Lessons From Top Vacation Rental Brands
Having a branded vacation rental website is now par for the course in the vacation rental management industry. With platforms like Lodgify, Track, and Guesty enabling anyone to launch a branded website, there’s no reason not to have one. How to brand your vacation rental company well is another story, and not everyone knows the steps needed to create a compelling brand that attracts guest to book direct instead of on Airbnb and Vrbo.
Some brands have gone above and beyond generic templates to offer something truly special that is redefining the standard for vacation rental brands. You may not have the resources of some of the example companies in this article, but there are still lessons you can use to improve your own site.
Lesson One: Open With Your Brand's Story
AvantStay: Go Together. Go Far.
Research shows that most people buy based on emotion and then justify their decision with logic. It is important, therefore, to build an emotional connection with your website’s visitors. One of the best ways to do this is to open with a brand story, instead of just listing facts about what your vacation rental properties offer.
One of the brands that does this best is AvantStay. AvantStay’s home page offers a bold vision for their brand that communicates a story to guests. Their tag line, “travel with the people you love,” immediately evokes an emotional response by reminding people that travel brings them closer to friends and family.
You see this story of “togetherness” throughout the site with images of families and friends traveling together. A surprising choice in the vacation rental industry as most websites focus on property images.
Cuvée: The Cuvée Difference
Another example of a vacation rental brand that opens with their story is Cuvée. Cuvée shares its story of creating exceptional experiences and memories for guests through a video on their homepage. From their website, to their name and imagery, Cuvée oozes with luxury, and you instantly identify this as a brand that is appealing to a very high-end clientele.
Creating a compelling narrative that feels authentic to your brand requires a deep understanding of your target audience. Looking at the AvantStay and Cuvée websites, it is clear what types of travelers their brands are appealing to. Once you understand what drives your guests to travel, you can start telling a story that appeals to them at an emotional level.
Lesson Two: The Brand Pyramid
Featuring a story that connects on an emotional level is the first step to improve your vacation rental branding. However, to make this message effective, you need to support your story with actual features from your properties. Using a Framework, like the “Brand Pyramid,” can be a useful way develop and crystalize how you want to communicate your brand.
The Brand Pyramid starts with the emotional benefits you want your guests to experience at the top. Underneath those are layers of consumer benefits, functional benefits, and product attributes that support the emotional benefit.
AvantStay does an excellent job of introducing consumer benefits right after they open with their emotional brand story. Two of the main consumer benefits they feature are staying in a true neighborhood when traveling and having an experience like a traditional home.
Finally, AvantStay summarizes the product attributes that makes their homes special and desirable to their target audience.
AvantStay is not the only vacation rental brand that does a great job outlining consumer benefits and product attributes. The Guild also uses a brand pyramid approach to promote its business traveler program. On their page for business travelers, The Guild emphasizes the key product attributes and consumer benefits that business travelers are looking for.
The Brand Pyramid is a framework for articulating your brand in a way that is meaningful to your audience. You do not need to separate your home page into four sections that cover the four levels of the pyramid. Instead, you will see websites like AvantStay and The Guild use concepts from the framework to express what makes their brand interesting to their target audience.
Lesson Three: Invest In Differentiation
When you have limited resources to build your website, focus on what makes your brand matter to your target audience. A good example is how The Guild has chosen what parts of the website to customize. While they have developed pages for city guides, their business program, and others, they do not have a custom front-end for their booking engine.
Their booking engine is an out-of-the box solution hosted on RezTrip, a product developed by Travel Tripper.
Brand building is about making key investments in the parts of the experience that matter to your audience. In an ideal world, every part of your website would be perfect from the get-go. However, as a business owner or marketing leader, you should focus on building out core brand assets first – determining what is a must-have vs. a nice-to-have.
Lesson Four: How To Develop Brand Assets
Use Our Vacation Rental Branding Checklist
In order to brand your vacation rental company, it is helpful to take a structured approach. Lesson 1-3 should have helped you get your brain thinking about your brand at the strategic level. Here is a tactical list of to-dos that will give you a step-be-step checklist for branding your vacation rental business.
1. Define the target audience(s) for your vacation rentals
Think about group types, reasons for traveling, income, education etc. You may have more than one based on season or types of vacation rentals in your portfolio.
2. Analyze your audiences "need-states"
Many marketers forget to go beyond audience demographics and think deeply about their target audiences’ “need-state.” By using the “need-state” framework, you develop an understanding of the driving motivations behind the vacation rental purchasing decision. This way you can craft the brand identity to satisfy the needs of your target audiences.
3. Write out your brand's personality, story, mission, and vision
Based on the “need-state(s)” your vacation rental brand should satisfy, identify what personality your brand should invoke. For instance, if you are trying to appeal to millennial travelers who are looking to disconnect and have an outdoor/nature-driven experience, I would look at building a brand that is both rugged and sincere.
Specifically, I’d look at how to incorporate wholesome, cheerful, outdoorsy, and tough characteristics into the brand’s story and branding. Based on the personality/characteristics write your brand’s story, mission, and vision. Your story should reflect your motivation behind the vacation rental business in a way that connects to your guests emotional and physical needs.
The vision for your brand should identify a big-picture goal/impact you’d like to have with your brand. The mission is tied to more practical service-delivery goals – for instance ensuring every guest has a peaceful place to disconnect and explore nature without having to worry about the basic amenities.
4. Create a brand style guide including name, logo, imagery and colors
Brand Guidelines are where you take your brand’s story and personality and turn those into tangible assets that you can use to create your website, printed material, marketing emails etc.
If you are not a designer/creative, I would recommend hiring a designer whose portfolio you like. A great place to find designers that can also build websites, emails and other collateral is on fiverr. On fiverr you can browse designers that will create an entire set of brand guidelines, including logos, colors, fonts, and web pages.
If you want to browse some examples of great brand style guides, Hubspot has put together a collection of some of the best brands out there.
5. Launch your branded #bookdirect vacation rental website
Now armed with great brand collateral, you can incorporate those elements into a great direct booking websites. We recommend using a customizable template through your Property Management System (PMS) for most brands; however, if you are large enough you may want to build a fully customizable wordpress website.
PMS software like lodgify offer some great vacation rental website templates that you can customize with your own branding. If you want something more customizable, you can go with an agency like Q4 Launch that specializes in building vacation rental websites, or hire a freelancer from fiverr.
You can read more about direct booking strategies and websites in our article about 5 ways to increase direct bookings for vacation rentals.
6. Introduce every guest, now matter how they booked, to your brand with StayFi
One issue many vacation rentals have is how to effectively market their brand to their own guests. Platforms like Airbnb make a it very difficult to clearly differentiate your properties based on their brand, and if you ask most guests they will say that they “booked an Airbnb.”
Also unlike a hotel where guests arrive at a clearly branded building with staff that greet you in the lobby, most Airbnb’s use some kind of keyless entry technology to facilitate check-in. Therefore, guests usually have little or no idea that the home they are staying in is part of a larger branded portfolio.
StayFi ensures every guest is greeted with a custom branded splash page the first time they log onto the WiFi. In addition, you get to collect the guests name, email, and even phone number so you can market to them directly on an ongoing basis.
Conclusion: How To Brand Your Vacation Rental Company
1. Open with your brand’s story – tell a story that appeals to people’s emotions.
2. Build the brand pyramid – reinforce your emotional story with practical product attributes like amenities and reviews.
3. Differentiate where it matters – spend resources to customize the parts of the website that matter most to your target audience.
4. Develop brand assets – with the help of a freelancer or agency, develop core assets that you can use again and again across platforms.