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Vacation Rental Branding: Building The Full Guest Experience

In this post, we’re talking about branding for vacation rentals. What it is, why it’s such a hot topic in vacation rental marketing, and how you can leverage a solid brand identity to reel in potential guests. Vacation rental branding is critical for long-term success, but building a brand isn’t a simple process.

What is a vacation rental brand? 

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Ask 50 experts what a “brand” or “branding” is, and they’ll give 50 different definitions. It is “a story unfolding” (Jonah Sachs), “the art of differentiation” (David Brier), “a promise kept” (Muhtar Kent), “what the consumers tell each other it is” (Scott Cook), and, Jeff Bezos’ well-known take: “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

All of these are true! Whichever way you slice it, branding centers around the relationship between the business and its customer. (Guests, in our case!) 

For vacation rentals, we would add one more definition: a brand is “the sum total of the guest experience.”  The moment guests find your vacation rental property in their search, to the moment they post their glowing review, and everything in-between… their experience comprises your brand identity. 

Of course, branding isn’t all vague abstractions. There are nuts and bolts involved, too. For a long time, “brand” was synonymous with “logo,” for example, and logos are still an important facet of your brand. After all, it’s a quick visual clue to who you are and what you have to offer. In a few minutes with Canva and a template, anyone can have a logo. But you’ll need to build a lot more than that.

Ditto for the brand name of your property and/or property management or vacation rental company. Design is important, too, especially if you have your own website. Choices like fonts, colors, and images—the elements that you would include on a brand board—all contribute to how guests perceive your offering. 

To recap, the more concrete elements of a brand identity include: 

  • Logo
  • Brand name (both for the property and your property management company)
  • Fonts 
  • Colors
  • Tagline
  • Photography and other images

But, make no mistake, your vacation rental brand is about so much more than what goes on a brand board. Let’s dive a little deeper to what creates a “sticky vacation rental brand” that guests will want to experience to again and again. 

How to make your brand memorable 

Vacation rentals face particular challenges when it comes to branding. 

The first challenge? If you list your properties on vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, potential guests will already associate you with a brand… and it’s not yours. Airbnb has spent millions defining its brand identity, and it worked. Take note of how “Airbnb”and “Airbnb hosts” has become a verb that stands in for the very act of renting a property, i.e. “we’re going to Airbnb a place in the Catskills for the holidays.” That’s a surefire sign of a powerful brand identity. 

So, your short-term rental brand has to be well-developed enough that it stands out even under the umbrella of a professionally branded company like Airbnb and Vrbo. 

Your second challenge is that guests will remember the experience of their trip much more than specifics like your property management company’s name, or the name of the property they stayed in. Think about your own vacation rental experiences. Can you name every property—or property management company—you’ve ever stayed with? 

This memorability matters. Especially if you’re looking to capture more direct bookings on your own branded vacation rental website.  If guests don’t remember you, they can’t look you up or refer you to others. 

So, given these challenges, how do you make yourself memorable? 

Differentiation from other properties/management companies in your area. 

We like the definition David Brier (a branding expert) gave for branding as “the art of differentiation.”  In the first stage of a booking, you must first stand out, i.e., show why you’re different—and that’s true whether you’re marketing exclusively on listing sites/ OTAs or taking bookings from your own website. 

Ways to stand out include: 

  • Truly unique selling points (more than just fast wifi).
  • Targeting a particular guest demographic, like business travelers, pet owners, families or design-conscious millennials.
  • Matching your target audience with the right message in the right channel.
  • A unique and memorable property name.
  • Professional-quality photos that break the mold, like shots that include real people, closeups of interesting design features, overhead drone photography, etc. 
  • A narrative “hook,” like an interesting history at the property/properties, or even your own backstory and reason for getting into the rental business, if you feel comfortable sharing.

Once you have leveraged your brand identity to differentiate, it’s time to move on to providing the best guest experience possible, and it all starts with… 

On-brand guest communication. 

One reason guests can’t remember the name of the property (or PM) that hosted them? Sometimes they only see that name once or twice throughout their entire stay! 

After you get that booking, it’s time to start sending your guests (helpful) content that prominently features, of course, your company’s name and logo, so they start associating YOU with their upcoming vacation. 

Examples of branded guest communication includes:

  • Post-booking “thank you.”
  • Pre-arrival email with check-in instructions.
  • Guidebook with house and area info (both digital and hard copy, ideally).
  • Post-stay email to send your appreciation. 

Branded merchandise. 

Another way to be memorable is too include some branded swag for guests in the property itself. Umbrellas, coffee mugs, and more can be branded to increase guest awareness of who you are. Check out Beach House Logos for more ideas, and to get your swag branded with your logo, tagline and biz name. Some property managers and hosts print in-property signage, business cards, and other high-end and high-quality merchandise like cooling cups, beach bags and more.

You should target useful and eye-catching designs with any branded merchandise. Guest expectations are higher than ever: you’re better off not offering any merchandise than very low quality products that end up in the trash, not on the journey back to their home from your vacation homes.

Brand as guest experience 

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As we mentioned, a strong brand for a vacation rental is closely linked to the quality of the guest experience. 

Here we’re not talking about online vacation rental marketing, social media presence, or anything digital at all. We’re talking about the actual, real-world experience a guest has while staying in your property. 

Interior design. 

Some of the most successful vacation rental brands incorporate the interior design of the property into their brand identity. This gets trickier as you build a large property management portfolio with unique properties and owners to account for. 

But, to the extent that you can, implementing a design scheme that fits your overall company’s brand (and the destination overall) is an excellent strategy. Farmhouse chic. Mid-century modern. Vintage kitsch. Cottage luxury. 

Customer service. 

Your customer service approach also defines your brand. There are some givens when it comes to hospitality, of course: quick responses to inquiries and emergencies, a friendly and welcoming attitude, and helpful local tips and recommendations. From there, though, there’s  wiggle room. 

Some modern guests (especially in the COVID-19 era) prefer an entirely self-driven check-in process and privacy. Read: sparse contact from the host or property manager. Others like to be greeted, or given welcome gifts and notes. Some like a mid-stay “how’s it going?” message; others would prefer not. 

Your approach can reflect both your own preferences and the preferences of your target guest (which may take some time to gather). Maybe you got into the vacation rental business in order to meet new people in the first place. Great! That high-touch customer service is part of your brand and will be appreciated by the right guests. Maybe you love the flexibility of a streamlined, efficient, high-tech rental that lets you step back from the face-to-face. Also fine! That’s the beauty of a brand—you call the shots, and the right guests will respond. 

Brand marketing strategy

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Once you’ve put the right building blocks in place, your brand needs to be seen and heard! It’s not enough to make something great, you’ve got to share and connect with your guests and (future) potential guests too. Explore our resources on how to build a great vacation rental marketing strategy.

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