This post is written by David Angotti, Co-Founder of SmokyMountains.com, the fastest growing property management firm in the Great Smoky Mountains region, and an acclaimed member of the VRMB Inner Circle. David's post is the first in a series designed to help property managers do more with less.

Most owners and managers respond to the same inquiries and questions frequently. And the more advanced folks use automation such as canned messages and auto-responders.

But very rarely do we realize that not all guests are equal, and that responding in the same way to everyone is actually decreasing our chances of sealing the booking.

This post is designed to help open your eyes to the power of persona-based marketing, slight adjustments that generate huge differences in your bottom line.

Part I: The Basics of Persona-Based Marketing

If you visited an expensive restaurant and the only menu option was Teriyaki glazed salmon, how would that make you feel? Chances are, you would be disappointed with the lack of variety. Why? Even though some people love glazed salmon, that isn’t exactly what you want.

Currently, most property managers and owners are only offering one menu item to prospective guests. We send the exact same templated response without regard to the individual traveler’s needs or desires. This one menu item is called a canned response.

Each time you copy and paste that same non-targeted response and email a guest, you are leaving cold hard cash on the table.

By segmenting and targeting your message, your conversion rate will skyrocket. In fact, implementing persona-based messages in lieu of canned marketing techniques typically increases ROI by 50% or more!

Why does persona-based marketing work? By implementing a persona-based marketing strategy, you will help your prospective guests intimately understand why your vacation rental is the perfect place for them.

This post is guaranteed to help you substantially upgrade your current canned email system and make every marketing dollar scream.

What is Persona-Based Marketing?​

Persona-based marketing assumes that your marketing approach should cater to the needs of a specific niche group rather than the masses.

Instead of using an elementary, one-size-fits-all approach, this approach custom-tailors our marketing message for the recipient. Currently, most of us are using a shotgun approach template that mentions a few features or selling points of our properties and minimizes the persona-group that the inquiring guest belongs to.

Persona-based marketing strives to deliver a message that resonates with a niche user base in a way that exponentially increases the likelihood of a desired action.

For example, if one of our identified personas is Beth (middle-aged, pet owner), we can exponentially increase the likelihood of her booking with us by customizing a message that is developed specifically for her persona group.

Why Should I Care About Persona-Based Marketing?​

Properly implementing persona-based marketing is one of the easiest ways to increase the overall profitability of your vacation rental.

This one strategic adjustment to your marketing is guaranteed to help you decrease dependency on listing sites, convert a higher percentage of inquiries to bookings, decrease marketing spend per reservation acquired, and help guests feel valued early on in the booking process. Sound good? Let’s get started!

Part II: Researching Data to be Used in Persona Development

An effective persona-based marketing strategy ideally combines analytical data from various data sources with a deep and personal knowledge of the market. We will use this data and knowledge to identify common traits and traveler niches that can be used to develop highly-targeted personas.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed, use the actionable and templated process below to get started.

Beginner Version

This process is ideal for someone with solely a VRBO listing or with limited web presence. It takes advantage of common traits (among your former guests) and niche groups.

Click To Reveal Beginner Strategy

Advanced Version

This process is designed for an owner or manager with a website with Google Analytics installed. It is much more comprehensive but also slightly more complicated.

Click To Reveal Advanced Strategy

Part III: Developing Personas to Use in Daily Marketing Activities

The next step is personalizing the data into a usable persona that will guide our communications. It is important to note that the goal here is NOT to create a persona for every possible traveler type. Rather, we should initially strive to create three to five personas that represent a large cross-section of our customer base.

Now, we need to apply the data collected from analytics and brainstorming to a standardized framework that can impact daily operations.

I have set up a Google Doc with a simple persona creation template that can be accessed for FREE via the link below:

[wpsharely id=”16562″]

[thrive_link color=’green’ link=’https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RD29NfeAZk9fKdOi5Ljm9o5yjgKM8s0-lHQByGW1Kbo/edit#’ target=’_blank’ size=’medium’ align=”]Access Custom Persona Template Here[/thrive_link]

[/wpsharely]

*The document you access above is a locked copy. You must make a copy (see image below) before you will be able to edit the Google Doc. After you click the link above, navigate to File and Make a copy.

Once you make a copy of the persona template, you will now be able complete the persona by inserting the collected data pieces from the last step, applying market knowledge, and using a little imagination.

To properly fill out a persona, you should include the following:

  • Find a photo that represents the persona
  • Name the persona (Beth Murray)
  • Niche group (pet-friendly vacation rental)
  • Interests (traveling, hiking, pets, television)
  • Age (48)
  • Gender (Female)
  • Location (Birmingham, Alabama)
  • Property size (small)
  • Additional notes to humanize the persona (spouse, traveling companions, interests...etc)

Here is what the finished product should look like:

Moving forward, we will attempt to apply one of the three to five personas to each inquiry that falls into the traveler group and craft our response based on that.

Part IV: Achieving World-Dominance with Personas

OK, let’s be real, research and planning are boring. It is time to use all of the information we have collected and sifted through to achieve world-domination!

There will be various triggers to help us identify which persona we should use. For example, in the inquiry below, there are very strong clues that Beth falls into the small property category (four total travelers) and is desiring a pet friendly property (niche).

Here is her inquiry:

Now let's take a look at how most vacation rental owners and managers respond (with the traditional templates) versus our new persona-based responses in order to see the reason why this kind of personalization works so effectively.

Traditional Marketing Copy Example

Hi Beth,

Thanks for your inquiry! Yes, this property is pet friendly.

Peyton’s Hideaway is perfectly located less than two miles from the main Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg. The cabin is humongous and has plenty of room to spread out. You and your guests will enjoy the three levels and nearly 3,000 square feet o luxury!

The cabin is LOADED with luxurious amenities including a private hot tub, pool table, foosball, 6 flat screen TVs, outdoor fireplace, fire pit area, and much more.

The property, which comfortably sleeps eight, is located near the Greenbrier restaurant and is only minutes from downtown. Please let me know if you have additional questions.

We would love to host you!

The above email feels fairly personal and does an adequate job selling the property. However, it is not exceptional.

Notice, the content in that message was not custom-tailored to the recipient and feels fairly informational. Even though Beth identified her niche group, we just used a standardized template.

Persona-Based Marketing Copy

OK, let’s try this again! This time, we will use the persona we created in the last step to imagine Beth and her family as we write the response. The response will be well-crafted to resonate with her persona in a way that will command her attention and make her feel like she belongs with our company and no one else.

Since we intimately understand Beth’s travel needs, we can personalize and hand-craft a message that resonates with that demographic. This should feel like an email we would send to a best friend’s mother. While we don’t personally know Beth, we know a ton about her.

In an ideal scenario, we will create multiple templates for each of the three to five personas. We can then copy/paste these templates and slightly alter them as necessary.

Using the persona, we created the following message for Beth:

Persona-Based Marketing Copy Example

Hi Beth,

Thanks for your inquiry! Peyton’s Hideaway is absolutely perfect for you and your four-legged friend. I have a feisty miniature pinscher named Raleigh and can definitely understand wanting to include pets on vacation!

Peyton’s Hideaway features a half-acre yard (super-rare feature!) that will be perfect for your dog and is located in a quiet development that is great for evening walks.

If your dog wants to spend a day being pampered while you are in the National Park, there is an awesome doggie daycare right around the corner named Just Fer Paws. We take Raleigh there on a regular basis and I personally know the guys that run it. There is also an incredible dog park 2-3 minutes away from the cabin.

If you need any recommendations on restaurants or attractions that are pet-friendly, please feel free to reach out. We never charge an extra fee for pets and hope to host you and your entire family.

With TONS of luxurious amenities including your own private hot tub, movie area, outdoor fireplace, and more, I assure you every member of your family will LOVE your time here.

If you were a 48 year-old pet owner named Beth visiting the Smoky Mountains, which of the above messages makes you want to book the property right now? What makes the second one more compelling?

As you can see, persona-based marketing will help you close more sales and simultaneously make your potential customers feel valued. This initial contact will set the tone for the future communications and relationship.

Part V: Homework That Will Pay HUGE Dividends

Congratulations on hanging in there with me for this ultra-long post!

At this point, you probably recognize the value of persona-based marketing and (hopefully) plan to implement this at some point in the future.

It is important for me to encourage you to use this knowledge to take action and improve your business. If you choose to read this post and then do nothing with the newfound knowledge, your education is serving one purpose - intellectual entertainment.

5 Checklist Items To Get You Started

  • Identify three to five niche traveler groups that make up a good percentage of your traveling public (beginner level)
  • Thoroughly research the interests and demographic details in Google Analytics (more advanced)
  • Develop 3-5 personas that applies the knowledge from steps one and two
  • Write the highly-personalized, custom-crafted emails that are designed to elicit the desired response from that specific persona type
  • As the new inquiries roll in, apply the correct persona and use the template for step four

I look forward to fielding questions and conversing in the comments below...

Let’s go do this!

About the author 

David Angotti

After successfully founding and exiting an educational startup in 2009, David began helping companies with business development, SEM, SEO, CRO, online marketing, mergers and acquisition, product development, and branding. Now, he is focused on his niche listing site in the Smoky Mountains. In addition, David regularly blogs about business and life here.

  1. Fantastic idea… we deal with 50-100 leads a day so it’s hard to get too personal with every response but this is an easy way to semi-automate that process, thanks! great post.

    1. This is perfect for someone dealing with a high volume of leads. If you carefully create 3-5 total personas, that should apply to 75-90% of the total inquiries. For the remainder, use a tested, well-crafted email template.

  2. Wow, wow wow Outstanding I am a member of Matts inner circle but just fully reviewed this. Excellent! Great info. Thank you ! Thank you!

    1. I am happy to hear that you found the information useful! Remember, information without implementation is simply intellectual entertainment. Excited to hear about how you implement this for your rental!

    1. Thanks Ralph! Thanks for the feedback. I hope this helpful for your rentals. Practically speaking, you could apply this technique to the France rentals and create a persona for a traveler that is spooked by the recent events. Great seeing you last weekend – tell Karen I said hello!

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed it Tracy! I look forward to hearing about how you use this technique for your properties in Orlando. Have a great weekend!

  3. Superb marketing technique and of course it makes perfect sense (not that we do it!). I really appreciate you taking us through the principles and applying so well to an example that makes sense. Thanks David.

  4. Fantastic, David.

    Just to share a useful tool with everyone, Text Expander is a program you can use to create these text snippets that auto-expand (in case you don’t use Gmail or Google Apps).

    https://textexpander.com/

    Basically you create “shortcuts” that allow for you to expand these long snippets with a few characters. For example, you could use some of the below examples to generate these emails.

    ,petfriendly
    ,largegroup
    ,retiredcouple

    I use the comma (,) as a trigger for the text expansion because you normally don’t type it (that way you don’t have to worry about accidentally expanding your email unless you want to).

    Text Expander is system-native for the Mac, so it works in literally any app you use and even works on your iPhone too so you can respond on the go with these awesome template examples that David has. There is a cost with the software, but if you type all day like I do, it’ll save you tons of time.

    1. Hi Conrad – Great catching up with you in Atlanta a couple weeks ago! I love expander, but for those with GMail or Google Apps for Business I typically recommend YesWare. YesWare allows you to create folders for each persona, test templates, and then track sent emails. YesWare (and expander) both cost money, but are well worth it IMO.

  5. David, what happens when you send an inappropriate email, i.e. a food & dining enthusiast email goes to hiking/camping person? Is there a downside?

    1. While it is possible to quote to low of a rate, send details about the wrong property, or select the wrong persona, I would hope that a few seconds of proofing the email prior to hitting send would help a ton.

      By the way, if you use GMail or Google Apps for Biz there is a handy unsend feature that is perfect for those “Oh Crap!” moments. The unsend feature only buys you ten seconds, but can definitely be helpful.

      Might have saved my bacon once or twice… 🙂

  6. Awesome David! Greatly appreciated information, and I would expect nothing less from you than extremely well thought-out and tested information. This is stellar and, again, I appreciate your sharing! Now to expand my “one” primary persona to another 5!

    1. Hi Jane! Great spending some time with you in Toronto last week. I absolutely love the beautiful properties you represent!

      I think a few personas for your specific properties would include the following:
      -High Net Worth Traveler
      -Assistant for the High Net Worth Traveler
      -Travel Agent Specializing in High-End Homes

      Hope that gets you started!

      1. Awesome start – thanks for the specific suggestions for my market. Thank you!

  7. I already do this but take it one step further. With all my inquiries, I categorize them according to type of inquiry. For example, a couple from up north looking at Jan-Mar will be in snowbird category, family, romantic, etc. Then I use this information to segment my emails. As a bonus, Mailchimp will track location of email opens so that I can target people who opened my emails within a two hour drive. Perfect for last minute or getaway promotions.

    1. Great to hear that you are doing this already! Can you share with the community the conversion bump you achieved following implementation?

      Are you using MailChimp for the initial inquiry response or dropping them into the correct campaign post initial inquiry response? If so, are you using any tools to keep the initial responses persona-based? I use YesWare that tracks location and opens as well and LOVE it.

      Thanks again for reading!

  8. Great post David and super easy to follow and implement. I was so excited, I tested it while I was reading through your article.
    I have one question; would you say taking the entire year date range is best, or taking a split range (say spring/summer versus winter) to narrow the typical persona would be best? I say this because my traveller profile in the winter months (not affected by school schedules, retirees, etc..) is much different than the rest of the year.

    1. Hi Nancy!

      Yes, times of year can definitely impact the persona-based marketing strategy. In addition, length of stay, can also be an important factor as well.

      For example, a snowbird elderly couple traveling down for three months over winter will definitely have a different persona than an elderly couple coming for a week in the summer. The time of year can also impact the hyper-relevant area suggestions that make the persona-based marketing most effective (i.e. that charming outdoor restaurant may not be perfect in January).

      You want to stay generic enough that 3-5 personas covers 75-90% of your inquiries for an easy implementation with maximum impact though.

      Great meeting you and sharing the panel with you at VRSS!

    1. Hi Martin! Thanks for the kind words.

      Quick question – I have used the make my persona tool in the past and found that geared more for B2B (i.e questions related to who does the person report to, who reports to them, what is their role, organization size, etc.) than for travelers. Do you feel that it can be easily applied (i.e. are there shortcuts to remove the majority of questions about B2B) to a traveler (B2C) in the hospitality niche?

      Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the application to our niche. Thanks again for reading and sharing the resource!

  9. Wonderful article Dave thanks for articulating so clearly! I reply personally to every inquiry, exactly so that I can personalize them, but now I’m finding I’m spending too much time at the computer when I need to do other things. Creating the personas and making a template for editing and personalizing might cut my work in half! Using analytics to support my general thoughts about guest data will cut through my guesswork. Thanks! (Also it was fantastic to meet you last week at the VRSS!)

    1. Fantastic meeting you as well Debi!

      Yes, the time-savings combined with the increased conversion rate/booking rate makes this a worthwhile time investment IMO. By using analytics to guide you, you can be fairly certain your time is being used well and that your success is likely.

      Looking forward to the day our path crosses again. Have a great weekend!

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