This post is about newsletters: the single best way to stay in touch with former guests, generate new referrals, and keep your business brain sharpened and focused.

I am something of a newsletter nerd. I sign up to receive newsletters (and assess them), I've spent every week for the last 5 years sending out VRMB's weekly newsletter, and prior to that, I spent a solid 5 years sending out one for my vacation rental business. I love newsletters (or mailers or updates or whatever you want to call them). 

But Here's The Honest Truth...

Newsletters are one of the top investments to generate repeat/referral bookings because they compound: you put the same effort into one newsletter but as your list grows, the returns multiple. However, newsletters require a plan and discipline over time which, with limited resources, seems to be enough to keep many vacation rental professionals from benefitting from the practice. 

Newsletters warrant more of your limited resources.

In our latest podcast interview, Rafat Ali of Skift insists that a newsletter should be the core of any modern day travel company. And to encourage yours, I want to share some common denominators of the best newsletters I have observed over 10+ years to get you started, calibrated, and/or pushing forward. 

How Often To Send?

The sweet spot for a vacation rental business seems to be once a month or once every 3 months. So long as you are pretty consistent, the intervals needn't be precise. But do place future reminders on your calendar and stay committed. It's like a diet in that on and off does not work

Your List

Think of your list like a garden: you need to plant, water, cultivate, and prune, in order to enjoy the growth. A 1,000 person list with 10% of people who open is less valuable than a 200 person list where 50% open. Quality over quantity aaaaaaaall day. I suggest you delete contacts who do not open your emails after 3 sends. It will keep your costs down. Also make sure people have given you permission to join. Comply with the CAN-SPAM Act

Subject Lines

I like two schools of thought for subject lines: Creative vs. Recognizable. Creative subject lines pique interest. They require removing yourself from the situation and asking "what would get me curious enough to open this email?" Recognizable subject lines are more generic: your business + name of newsletter + date. Both creative and recognizable subject lines work. I also like a hybrid of putting your recognizable in [brackets] after the creative. 

What's It Look & Feel Like?

Make your newsletter look and feel like a gorgeous email. Think of it like an outfit for a formal event. You want personality, but not too much distraction. Avoid multiple fonts/colors, too many images, and fancy formatting (a huge waste of time). Simple, classic, refined. But also YOU: don't forget to write in your voice -- even if that means breaking some grammar rules in the process. 

What to Include?

For content breakdown, I like to suggest one part friend, one part destination ambassador, one part small business owner. The friend opens with an update about their (and their team's) lives: the ambassador shares ongoings of the region (restaurant news, events, re-openings): and the small business owner makes relevant offers. Do not send only special offers. People will delete. Put real thought into your newsletter content: former guests who matter can feel it. So can the people they forward it to. Which reminds me...

The Newsletter Sign-up Link

Because great newsletters get forwarded to friends, family, and colleagues, it's important to have a link where those new people can sign-up. All you need is a simple landing page to capture email addresses. The best place to put this link...

The P.S.

The P.S. statement always commands attention so consider a new member sign up page, humble brag, or call to action sales line. Since it only gets read by those who have taken the time to get there, the quality of the P.S. interaction is peak. 

It's Best to Segment

The more you segment your recipients, the better you can personalize each message and the better you can personalize the higher open rates and click-through rates you see.  A tweaked message to guests who stayed in a particular home in a particular time of year will yield exponentially greater engagement than a blanket message to all guests who stayed across all properties all year. Segmenting means one big job up front (sorting contacts the best you can into home-stayed, date, group size, vacation type), then ongoing tagging/categorizing as the list grows. Sending tailored messages to different segments is one of the most underrated activities in vacation rental marketing. It's a comparatively cheaper and easier activity than generating new bookings. 

Remove Outbound Links

The fewer links you include, the more people will click on the links that tap your bottom line. It can be tempting to want to include many hyperlinks to "read more" but ask yourself, "Is the link 100% truly necessary here?" 

Bonus Tips

Here are some random lessons that didn't seem to warrant their own sections. I will add to this list as the good ideas come rolling in (please share): 

  • Occasionally, I like adding FWD: or Re: to the beginning of a subject line and crafting the body message itself to look like a separate email that has been forwarded to the recipient. This only works when the message itself makes sense to be forwarded. And done only occasionally.
  • For the occasional and supremely important sales email, I have seen senders "accidentally" send two copies (one right after the other), which draws attention and increases open rates. FWIW: This is definitely not a "best practice" but it's interesting. 
  • The {merge} feature of many platforms that allows you to batch insert personal details like 'First Name' very rarely achieves its goal (often the opposite).
  • In terms of metrics, open rates are fine but actual engagement is better. Ask your recipients to "Click Reply" and let you know what they think. This kind of human interaction is actually the most valuable outcome from an automated tool like email marketing. 
  • Most vacation rental businesses simul-publish their email newsletters to a page on their website, which is good for a variety of reasons. But you do not need a website to send a newsletter. 
  • Don't be afraid to re-use materials from previous newsletters. Updating is a beautiful thing. Don't feel the need to come up with brilliant stuff each time.
  • You need to use an email marketing platform (Mailchimp for free, Infusionsoft for more enterprise level) or your property management software (check out our Keystone Awards here). Please do not send out bulk emails from your personal email. Quick route to the spam folder. 
Matt Landau
August 4, 2020
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