titles of Depeche Mode Songs

As a life-long Depeche Mode fan and a Brand Strategist I started hearing beautiful business lessons in the titles of many of the band’s songs. So to pay homage to my favorite band and share some of what I have learned through 20+ years of branding and marketing I present to you 25 lessons for marketers aligned to the titles of 25 Depeche Mode songs. I know the boys from England never expected to have their song titles in a business blog. But that’s the beauty in music, right? There are so many ways to love it. I hope something sings to you.

  1. Never Let Me Down Again (youtube)
    “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”. Consumers are savvy and won’t stand for unmet promises.
  2. Just Can’t Get Enough (youtube)
    when you find something that customers just can’t get enough of, add fuel to the fire. A brand’s explosion is usually a window of time. Capitalize on it when you can. Figure out how to sustain it later.
  3. Policy of Truth (youtube)
    how people relate to brands is of paramount importance. Brands that don’t deviate from the truth build trust and thus loyalty.
  4. Everything Counts (youtube)
    “if it ain’t worth measuring, it ain’t worth doing”. Capture everything, Track everything and whittle it down to finding the data points that mean the most to lean on…but don’t throw away the rest, there is likely a story in the other data you have not considered yet.
  5. Walking in My Shoes (youtube)
    understand your customer. Do what you can to put yourself into the world of your customer and don’t forget that experience. Oh, and don’t just do it once…your customers can “change their shoes” from time to time.
  6. People Are People (youtube)
    whether you are marketing B2B or B2C you are still marketing to people. People do “people things” and act in “people” ways. It’s always good to remember that the recipient of your brand is a person at the core.
  7. The Things You Said (youtube)
    what you say, and how you say it matters. Choose your words carefully (even more so in today’s world where there is a digital record of everything you said)
  8. Wrong (youtube)
    “Rule #1 the customer is always right. If you think the customer is wrong, re-read rule #1”. Take this to heart. You don’t have a brand or a product without customers.
  9. Should Be Higher (youtube)
    Every marketer has said that their numbers “should be higher”. All of the data told them so. When something should be higher, tinker with your audience or your message to find out what lever it is to make it higher.
  10. It’s Called A Heart (youtube)
    be real, have emotions, show empathy. Brands that have a heart (and aren’t afraid to show it) tend to get through tough times better than those that don’t.
  11. Blasphemous Rumours (youtube)
    the internet can be a cruel place. People lurking in anonymity can say anything they want. Stay on top of what is being said about your brand and squash the rumo(u)rs
  12. Halo (youtube)
    The brand halo is real. The goodwill of your brand extends beyond just the product or service itself. It can impact other brands in your portfolio as well. Understand your brand halo and capitalize on it when you can.
  13. A Question of Time (youtube)
    “timing is everything”. The question all too often is it the right time for your product or service (or message). Know how to read the market and strike when the timing is right.
  14. Somebody (youtube)
    market to somebody. Create personas you can see and communicate. Don’t just market to “mom’s with young kids” know more about your customer and further tailor your message to that somebody.
  15. Get the Balance Right (youtube)
    there are so many ways to get your message out to your customers, so much of your success relies on you getting the balance right between all of the messages and all of the platforms.
  16. Home (youtube)
    the most important page of your website. This is your front door, make the right impression and you’ll get deeper engagement, miss the mark and lose the potential customer…maybe to someone else’s home.
  17. Photographic (youtube)
    use photography to tell your story. We all know we are crazy-busy, so use the tool that is the quickest read. Spend time to find the right photo (or to shoot the right shot).
  18. Useless (youtube)
    when you do have a dog of a product that is proving to be useless to your customer, be OK with that and find a customer base that does find use for it OR listen to their feedback to improve the product to be useful.
  19. Something To Do (youtube)
    lead your audience to do something – to explore your brand more. Give them a set path of something to do and many will follow the path, and your story. Often times we call this the “call to action”.
  20. It Doesn’t Matter (youtube)
    most of us are not saving lives in our marketing jobs. So while “it doesn’t matter” may be a little harsh, it is a good lesson to ground us all that our product or service is probably a want, not a need. It’s ok to have a sense of levity when it comes to marketing.
  21. Flexible (youtube)
    in business things can change quickly – even in the largest companies. Things happen. Production shuts down, customers no longer have income to buy your product…whatever it is, be flexible and think quick to determine how you meet their changing needs or your changed situation.
  22. Shout (youtube)
    When you have something to say and your audience NEEDS TO HEAR IT, SHOUT! Be loud, be assertive, grab attention when it is called for.
  23. Breathe (youtube)
    give your story a chance to breathe. This means visually and through words. There is a lot to say, but also allowing the customer a chance to digest the message and focus on what is important allows them to breathe and be comfortable with you.
  24. Shouldn’t Have Done That (youtube)
    when you fail big, to the point you say, “I shouldn’t have done that”, own your flawed approach, assess and chart a new course. In time, your customers will forgive you. Remember New Coke?
  25. Fail (youtube)
    it’s going to happen. Fail fast. Know why you failed. Keep the data from the failure. Dust off. Try again.

There are over 200 songs in the DM catalog, so I am sure I missed a few others. Any you’d care to add? Drop me a line if you want to talk branding…or 1980’s synth-pop.

The WHY of our Vacation Rental

Every successful business should be able to articulate why they are in business. It is not enough to say we are in business to make money, or to have a place to go on vacation…there is more to it than that – or at least there should be.

For my wife and I, we got into the world of short term vacation rentals to help people make memories.

We found a house that was built in 1860 and was a piece of history in South Haven, MI. We wanted to fix it up so that people in 2020 and beyond could experience a little of what it was like in the late 19th century along with enjoying the conveniences of the 21st century. We wanted a place where family and friends could come together and enjoy the company of each other.

The “making memories” WHY ties well into my life as many have been stricken with dementia. It is so sad to see people lose their ability to remember. In my mind, memories are the true marker of life. I don’t believe it is what you own, but instead, what you have been able to do, and who you experienced that with.

So we opened the Peach Mansion in 2019 and we are honored to help others create new memories throughout the year during their stay at our home near Lake Michigan. As long as we can continue to bring joy to others – and also enjoy the home ourselves – we will continue to be successful. It is the memories that are priceless, and it is priceless experiences that keep bringing guests back.

Intentional Leadership

Eye of Arabian bay horse

What’s the best way to lead a horse? With intent.

What’s the best way to lead people? Also, with intent.

I had the pleasure to participate in a leadership workshop over the weekend where 12 of us were standing side by side with 2,000+ pound animals. The workshop was billed as helping you understand your “energy”. I’ll admit, going into it, I was not exactly sure what I was going to be doing, nor exactly how my energy was going to be on display.
The workshop was put on by a local coach and strategist, Stuart Morse and his company, The Morse Group. Adding to the leadership were Stuart’s daughter, Merrill and business partner and friend, Paul Gilbride. Each brought their own expertise to the conversation and together they wove a story around how to work with things bigger than yourself, how to adapt to situations and how to work together as a team. Oh, and it was primarily led from a horse barn with 1 to 5 horses at any given time.
One of our first challenges was to get all 12 of us (humans) and three horses into the center of the ring using anything in the room that we needed. The strategies employed were varied and interesting. Many took to building a relationship with the horse. Some had seen that being somewhat forceful with thehorse could work, after about 10 minutes of mostly failing to coax the horses, we were reminded we could use anything in the room. Several people found harnesses, put them on the horses and then relatively quickly horses were led to the center. It was interesting to see how we tried to solve the problem without using the tools available to us. It was also interesting how easy it was to accomplish the task once the proper tools were used. What was brought to our attention was how little us humans worked together; we each tried to solve the problem at hand first – saving teamwork and culture for some other time. When there is a task at hand, we think we can solve it without others…while a collective mind and some time to strategize might have brought us to a better solution faster.
Next we were asked to lead the horses around the perimeter of the barn. Here we got to understand better how we had to show the horse (through pulling/pointing their harness) where we wanted them to go. Additionally, we saw first hand how unique each horse was as we did this exercise with two separate horses. The horses were more than willing to follow commands, but they needed to be clearly told what that command was. Pulling the horse to the left (tightening the circle) and expecting the horse to know that we were supposed to make large circles was obvious to the humans…but not to the horse. Seeing the results of intentional leadership and their effect on outcome was a good refresher.
Later we spoke about emotional intelligence. Paul made a point that will stick with me, “your goal should not be to control your emotions, but to understand them”. Too often we try to control our emotions only to understand that our emotions are bigger than us (and often bigger than we can control in the moment). Similar to the challenge to get the horses in the middle, we think we can fix (or achieve) anything alone. Seeking to understand the environment and other solutions can often net better results.
The final key take-away for me was our need to assign interpretations to environments we did not understand. Many people tried to relate the horses and their behaviors, to mannerisms of humans. We were asked to observe 5 horses interacting with one another. We were then asked to share observations. Several observations quickly morphed into interpretations about who was the Alpha and what they were communicating to each other. Most of those interpretations were 180º from the truth. The horse the group saw as the leader was actually the one that was not accepted. We must suspend our own biases on interrelationships when we don’t understand the culture and focus more on observing than trying to fit into our world.
At the end of the day I felt I learned a little bit more about me…and a bit more about other people. What I will take away from the day is that intent is a pretty powerful thing. We as humans believe so heavily in what we verbally communicate that we often forget the non-verbals…which more clearly define our intentions. Thanks to a band of horses, I’ll think of how I lead people and projects going forward.

Face It – Marketing Yourself is Just Too Risky

We’ve all heard it before. “You’re too close to your company, you need an objective opinion”. Well, it’s true. And it’s true for marketers as well.

I make my living positioning brands. I uncover insights that make brands stand out from their competition and I create promises and positioning statements that work – they attract customers. But I have met my match. I have found the one company where I cannot do that effectively. My own business; /ˈekwədē/.

I’m too close. I live and breathe this brand every day, and because I do, I lose my objectivity. And for that reason I have to hire out. I find others who I know can represent my brand and work with me to uncover the right brand message and the right communication tactics to bring it to life.

It’s OK to say that you need help. Heck, even marketers need help in marketing themselves. Don’t go it alone. Find someone who can bring the objective POV to you and who you know you can work collaboratively with to define your brand.

If you need some help, give me a call. Perhaps /ˈekwədē/ can be that objective partner you are seeking. I have helped companies big and small listen to their customers and the market and positioned them to today and tomorrow’s world. I know the importance of it – and I respect the importance of asking for help when it is needed.

photo attribution: Science of Relationships

Making Your Brand More Human From the Inside-Out

I had the good fortune to be a part of a great “salon” last night, hosted at the Big Wide Sky agency space in Clayton, MO. The CEO of Big Wide Sky is also the founder of a non-profit called, Be Human Project.

The group is exactly what it sounds like, discussing ways for people to be more human to other people – especially in the work force.

Last night, they had a guest speaker, Jurgen Appelo. Jurgen was a manager who didn’t feel it was right to manage people, he was not close enough to know how to best manage them, so he instilled practices to manage the process instead. Jurgen has parlayed his style and tested success into a book and book tour, spanning the globe. His approach is called Management 3.0. So enough about the plugs…how did it impact me and why do you care?

As Jurgen was talking I could not help but think back to my years working for others where annual reviews were mandatory. And while you are likely saying…”how else do you capture feedback on your employees?”, I always found it to be a tiresome ritual that really never produced the results I hoped it would. I would be asked to asses myself, and that was then debated with my supervisor until I would just have to accept the rating that they gave me. My input was just a formality – one designed to make me feel like I had input – I knew I didn’t. I even heard several times that decisions were already made prior to my annual performance review. However, I still had to put 30-40 hours into this review…every year!

Jurgen, and others like him, represent a different way of collecting feedback and performance data. They all rely on crowdsourcing and having each other award the merits.

Once I snapped out of the bad memories of useless annual reviews, I started thinking about what this does for a brand. A brand is nothing more than a collection of the personalities of those who make up the brand (or company). When the employees of the brand are happy and productive, there is a great opportunity for the brand to be productive…and happy. Yes, brands can be happy!

I focus my work on brand positioning and brand strategy. A major component of how your brand is positioned is also how it positions itself internally. How do you recruit talent? What is your brand message to the people who will be representing your brand? Believe me, the projected image of your brand is critical. Consumer and potential consumers need to see what is unique and valuable about your brand…but if you really think about it…doesn’t that actually come from within? It starts with having a happy brand on the inside where people want to work and want to do better. That drives success for the masses.

My thanks to Eliot Frick for starting the Be Human Project and for hosting a group of people who want to make a change. Last night helped me think a little deeper about what makes brands great, and how changing things on the inside can have great impact on the external.

The Over Upsell

For a brand to have full impact, it needs to be lived by everyone within the company. Everyone from top to bottom needs to buy into the company line. This can propel your brand and your bottom line…unless what you have everyone buying into is actually detrimental to your brand.

Let me take you through my dining experience last night to put this into context.

Kelly and I went to Bonefish Grill for dinner. I had received a buy one, get one entrée coupon in the mail about a month earlier…so this was the night to get a free entree for us.

We sat in the bar area and our waitress, April, greeted us quickly.

It was a typical start to the dining experience, she took our drink order and left us some menus.

From that point on, April did not miss an opportunity to upsell. She pushed the appetizers, she took us through all 8 of their specials, she explained the “2 for $50” offer. We, at that point, told her that we had this bogo coupon for 2 entrees. She told us that it does not apply to the “2 for $50″ offer (which made sense). She departed.

Upon her return with our wine, she stayed engaged in full upsell mode. Kelly ordered a steak…”for $2 more you can get 3 more ounces” (actually the menu stated it was $3.20 more, but who’s counting?) April positioned. I ordered my pork chops and she immediately started pushing a salad to start or an appetizer.

From the description, it sounds like every meal in a restaurant, but I promise you it was full-on upsell. To the point that Kelly and I began to make fun of the situation. “If you would like a sharp knife, that will be $2 more”, “dipping sauce for your bread will be $1 extra” we joked.

April was doing her job, and doing it well (except she sounded like a robot with the “would you like this” lines for everything). The point is that companies need to be keenly aware of when is too much. Upselling is great, it is a proven strategy. It works on $100 meals…and it works in the drive in at Hardees (“would you like to make that a large?”). As a marketer, put yourself in the shoes (or seat) of your customer and listen to your upsell. Is it portraying the brand you want to be?

I will have a hard time thinking of Bonefish Grill without associating them with pushing more food on me – that’s not good for their brand. I dine at chain restaurants infrequently enough to not know if they are all doing this…they probably are. If so, my apologies for picking on Bonefish, and picking on April. She is just doing her job of toeing the company brand line…but in this case, it backfired.

How is your brand being perceived? Are you doing anything that is overkill?

 

The “Johnny Football Brand”

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Brands can go bad, and not all branding is good. Just ask Johnny Manziel. Here’s a kid that got caught up in the hype of a brand, and let it take him to places he was not mature enough to handle.

This article from the NY Post talks about the new Johnny Manziel.

When Manziel was burning up college football Johnny Football seemed to be a great brand. Everybody knew about this kid because of the brand name. It sounded all-American. It sounded like a sure thing. It sounded like a brand you wanted to get to know. Heck, we all wished we went to school with a Johnny Football. He was too good to be true. Yes, actually it was.

The lesson here is that brands need to be steered (notice I did not say managed). Ole Johnny here let the brand and the public perception of the brand do the steering. And while I’ll always protest that your brand is really owned by your customers (fans, in this case), I do not mean that the brand/person/company does not have a serious role to play in steering that brand to the right direction.

I pick on Manziel here only because it is timely. This is not the first brand to go south, nor the first brand that overtook those who were charting its course. Many corporate brands have gone afoul before…and many people have done so as well (think of the scandals that find the way to our nightly news programs or twitter feeds). We should all think about our brands as a living, breathing, steerable, publicly-scrutinized asset.

Some brands are about being idiots or being jerks. This is not to say that those brands will not be successful. But when the brand interferes with the true goals (lack of alignment of the brand position and the brand vision) then bad things happen. Maybe not today, but it WILL happen.

Let’s watch what the Johnny Football brand morphs into. It started as the kid everyone wanted to know and be. It evolved into a holier-than-thou brand that lost its down-home feel. Where will Johnny Manziel take his brand Johnny Football brand next? He says that he will refrain from some of the show-boating (making money signs with his fingers), and he has moved from the center of town (and attention) of downtown condo living to the suburbs and country club living. Both of these will help remove the spotlight – but the question remains will Johnny Manziel be able to overpower the Johnny Football brand that he has helped mold to date?

In this case Johnny Manziel has the rudder to steer his brand. We (the consumers) have the ability to either buy into his new story or just forget about the Johnny Football brand. Just like in companies and products, brands are fighting for relevance every day. Johnny Football is just one brand out there…one that failed to be true to itself and its vision. The product suffered. Will the consumers ever come back?

There’s Never Been An Easier Time To Sell, So Why Aren’t Your Sales Reflecting That?

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Here in today’s “flat” world, it is easier to reach potential consumers than ever. The tools are at your fingertips to put your product or your service in the hands of people all around the world. And, what’s more, many of these tools are virtually free.

The go-to-market approach has changed considerably with the creation and evolution of the internet and mobile. The reliance upon big media is no longer what it was as you are trying to reach potential customers. We are actually getting closer to what selling should be all about – one to one. Let’s rephrase that a little. Selling has always been one to one. However, the efficiency of finding those “ones” has changed.

directselling

This is why I say that it is easier to sell today than ever. With the growing efficiency of targeting the right people (and the ability to define who those right people are), direct sales is making a huge resurgence. And it is all due to efficiencies. This is what every company always wanted, but it didn’t make sense in the old communication model.

OK, so now you can do what you always wanted; sell directly to those who want your product or service in an efficient way. This puts the burden on your brand. Now that you and everyone else can reach almost anyone, the real differentiator is what your brand stands for. It’s not all about who has access to the communication channel (we all do). It is about the promise that your brand makes to your potential customer. What is it that they will find unique and identifiable about your brand?

Brands today are more important than ever. The playing field of communications is leveling, so standing out from the crowd is the differentiator. To achieve your unique brand voice, it does not require the slickest ads, or the largest media buys. It is about being authentic to your brand and to your potential customers.

Invest some of those marketing dollars you had earmarked for a media buy into researching who your ideal customer is and what they want from your brand. Then develop a smart, strategic brand plan and communication plan that supports your unique selling propositions and your brand position.

In the end, you won’t have to spend a dollar more on your marketing than you are today. But by reinvesting it in your brand strategy first, then aligning all of your brand and communication efforts to your support your brand you will see your sales rise because you are connecting with your customers in ways that you could not under the old communication model.

There’s never been an easier time to sell. If your sales are not reflecting this, maybe it’s time to invest in your brand. Sell your brand message – the sales of your goods and services will follow quickly.

Rebranding: A Modern Day Story

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Welcome to the world, Caitlyn Jenner! Yes, you have officially been here for some time (perhaps years before the world knew or understood), but today you introduced yourself boldly.

Caitlyn’s first images, from July 2015 Vanity Fair

In 2015, rebranding is alive and well. Here on this 2nd day of June I thought about how I wanted to start my branding blog for my new venture; /ˈekwədē/. The timing was perfect.

For a brand to be reinvented it takes a process. A process much like that of what Bruce Jenner has had to go through to change his brand. Jenner’s past brand was first centered around being an accomplished decathlete in the 1972 olympics. Over time his brand evolved. It was nostalgic for awhile, then it began to change as his life changed. Jenner married into the Kardashian family and the Bruce Jenner brand changed. It wasn’t that he was no longer a famed olympian, but he now stood for other things (whether you saw that as good or bad is another topic for another day).

Bruce realized that even then his brand was not true to him, and he set forth to change that. His rebranding went through several well choreographed (and maybe over-hyped) media events. But if you look back at it all now, it seems that he (she) may have been pretty smart about her rebranding.

Here on June 1, 2015 Vanity Fair published photos on their website teasing the upcoming July edition where Caitlyn will be featured. No longer Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn is a rebranding of the same person. The same person who has been seeking that balance of what she felt was her brand, how others saw her brand and how others will react to her brand.

Rebranding is not easy. It is not painless, and no, it is not just a new logo (nod to ihop who announced a new emoji-based logo on June 1). Rebranding is about knowing who you are, the story you want to tell the world, and being real. People associate with real, they want to be connected with people and companies who talk about why they do things.

Caitlyn has been telling her why story for a few weeks now. This new article will be the next installment of the story of Caitlyn.

I’ll bet more people want to associate with her brand now that they will know her story.