To say that that COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on the Vacation Rental industry is an understatement. As property managers like yourself learn to become more resourceful, you’ll find that there are also creative ways to re-use your existing content. You might be surprised to find that your existing articles/visuals are all you need to create a solid marketing strategy on a budget. Below, we’ve outlined some tips and tricks that will help your brand stay visible on a dime by repurposing content.
Step 1: Assess Your Existing Content
It’s a good time to step into the archives and reuse content to create creative engaging microcontent that will help guests remember your brand when things are on the upswing. Developing microcontent in a visual way can stem from the following:
o Professional Photography o Floor Plans o Amenity Photography
o Drone videos o Walkthrough Videos o Podcasts
o Blog Posts o Surveys o Research Reports User Generated Content o Reviews & Testimonials o Social Media Posts
Step 2: Repurpose Content on a dime
Once you assess your existing content, creating compelling microcontent for your guests becomes easier. Utilizing free visual services is a great way to break apart pieces of your existing blog posts, testimonials, etc. Below are some free tools that can assist you and your budget. Both applications also provide you with low-cost upgrades if you need more options for your visual marketing.
Canva is a free graphics service that allows you to use your existing visuals to create microcontent for email campaigns and your social media. Your professional photography used in conjunction with text can create visual content that promotes a consistent stream of brand recognition.
Static images are beneficial for your marketing but to really stand out and differentiate yourself, videos can also be beneficial. Taking your text and wrapping it up in video format is a great way to repurpose your content. Free services like Lumen 5 take your text and turn it into video. From there, you can showcase your professional photography as the backdrop and take testimonials, blog posts, or property descriptions as moveable text.
Step 3: Schedule to save time and budget
After you’ve leveraged free tools to redistribute your existing content, it’s time for some marketing automation. Marketing automation is technology that manages marketing processes and multifunctional campaigns, across multiple channels, automatically. With marketing automation, businesses can target customers with automated messages across email, web, social, and text.
Products like Buffer, Meet Edgar, and Hoot Suite, are fantastic tools to manage all social media accounts by providing the means for a user to schedule posts to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
Emma, Constant Contact and Mailchimp are all examples of email marketing automation tools than can assist you as you schedule emails to your database.
When the industry picks up, and prospective guests are ready for their much-needed vacation, businesses that did not go dark during this time will be the ones they remember. Consistent marketing can be done on a dime by assessing what you already have and utilizing free tools and services to schedule a constant stream of fantastic visual marketing.
“Our Carriage House is beautiful and right next to the outdoor ceremony space.” Our clients are asking us how our products can help them paint a better picture for their prospective brides, bat mitzvahs and other ceremonies.
Booking an event venue in the age of COVID-19 comes with its own set of unique challenges.
First of all, we’re glad to hear people are looking forward to life returning to normal. But for now, how can a prospective customer “tour” an event venue without actually going on site? A website with photos, even videos, aren’t going to convey the feeling of standing there with your feet crunching down on the gravel path as the cobblestone and ivy-covered Carriage House comes into view.
So, let’s look at our options.
TruFusion 3D Tours
This is a completely immersive experience and the next best thing to virtual reality, which would also be cool. This product brings the essence of a property to life through clean, bright photography that makes you feel like you’re there because you can look around from every angle.
The interactive feature allows you to click or touch on the white circular arrows to move forward, getting deeper into the building, room or hallway. What’s great is that this experience can be done for outdoor areas as well. Viewers can look up at the sky or down at the ground, as they glide from space to space, taking it all in.
This is a user-driven experience where we host the “tour” on a unique URL. A photo is displayed on the screen and the user has the option of navigating around the property using a Photo Slider Navigation at the bottom. Move from room to room or floor to floor easily using a mouse or touch screen. The user can also use their fingers to “pinch and zoom” into the details of the photo.
This is highly recommended for spaces that have a lot to explore, or a lot of detail inside.
Hybrid Floor Plan Tours
Literally get a sense of the layout with this product. We provide the floor plan for each level so viewers can understand where they are on the property as they look at the photos associated with that space. This works really well for bed & breakfast clients who want to book according to the proximity to exits or amenities.
The reason we call it a hybrid is because we suggest adding a few 360-degree views for a dual experience of seeing the photos and “moving through” the property. It’s another interaction that replicates the view of standing inside the property.
As with our TruFusion 3D, this tour shows the user what it’s like to “stand” in a room and see the views out the window from any angle – so if your property has breathtaking views from featured dining areas or guest rooms, these products can really sell that feature online.
Virtual Staging? Great idea.
For venues where the layout of a banquet hall or reception area is vital to the flow of guest traffic, these floor plan tour add on edits can help walk a potential client through the spaces visually and using room dimensions. Large, empty spaces, whether in a residential home, or an event space, make it hard for viewers to imagine what that area could look like with furnishings.
By virtually staging a room with cocktail tables, chairs, a buffet table, and other items, potential customers can see for themselves if there will be enough room for all their guests and where the pieces could be placed within the room.
While you’re never going to fully replace seeing an event venue in person, there are some high-quality property visualization tools that can assist with the buyer journey during this unprecedented time.
What are 3D Tours and what are the differences between them?
We get these types of questions often at TruPlace. The biggest difference among these products will be the way the user navigates or interacts with the picture on the screen. The next thing users will notice is the coloring within the photos – not all camera equipment is created equal. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that you can’t always see out the windows.
Different Camera, Different Results
Let’s start with our TruFusion 3D Tours. These virtual tours are created using DSLR technology, which is a single lens reflex that allows the most amount of light into the camera. This digital camera allows the mirror inside to “flip” out of the way, allowing the most flexibility in manual settings. The quality is always going to be better when a camera can “capture” the most amount of “data” from a scene as possible. The term reflex comes from the mirroring of the image up into the viewfinder. Point-and-shoot cameras as they have been referred to, are at a disadvantage because the person taking the picture has no idea what they are actually capturing at the time the photo is taken. There is also a lag between when the button is pushed to take the photo and when the data enters the camera. Also, the physical size of the sensor in these cameras is smaller than it is in the DSLR, which negatively impacts the quality of the image – as seen in the graininess or blur on corners. Recently, products have hit the market to leverage DIY 3D tours utilizing the point-and-shoot cameras, or DSLR cameras set on “auto” mode. Neither of which can replace the quality of a professional using manual mode. The foundation of a crisp, clear tour starts with the camera, which is why this is a critical question to ask when choosing which tour is right for you.
The Third Dimension
Jumping into the third dimension means that the camera is recording measurements and video. This ability is what allows the user to “pinch and zoom” into the photo. There is also a 360-degree capability that “spins” the camera around the room without the user having to press anything, they can just sit back and watch. Bringing these two capabilities together using a high-quality camera is what we call TruFusion 3D Tours. Merging the 360-degree view with the additional dimensions is what provides the feeling of “it’s like you’re there,” because you can move forward, backward, sideways, and look up and down – as well as zoom in on the details, seeing everything as clearly as if you were there.
Navigating inside a TruFusion 3D is unlike other tours because there is always one photo displayed on the screen. From there, the user has two options: either scroll through the photo slider at the bottom of the screen to move to another room, or click on the white circular arrows inside the photo on the scree – this emulates the experience “walking through a room.” The difference between “walking through a room” and being “teleported” through a room amounts to seeing or not seeing what you pass along the way. You just can’t open the front door and walk out. The term “fusion” is not unique to TruPlace, but we call it TruFusion because we have a proprietary system for creating and processing the photographs/videos into one beautiful end result that looks great regardless of whether we shoot on a cloudy or sunny day. It’s the same process we apply to our still photos as well and it allows us to provide views out the windows while you’re “standing” inside the property.
Floor Plans + 3D
While our TruFusion 3D Tours are our most immersive property experience, we also offer a Floor Plan Tour that focuses more on the layout of the property. Again, there is always one photo on the screen, but in this product there is an interactive floor plan in the upper right corner that shows you which level you are looking at in the photos. There are red dots on the floor plan indicating a photo is available for that area, and by clicking on that red dot, you can see that area of that level.
For clients who love both our floor plan tours and TruFusion 3D, we created a “hybrid” version of both products. Within the floor plan tour product, you can add “3D spins” that provide the 360-degree views around the room. You can still “pinch and zoom” to see more details about the backsplash, oven, or light switches. Again, you just can’t open the front door and walk out. The word “interactive” also gets used on both the floor plan tour and the 3D tour. Technically they are both interactive, meaning the user can control how things are displayed and what to look at next.
Which One Should I Use?
Choosing the right tour will have a lot to do with the type of property you’re selling or renting and how the end user is going to interact with the product. If they are using a desktop computer and are not computer savvy, the floor plan tour might be enough. If they are using their iPhone and are a digital native looking at a single family, four-bedroom home, the TruFusion 3D will be easy to use and come across clear as day.
Contact our Client Services department for additional support on these products.
These are challenging times for all of us. Federal mandates are in place limiting person-to-person interactions, which we at TruPlace understand must feel excruciating to most agents. The health reasons are clear and the business implications are nerve-wracking. But there are practical things that can be done to serve our clients, just like there are practical ways to serve yours.
For starters, TruPlace is complying with CDC and WHO guidelines to monitor the recent travel and health of our photographers and the agents they might interact with. We are also making sure any relevant expenses, such as medical gloves or hand sanitizer, are covered. Our entire office headquarters in Germantown, MD will be teleworking for at least the next two weeks so there is no interruption in customer service.
Listing agents are facing a unique set of circumstances: they must sell their client’s home without inviting heavy foot traffic. Our clients are finding that 3D products are a safe way to market a home amid Coronavirus concerns. Specifically, TruPlace’s immersive visuals for buyers are a great way to experience the property without having to physically be there.
The 3D Virtual Tour is the new Open House. It’s viewable from a web link sent by the agent to potential buyers. A floor plan image shows the viewer where they “are” inside the house. The 3D “spin” technology lets viewers turn in any direction and view that area closer up or further back by simply pinching the screen like they would with almost any online image.
TruPlace’s “Virtual Open Houses” enable potential buyers to explore every nook and cranny of a property from the safety of their own laptops or iPads. Our signature smart-touch layout tool with beautiful photos viewers love now has added 3D spins in the rooms where 360o matters most, like kitchens and backyards.
This solution can save on the cost of a full virtual tour while still giving guests the quick, quality inside look they want. These “user-controlled experiences” allow the buyer to move in and out of rooms, hallways, and stairs in addition to being able to spin around the room to see all the details.
For buyers looking to be guided through a property visually, TruPlace has Walkthrough Videos that escort viewers to each room. These video products are available at varying lengths from 1-minute to 4-minutes long, regardless of property size.
The well being of our clients, employees, and neighbors are taking a front-row seat, driving our decision making, which seems to get tougher by the hour. We encourage everyone to stay safe and healthy.
As a vacation rental property manager, your website is the digital “front door” to your business. Making changes to it is no small task, so we’ve asked industry professionals what their recommendations are for having the best possible vacation rental website in 2020.
Their answers probably won’t come as a shock, but how strongly they suggest you make these changes might be a surprise. Overall, when we asked them about today’s standards for a vacation rental website, they all agreed on having strong visuals, but they also shared a few thoughts around branding and communication.
Without further ado, let’s jump in.
Tip #1: Use only high-quality photos
According to our experts, the #1 website breaker is poor photography. Vanessa Humes from ICND exposes this head-on. “Poorly done photography will make your company look amateur, cheap, and unprofessional.”
Consumers react more favorably to professional, high-quality imagery. They make may an assumptions about the overall rental experience based on the quality of what they see online. Successful photography includes professional shooting and processing that produces eye-catching imagery with sharp detail and straight vertical lines, great lighting, correct color, and smart staging.
Tim Schutts’ definition of good photography expands even further. “I believe it is best to capture not only the rental imagery in great detail, but the area as well,” he says. “People don’t go on vacation to just stay in their room.”
But don’t forget how these photos are being viewed. Images should be optimized for websites and the mobile searching experience. According to vroomres, 42% of travelers use their smartphones to research and book their vacations.
“Invest in good pictures and videos, but learn to optimize them for your website,” Humes advises. “Large images will make your site load slow, small images blown-up become pixelated and don’t look great.”
Ask your web provider for the exact photo file specifications needed to make your website look and perform at its best (TruPlace clients, we can help you with this!)
Matt Bare with Q4 Launch echoes the need for quality across all visuals. “We’re in the business of selling space,” he explains. “The visuals of that space are all guests have to go on when making a big purchase decision. To say the quality of those visuals is of paramount importance is an understatement. It’s really all they have to go on to assure them that their hard-earned PTO and money is going to result in a great experience!” he adds.
“Visual marketing is the most important element when setting expectations and marketing the brand, and visuals are the most efficient way to communicate product standards,” according to Drew Hines with RealTech Webmasters. “Online attention spans are notoriously short, but visuals are one of the best ways to not only capture a user’s attention but more importantly, keep it.”
In today’s hyper-competitive environment, which, according to Skift, includes more than 100,000 property management companies operating worldwide, high-quality, professional photography is non-negotiable. It inspires guests’ vacations and trust in you, it demonstrates to owners your commitment to the success of their properties, and it elevates the professional property manager above the 57% of rent-by-owners that don’t use professional photography (Evolve Vacation Rental Network).
“Don’t underrate the power of high-quality pictures and videos,” says Ken Wilson of Bizcor. “Most vacation rental managers have an inventory where most properties are unique, making the photos the best tool to share the personality of that property. The effect is even more if you can provide a 3D or floor plan virtual tour,” he adds.
Videos and tours have become not only expected but requisite to delivering an engaging online user experience.
“In today’s vacation rental market, it takes more than beautiful photography to attract guests to your brand and listings,” explains Peter Scott with BlueTent. “Property tours and/or videos are an essential part of the search experience and are a must for your direct-booking website. Want to raise the bar?” he continues. “Throw in video clips highlighting your team, neighborhoods, and happy customers.”
Wilson also stresses consistency. “Make sure your photo quality is consistent across all properties! If you have great photos for some homes but not others, it compromises your overall brand and trust from the guest.”
Tip #2: Drive More Bookings Through Consistent Branding
Major hotel brands and venture capitalists are continuing to pour investments into vacation rentals. As Skift’s Travel Megatrends 2020: Short-Term Rental Winners Emerge points out, more unique offerings like yurts and houseboats are becoming increasingly popular and overall gross bookings of short-term rentals rose 7% in 2019. Peter Scott of Bluetent notes that modern travelers are discerning and have more accommodation options than ever before.
But for author Wouter Geerts, it’s not about categorization: “It’s about meeting expectations, whether that is on a couch in a New York apartment, a chain hotel room, or a Sonder-branded luxury penthouse.”
Scott’s advice: “Your direct-booking website needs to stand out from all the rest. Give travelers the confidence to click your ‘book now’ button by providing compelling content (including visuals), a detailed search experience, and secure booking.”
A big part of guest confidence is in successful branding. “Guests want to connect with local experts and one of the most effective ways to drive this connection is through a strong brand,” Hines underscores. “There are certain features and functionality standard to a good booking experience: easy search with filters, flexible dates, booking abandonment, etc.”
In fact, increased OTA independence isn’t the only benefit vacation rental managers get with strong branding. Companies in Lucidpress’s 2018 State of Brand Consistency study reported an average of 33% increase in revenue when their brands were consistent across all platforms.
Schutts reminds property managers to sell the experience, too. “It is not just about the lodging. I recently booked a condo in Vail, Colorado. We were across the highway, so proximity to the bus stop was key. The rental I ended up booking sold me because it was a 30-second walk to the bus stop, and they provided the bus route schedule for me. Something like that made a difference.”
Clearly, thinking through the end user’s experience is important, and it’s probably why we have our final suggestion around this topic.
Tip #3: Offer Ease of Use for an Amazing Website that Converts
All our experts agreed: ease of use should be a major focus. Make it all come together by investing in an integrated plan. “A lot of people think ‘I just need a new website,’ or ‘I just need some search engine optimization.’,” says Bare. “In reality, it all works together, and the more integrated it is, the better your results will be.”
“Ease of use first and foremost,” Schutts says. “Look at the apps that Airbnb and Expedia have provided travelers. Make it easy to use and friendly for mobile,” he advises.
But as surprisingly simple as the ease-of-use concept is, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute. According to UX Planet, there are four principles to successful travel apps like Airbnb’s, all of which property managers can deploy throughout their digital experience. They include transparency, minimalism, search engine optimization and speed (load times).
Hines concurs. A fast, simple user experience that gets users onto property pages with as little hassle as possible removes friction from the experience. “Websites that prioritize the user experience of mobile users on property pages and the checkout process will win in 2020.”
Wilson stresses consistency. “Showing true rental rates all the way through the booking flow helps the guest avoid surprises in checkout with hidden fees, and lessen the shock value when the final total is displayed.”
One certainty exists as we move into a new decade in the vacation rental industry: to remain competitive and prosper property managers must find ways to distinguish their brand. The property website and marketing visuals are foundational. Everything else grows from there.
For a free website visuals analysis or to learn more about how to leverage your property visuals to grow your brand, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m going to preface this post by saying something that might surprise my friends in the Vacation Rental industry.
I don’t vacation.
Shocking, I know. Here’s the thing – I was raised by “weekend warriors”. My family’s idea of a vacation was a spur of the moment weekend getaway, planned on little more than a wing and a prayer. When I arrived at TruPlace, I quickly learned that most people (most normal people) actually do plan their vacations. Even after absorbing knowledge and insight imparted to me by some of the best mentors in the Vacation Rental Industry, I still never considered myself part of the equation. Rather, I considered myself simply an observer of the guest experience.
When it came time to plan my honeymoon in Asheville, NC (my first vacation in 10 years!) my time had finally come. Today, in honor of #BookDirect Day, the grassroots movement initiated by Amy Hinote at VRM Intel to educate guests about the advantages of bypassing third-party when booking their vacations, I address you not as a vendor in the vacation rental industry, but alas as a guest. Here’s what I found.
Before I started planning my vacation, I knew I wanted to #BookDirect, but I found myself unconsciously perusing Airbnbs in Asheville. Why? Because of the ease of interaction with the brand. I maintain that the only way to retrain guests to book direct through you is to build a strong brand and be downright obsessive about it. During the booking process, I was inundated with amazing social media targeting, direct marketing, PPC campaigns, and fantastic websites that enabled me to effectively identify what we needed for our vacation.
Invest in Visuals
Your visual marketing is the tie that binds a guest’s trust and expectations. If there’s a disconnect between the two, you will struggle to promote any type of direct booking. Property pages with compelling photography, floor plans tours, and virtual tours arm your guests with information that gives them the confidence to book direct.
Be the Mayor of Your Town
I had never been to Asheville and the layout of the town was unfamiliar to me. We wanted to be within walking proximity to attractions, but also close to the highway so we could get to the various activities we planned. A rental manager was able to help me quickly identify which properties best matched our needs. Being able to discuss this with someone helped me feel confident in where we were staying, strengthened my trust in the brand, and reassured me that it was the right decision to book through their website.
They’ll Remember You After the Vacation
Asheville is amazing. We had a blast, but more importantly, our experience from beginning to end with the property management company we chose was top notch. Throughout our experience, we felt as if someone was in our corner if we needed anything. That personal touch and attention to detail are what we will remember about the brand (read: property manager) we chose, which will make it much more likely that we’ll choose them again the next time we come to town. In a word, we were delighted.
At the end of the day, we’re all just striving for positive interactions. On Book Direct Day, take stock of where you fit into that equation. Let the need for information and ease of use drive your initiatives. If you can create that experience, they’ll remember your brand, your website, your people and your properties.
Bri Pope is the Director of Client Engagement with TruPlace. Specializing in Vacation Rental sales and advocacy, she ensures the client’s visual solutions are aligned with their diverse, unique brands. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music way too loudly, hiking, and the occasional Netflix binge. Contact her at email@example.com