By The Hospitable Team
“Building a brand is about doing something memorable. If you’re a host, it can be challenging to stand out. But branding is about doing the best you can to make your property memorable, build a relationship with guests, and exceed their expectations.”
That’s what Conrad O’Connell, director of Guest Hook and founder and lead consultant of BuildUp Bookings, says is key to building a successful vacation rental brand (even if you’re not a marketing or property professional, or only have a few listings).
And he should know. With more than a decade of marketing experience, Conrad is now at the helm of two companies, short-term rental creative agency Guest Hook (which he acquired in October 2020) and direct booking marketing agency BuildUp Bookings (which he founded in June 2016).
Both offer everything rental hosts need to build a successful, profitable brand and get more guests on their own terms, without more stress or work.
And even if you’re just starting out, or only have a few listings, “building a brand” is what marks the haphazard, hobbyist hosts out from the standout, star vacation rentals. It creates a consistent service that makes guests happy and makes you good money to boot.
And while it’s totally possible to DIY it─ we know it can feel like a lot.
That’s why we’ve laid out our exact method to:
- Figuring out if and why building a brand could be right for your vacation rental business.
- Making your vacation rental brand stand out easily.
- Building your brand professionally to improve guests’ experience and get great reviews.
- Getting direct, repeat bookings as well as through Airbnb or Vrbo.
- Getting started with improving your communication and professionalism easily.
First things first: Does every host need to build a brand?
If you’re just starting out with vacation rentals, or only have a few listings on Airbnb or Vrbo, you may be wondering whether you even need to “build a brand” in the first place.
If you’re happy getting all your bookings from Airbnb or Vrbo, and you’re not bothered about bringing everything under one coherent, recognizable umbrella, you do you. It’s totally possible to run a successful, smaller operation on online travel agencies (OTAs) alone, with no “brand” necessary.
“I’m sure there are extremely successful hosts who get all their bookings from Airbnb, and they’ll continue to be successful until, well, Airbnb goes away,” says Conrad. “If you’re just dabbling, not taking it really seriously, or are fine with Airbnb having all your bookings, then that’s OK, as long as you realize the downsides of that.
“Building your own brand is always gonna be more difficult than just putting your properties on a listing site,” he says. “But for some, it’s worth the effort to have less dependence on these platforms, and build a business they can control.”
However, building a brand could be right for you if you want to:
- Bring all of your listings under a consistent, recognizable platform
- Attract direct bookings via your own website to avoid OTA fees and have your own online “home”
- Improve professionalism and present a unified, trustworthy face to guests
- Improve communication and give guests peace of mind via friendly, helpful messaging
- Build strong relationships with guests and encourage repeat bookings
- Expand from one or two haphazard, “hobbyist” listings to a real side-hustle or business
If any or all of that sounds good to you, you may be ready to start building an awesome vacation rental brand and start elevating your business ASAP.
So what makes a vacation rental brand awesome?
An awesome vacation rental brand doesn’t have to be fancy or require a whole marketing department.
All it means is that guests looking to book recognize your property as a well-run, professional operation (even if you’re just a part-time host), and it can be as simple as writing a checklist for your cleaning, or using the same colors, logo, and language throughout your listings and messages.
An awesome brand:
- Differentiates your property, and makes it recognizable and memorable, building trust with your potential guests
- Delivers on guest expectations, and provides a great experience, so they leave consistently 5-star reviews
- Is led by, and showcases, your values (e.g. How you want to treat guests? How do you want them to feel when they book and stay with you? What makes staying with you different? What kinds of guests are you targeting? How can you provide an experience specifically designed for them?)
- Implements repeatable, scalable processes so guests have a consistent experience, and you’re not constantly stressing out that you’ve forgotten something, or doing everything yourself from memory. This can be as simple as writing a checklist for preparing your property for a new guest check-in, so you do it the same way every single time (or you can finally hire an assistant and trust that they’re doing it the same way every time!).
- Is confident even if your portfolio is small: this all works if you have 1 listing, 10, or 100!
5 Ways to Get Started on Building a Brand
While this is our recommended five-step process for building an awesome brand, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once, or overnight. Pick a few manageable steps, and keep refining and tweaking as you go.
The more you do it the more you’ll learn what works best for your properties and guests, and will figure out what you need for your brand, and what you don’t.
1. Build a direct booking website
A direct website enables you to have a “home” online so you appear legitimate and trustworthy if guests search for you before booking (which, let’s be honest, quite a few will).
Of course, it needs a bit of effort if you want it to look professional and trustworthy, but there are many services you can hire on a one-off basis to help.
These include Guest Hook for specialized copywriting (for example) and Hospitable.com Direct for dedicated short-term rental websites, so you can build a great platform in minutes, without needing to hire a developer or copywriter on retainer, or become an expert coder overnight.
Get a direct booking website within minutes!
A direct website enables you to:
- Offer incentives to guests to book direct
- Build relationships with guests directly and boost the chances of repeat bookings
- Enables you to save on OTA fees and not rely on OTA algorithms or pricing
- Collect data and information, and establish direct communication with guests, rather than having the OTA hide it all
- Use guests’ email addresses to send discounts, offers, and other marketing updates or friendly messages, to build more rapport and boost repeat bookings
“You need to have somewhere to send guests, and not give a commission to Airbnb,” Conrad explains. “For a small successful brand, that could be as simple as someone going onto Google and searching for the name of the property.
“There may only be 200 people per month that search for it, but it’s still building trust, as is one of the initial building blocks in building a brand. If you’re trying to be successful, start with small numbers like that.”
2. Dial in your guest communication
A key part of building a brand is establishing professional, prompt, friendly, and helpful communication, even before guests book.
This gives them peace of mind as they have all the information they need upfront, and they trust that if they have a question or problem, you’ll reply quickly and easily, with everything they need.
“Branded” guest communication includes:
- Establishing a tone of voice so your messages are professional and consistent every time. Is your brand more formal and curt? Or friendly and informal? Do you speak to your guests like friends, or more like business colleagues? Do you use emojis? Do you sign off with a name or a company name? These are all decisions that can help make your communication a real part of your brand.
- Staying consistent across platforms. Once you’ve decided your tone of voice, apply it everywhere, so it’s recognizable. For example, use the same kind of tone and style in your listings, pre-booking and post-booking messages, and follow-up emails too.
- Setting up automated messages. You can do this using platforms such as Hospitable.com, which even uses AI to detect what your guests (or potential guests) are asking, so you can respond to messages quickly and helpfully—and in your brand tone of voice—even if you’re busy or asleep. This builds trust with the guest and helps you come across as more professional and helpful, so they’re more likely to book and/or have a great stay experience.
Good communication is a key way to help people remember you, Conrad says.
“Signage, pre-arrival communication, post-departure communication, collecting an actual email address…” he explains. “It’s all about building a relationship with the individual guests that you’re working with. There’s a lot of little levers that you can pull.”
3. Fine-tune the details
A great way to start building a brand is to choose maybe 2-3 great colors, create a simple logo, and use them everywhere.
- Choose colors and logos that make sense, and can be applied everywhere. For example, if your listings are beach huts, using a warm seaside blue and a font that suggests “easygoing vacation” makes more sense than a bright red logo and a formal, straightlaced font.
- When in doubt, keep it simple. Ensure the logo works when it’s large and small, and avoid too much text or small images. Choose a few, complementary colors, and only use a couple of fonts maximum on your website or in your emails.
- Keep it consistent, in terms of color, tone of voice, style, communication, and logo, across all platforms, from your listings to your website to your emails to messaging, so guests recognize your brand and build up trust along their journey (from browsing to booking to check out and beyond).
- Also, consider upgrading your listing descriptions, and hiring a professional photographer to take your photos. First impressions matter!
There are some great online tools out there such as Canva, which enable beginners to create a standout logo, and create a brand color palette easily. These can be used for free, or for a small fee, and can get you started.
Fonts and logos are not the most important elements of a vacation rental brand (so don’t get too sidetracked or overwhelmed here!) but they can help to make your listing more memorable.
“The way a logo looks or the way you photograph your properties, from a visual standpoint, can convince someone to stay with you,” says Conrad. “They perceive more value, or that you’re more trustworthy because you’ve invested into great design.
“It starts to build trust, especially if you have a new property that has no reviews, to get the ball rolling. Good design, good photography, and a good description, really help.”
4. Reach out to past guests
Building a great brand also involves building a community of people who love your properties, have a memorable stay, and return time and again.
It costs a lot less in marketing and time to get a previous guest to visit again, than it does to entice an entirely new person to book.
Remembering guests from their previous stay, will go a long way to building a brand that appears consistent, professional, and gets great reviews.
Reach out to past guests via message or email, with offers for repeat bookings (such as, say, a bottle of Champagne on arrival if they book for their birthday or anniversary). This is another reason to get guests to book direct, as you can collect email addresses and bypass the OTAs.
Building relationships with existing guests can also help you to get referrals.
Happy guests are much more likely to remember and recommend your property to their friends and family if they trust the person who runs it, and you can offer incentives if they recommend a friend who later books. This will set you apart from being “just another random Airbnb”, and establish you as a real brand.
It sounds obvious when you state it so clearly—but ensuring a great guest experience will go further to build your brand than a fabulous logo ever will.
As Conrad explains: “It’s brand recall. When I say soda, you think Coca-Cola. When I say electric car, you think Tesla. So if you can do that in a micro way, you’re building a brand.
The way a guest is going to remember you is by delivering on that experience. The rest of it almost doesn’t matter. A good logo or a nice looking website doesn’t matter if say, the shower can’t get hot if you’re in a cold climate.”
5. Start sooner rather than later
As we said at the start, building a brand isn’t an overnight process, and you don’t need to have everything ready to go perfectly before you start.
Instead, try some of these tips out before you feel ready, and see how you go.
Some of these elements can be implemented easily without much, if any, investment, in a matter of days or weeks, such as establishing a tone of voice, picking some brand colors, or deciding what kind of experience you want to offer guests.
As you gain in confidence, you can then set up consistent messaging via an automated tool that does it for you, such as Hospitable.com, to start collecting guest email addresses and sending out consistent emails.
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And while switching to direct bookings only isn’t an option for most hosts, you can definitely move towards a strategy that mixes OTA and direct bookings.
You can continue to use Airbnb and Vrbo successfully (and combine their ease of use with the advantages of having your own direct booking website) via simple, integrated tools such as Hospitable.com, which “plug in” to your existing listings easily.
Implementing these changes step by step will build a consistent brand that helps your listings appear more coherent and professional, without adding more work to your already-full to-do list.
“You know that expression: ‘When’s the best time to plant a tree? The best time was 10 years ago, but the next best time is today.’ It’s the same with brand building for a vacation company.
“Start now. Build a website, reach out to past guests, make people remember you. Delaying things isn’t gonna get you any further along in the process, that’s for sure.”
Building a brilliant vacation rental brand: the bottom line
Ultimately, building a great vacation rental brand is about showing up consistently, deciding your tone of voice and style, improving your communication, and attracting direct booking—so you can build great relationships with guests, and give them an awesome experience, every time.
Start gradually, see what works and what doesn’t, and hire as you go. You might choose a service such as Guest Hook to perfect your website copywriting, invest in a lightweight service such as Hospitable.com for messaging and task management, or use Direct once you’re ready for direct bookings.
However you start, building a brand is the logical next step in taking you from hobbyist host to consistent vacation rental business leader, whether you have 2 listings or 20.
From establishing a memorable logo and colors, to setting up professional, automated communication in a recognizable tone of voice, and giving guests an excellent, consistent experience from start to finish, building a brand can help you offer better service throughout.
Start small, keep it consistent, keep improving…and watch the five-star reviews and extra revenue roll in.
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