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The Zero Moment Of Truth For Vacation Rentals: How To Win The War 

 August 25, 2015

By  Matt Landau

In 2011, Google hired a third-party market research firm to survey some 5,000 people upon purchasing items in 11 different industries ranging from cars to toaster ovens to burritos.

The innovative theme gleaned from all this research became what’s now semi-famously known as the “Zero Moment Of Truth” (they published a book on it too1), a tipping point of sorts to the online marketer.

The ZMOT encompasses all the behavior building up to that critical point in which a customer either decides to buy or bail. In the vacation rental industry, you can think of it as the moment a guest decides to inquire (or book) your property or pass on the opportunity. It’s fight or flight…but for vacation rentals.

What the researchers found is that the ZMOT process (the research and consideration) actually begins far before the potential guest ever enters the traditional “sales funnel.”

The study cites examples such as researching a pair of jeans before you go to the mall or asking friends what kind of camera to buy on Facebook. The ZMOT begins with reconnaissance missions far before the client actually enters the purchasing process. And vacation rentals fit perfectly into the data sets.

The ZMOT In Vacation Rentals

Image Credit: stateofdigital.com
Image Credit: stateofdigital.com

For us in the vacation rental industry, the ZMOT could be an inquiry, an actual booking, or (if you’re a PM) the moment a new owner puts their property in your fleet. No matter where that threshold lies, the process truly begins the moment a potential guest grabs some kind of computer and begins researching a property or destination.

In last week’s Inside The Mind Of VR Guests Workshop, we learned that the average vacation rental guest is sitting down to begin his or her research nearly 5 months in advance.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]5 months is plenty of time to win an information war.[/thrive_text_block]

And based on data provided by Tripping.com2, we can begin to envision what these sorts of moments look like:

> A busy mom on her iPhone begins exploring vacation options for the family while waiting in the car for her kids to finish soccer practice

> A millennial on the subway starts researching a quick weekend getaway for him and his girlfriend on his iPad

> The 70 year-old matriarch of an extended family scans guest reviews for beach rentals to host the family reunion

Understanding better our potential customer avatar is something that will set tomorrow’s successful vacation rental owners and managers apart from those who have simply ridden a wave.

Our Guests Want Multiple Sources Of Information

ZMOTThere are a ton of interesting tidbits in the ZMOT book (I’d highly recommend you read it), but one of my favorites is that across all categories in 2010, shoppers needed 5.3 sources of information before making a purchase decision.

Compare this to 2011 (just a year later) when that same travel shopper needed 10.2 sources before making a purchase decision.

Not unlike the proliferation of VR platforms, the amount of reaffirmation sources needed is definitely increasing fast. I personally would love to see the 2015 data and could near-guarantee that it’s astronomical (although, of course, there are various practical limits as to how much research one can humanly do).

If you’re asking yourself “How can I influence these sources?” you should consider two more statistics from the Inside The Mind workshop:

1) The average traveler considers 8 properties and actually inquires to 5 before making a booking

2) 17% (an increasing number) of travelers are using search engines to research their vacation rental options (as opposed to searching the traditional listing sites).

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]These stats suggest that just being helpful is not enough. Locally, we need to be more helpful than our 5 closest competitors. And we need to have presence (not necessarily prime real estate, but a presence) in the search engine results.[/thrive_text_block]

“But There’s No Way We Can Compete…”

What all these data points and trends tell me is that if we as hosts are not doing everything in our power to win that Zero Moment Of Truth — to win the information war — we are going to lose business.

It may be easy to say, “Oh, there’s no way we can ever beat the larger listing sites. There’s no chance that independents can realistically compete with Airbnb or HomeAway.”

But consider the example of a host who is mentioned in 20 different Google results for the keyword of their vacation rental name (let’s say “Los Cuatro Tulipanes”) versus the host who is only mentioned once or twice.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]We must be as helpful and omnipresent as humanly possible. And that should not be confused with being more prominent than major listing sites.[/thrive_text_block]

Whether you have a blog, a newsletter, an About.me profile page, or heck, a Twitter account where you share all new restaurants in town as they open. Any and all ZMOT efforts act as arrows in the quiver. It’s Help, Don’t Sell 101.

So to get people thinking, I’d like to ask anyone who has successfully participated (or is attempting) in this “Help, Don’t Sell” strategy to share their experience or actual links to examples in the comments section below…

Footnotes

  1. Winning The Zero Moment Of Truth: a free, powerful new video-enhanced eBook by Jim Lecinski, Managing Director of US Sales & Service and Chief ZMOT Evangelist at Google. Jim shares how to get ahead at this critical new marketing moment, supported by exclusive market research, personal stories, and insights from C-level executives at global leaders like General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and VivaKi. http://www.amazon.com/Winning-Zero-Moment-Truth-Enhanced-ebook/dp/B005B1LBS8
  2. 3 Stats Every Curious Vacation Rental Host Should Read: In the name of transparency, the folks at Tripping.com sent over some never-before-published statistics to better define “who is searching for vacation rentals” and “how are they doing it?”: https://www.vrmb.com/tripping-stats/

Matt Landau


Matt Landau is the Founder of the VRMB and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings.

  1. Not so sure just how “successful”I have been with my ZMOT attempts. I am still searching for name recognition by the Google Gods.

    My ZMOT list taken from my website (http://www.searanchabalonebay.com) includes:
    √ Explore and Experience section: The landing page focuses specifically on things to do in The Sea Ranch. Nested under the tab are individual pages that includes my Insiders Guide I have published (with plans to update!), a list of restaurants with notes, Spas and Shopping areas, kid friendly activities, information for diving and fishing, and finally a page on the history of the area. I am planning to add a section on recipes for the VR guest using local items. http://searanchabalonebay.com/explore-experience/

    √ Guest Information section: Includes info for guests traveling with dogs (we are dog-friendly)- not just to our home, but anywhere; fly-in information, and because of our remote area and propensity for earthquakes, fires, potential, but unlikely tsunami – emergency info.

    √ Blog posts: divided into categories, the first (mostly because it floats to the top alphabetically) is antithetically to this topic: Abalone Bay Love. With that out of the way I try to focus on other helpful info- flora/fauna, announcements (area specific), news (as it would relate to the general vacationer), dog info,vacation tips (especially as, but not limited to renting a VR, or travel to the area),

    I also have a section on weddings- which needs to be beefed up.

    My Facebook page is a mix of help, fun, and attempts towards engagement: https://www.facebook.com/SeaRanchAbaloneBayVacationHome

    √ Google plus site- Includes info of area, cross postings from my blog. hit/miss thing: https://plus.google.com/+Searanchabalonebay

    √ Twitter- that really is more my place to be opinionated. It is also where I keep up on the VR news. Thinking on this as a ZMOT effort- I truly doubt any of the 3 persona you mentioned would be my followers… time to expand my horizons and followers more!

    √ Instagram is another hit/miss attempt with ZMOT, especially as I am located out of country and not near Abalone Bay’s Sea Ranch location. What I do with Instagram (because of my geographical limitations) is scan for photos by others, and then share those. I engage with the posters to ask about how they liked the area in general, not necessarily to say- rent me next time. I’ve also discovered that photos are frequently linked to the posters’ twitter accounts so I work between the two. .for example….One chat actually started on Twitter but linked back to instagram photos shared there) lead to virtually meeting someone from DC in
    homeland security who has visited Sea Ranch for ages… and always the
    same spot. Now he’s thinking time for a change! (we’ll see….)

    For those times that I do get a direct inquiry (I have a PM), I send the potential guest to my resources, or if booked will suggest other properties – first through our PM and then with others that I have befriended.

    I have also linked to FB various property owners in the general Mendonoma area and have helped to promote them. One was an owner who had a last minute cancellation. I posted her special on my FB page. (Admittedly there was no problem for me as I was already booked).

  2. Had an inquiry last week for February, with a request for a major discount because their vacation budget is limited.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t grant the discount but offered our Insider Guide and blog. Part of the reply: “We may not have been able to help with accommodation on this occasion, but please accept our Insiders Guide to Curacao which is packed with lots of information to help you plan. You can also check out our Blog on our website (www.villaseashell.com) which we update regularly.”

    Got the following back: “Thank you so much for your reply. I understand what you are saying, but unfortunately I will have to pass. I appreciate your taking the time to answer my inquiry and I definitely will look at your guide, it looks awesome and I thank you for providing it to me.”

  3. All good stuff here. As others have written, I also try to create a concierge like service and have a guide to what I’d do if I only had 3 days on the island (3-days being my average stay).

    Service is King in the VR biz…but the ability to get good reviews leverages your good service to allow you to serve more people…get more reviews…and so on!

    Using the voice of other vacation rental guests to speak for you and your property is a powerful ZMOT tool.

    As Matt points out…buyers/renters are a savvy bunch…and the more “voices” you have…the better.

    Finally: Speaking of “voice”. Owners/managers should work to develop a voice or persona that that they use in all of their communications…nothing fake or goofy…just a unique and personal style…to reinforce that the guest will be working with a real, live human being…which is ultimately the nature of our industry.

    – Crafty

    1. “Finally: Speaking of “voice”. Owners/managers should work to develop a voice or persona that they use in all of their communications…nothing fake or goofy…just a unique and personal style…to reinforce that the guest will be working with a real, live human being…which is ultimately the nature of our industry.”

      Love this, Crafty. When you’re able to be such persona in our industry (and I’d say in all walks of life), guests – who are humans like us – will instantly click, relate and feel so comfortable with you. Just because you’re acting with your heart and a sincere smile. I see that in all my daily practices, it’s a state of mind and the world around you attracts the same positive energy. In the end, when narrowing this down to our VR business, guests love everything about our poperties and share the love with all their peers. Result: returning guests year after year and happy word of mouth bringing referrals and a full calendar all the time.

    2. Such phenomenal sharing of ideas! I just was reading the HA forums and came away depressed. Needed a shot of optimism here!
      Roatan is a small Caribbean island, but like all places, it’s not what you know, but who you know. We’ve made a point to get to know the islanders (some going back 5 generations!) and are working on a network of services to offer guests that we have tried, and with good people we know who live on Roatan. I don’t recommend anything I haven’t tried, and we’ve learned so much during the past 2.5 yrs. we’ve become friends with the man and his wife who have a driving/tour service, we know the best local places to eat that you’d never find on a “tourist” guide. We suggest to our guests to say “hi from Trish”…so the folks know we are recommending them. I’ve written down swimming directions to find a beautiful little coral garden with tons of tropical fish in quiet water just a short, easy swim from our dock…..for those who are older, timid about snorkeling, or who have small kids. It’s the little secrets we’ve discovered…….where the locals sell the best, freshest mangos and papayas, the name of the lady who operates the animal shelter, an outfit that takes shoes, school supplies, etc to local kids and families in need. We’ve been surprised by the # of guests who make charitable donations…..one guest from Canada is bringing a big suitcase full of items for the orphanage…..and our next door neighbors are going to take the things to the kids. It’s growing into something that we feel really good about…..helping those who live on the beautiful island we fell in love with. I’m trying to figure out the best way to put all the information into a fun page…….and due to my lack of computer expertise (an understatement, for sure), it’s a slow go. But it’s a project that seems to feed itself…….people feel good making others feel good. I don’t know if it will increase the # of guests I have…….but it gives those who visit a better feeling for the island! the people who live there! and the reef and wildlife. Plus…..it’s fun.

  4. Here is my attempt to acquire more properties as a Property Manager in our region. The idea behind the ebook is to explain vacation home owners the
    different aspects of what it means to rent their properties on their own. The ebook purposefully touches briefly on each aspect of the process not overwhelm the owner but rather to provide a tool to accurately assess whether this is something they could handle on their own. Given the amount of information it provides, it is our hope that it will build some level of credibility of our services as well as let the owners know of all the different services we provide in exchange for our management fee.

    http://www.bransoncondosbook.com/

    1. All PMs should read Florin’s word and take a look at his ebook. It’s got a 100% conversion rate to date 🙂

  5. The “help, don’t sell” to us is not so much a strategy, and more a way we conduct business. As a service in the VR industry we can only be successful if we truly help people achieve their goals.

    So from a marketing perspective, I need to make sure that this transpire in everything we publish. I don’t expect that all the people who subscribe the blog, download our free PDFs (quite proud of the BIG FREE list where you’re featured Matt! http://bit.ly/bigfreelist), participate in our competitions (“Property Managers Award” coming soon, subscribe to our blog to be notified!) will become clients…. Yeah I’d rather a big % would LOL but this may not happen overnight, so we nurture the relationship with these helpful and fun campaigns.

    1. Great example, Vanessa. Rentals United (for those who don’t know them) are some of the leading “Help, Don’t Sellers” in the industry right now. I’m very much a fan. And I’ve never even tried their product.

  6. “Help, Don’t Sell” led me in the early stages to recognize that my business is about hospitality and successful vacation planning. If a guest contacts me and I can’t meet their needs I offer to find them other options, and encourage them to monitor my social media guides. I will even give them contact information for airport services, local attractions, etc. when they are staying elsewhere! I act, if you will, as somewhat of a travel agent for them. I make referrals to other VR managers and owners that I trust (no referral fees – just goodwill). Then for their next trip, they are likely to call me FIRST, and put less weight on starting a whole new internet search.

  7. Help don’t sell – Mine is simply to continue to support an enquirer even after I know they can’t stay with us perhaps because we are already booked. Guiding them to find a great local place that suits them. It helps them and maybe one day they will stay with us.

  8. You mention bloging, social media, writing newsletters, etc. More importantly, make those local connections and set up credible back links! Make the local businesses around your rental area your friends and both of you will benefit.

    1. Hello Cole… let me introduce myself. I’m Teena the Self Proclaimed Backlink Queen. (maybe I’ll FINALLY get a t-shirt!)

      I was SO hesitant to start my backlink quest that I kept percolating it to the bottom of my to-do list. In one week over 20 credible businesses (hopefully, they will all follow through) to happily agree to add my Lodge to their sites!

      I checked GA (<– how do you like that acronym) yesterday and 6 days after asking the local fair to add me, I had 71 hits on my website from them!!!!

      Blogging has had a meh response, social media is fun but does nothing, email blasts are good but the best for me has been my personality. If I can get them on the phone I'm golden because I can…. well, you know! 🙂

      Happy hump day everyone,
      TeenaNH

        1. OH YEAH….. I just received an email from Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine (the BEST concert hall venue in New England <–google them if you don't believe me) saying they were contacting their IT person to add us.

          Gotta go…. I'm celebrating! Yeeeehaaaaa!

  9. Although we use email a lot for sending out information and confirming details, the phone is our tool of choice for connecting with customers. This is because to help people we really have to discover what it is they want and the easiest way to do that is to have conversation and ask the right questions. Some questions are quite personal so you cannot just blast in. You have to create a rapport before you ask how old the customer’s children are, what they like doing, how active they are and so on. My partner Lizzie is Irish. If you have ever been into an Irish pub and been subjected to a charming and subtle cross examination, you will know what I mean when I say that they have a way of finding out everything there is to know about you without you realising what is going on! This may sound like a calculating process but actually it comes from a genuine enjoyment of connecting with strangers and opening up the bridge of trust that comes from genuine authentic engagement. You can make friends for life that way – one of the side benefits of working in tourism. Matt mentions “winning the information war” – the most important information is that which comes from your potential customer. Knowing what your customer wants gives you a head start on fulfilling those needs.

    1. This is a great tactic, Nick. And an art that is becoming far less common (and therefore will be more and more appreciated) as people rely on email and other text based communications.

  10. Our guesthouse is in the historic part of Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay) which is very quiet on weekends. There IS stuff to do but you need to know where to go. So as soon as we started to receive guests we wrote a four page guide to the city. The big guidebooks do a poor job on Uruguay – the whole country is sometimes even relegated to a chapter of a guide to Argentina! So our guests absolutely loved our guide and kept telling us we should start a website providing information in English about Montevideo and Uruguay open to anyone visiting. I started the site called Guru’GUAY early last year and it has really taken off. Last month almost 9,000 visitors accessed over 17,000 pages. We are getting guests who contact us specifically want to stay with “The Guru of Guru’GUAY” 🙂 I wrote an article about a little-known spot where you can buy eat fish and chips and watch the sun go down over Montevideo. Some guests told me that they were there, tucking into their fish when they heard some other English speakers. They got talking and when they asked how this other couple how they had found out about the spot, the couple said, “A website called Guru’GUAY”. “Oh!” said my guests, bursting with pride, “we’re staying with *her*!”

    1. Karen, you are one of my absolute favorite examples I share with new IC members. For anyone who has not seen it in person, visit http://guruguay.com/ and just imaging thin-slicing it down to your most appropriate regional geography.

      1. Oh that is cool to know, Matt! I also love the story – and it was fun to write it down for the first time to post here. I must say I felt pretty proud too when the guests recounted it to me :). I am currently in negotiations to monetarise the website. Will keep you posted!

  11. My ‘Help, Don’t Sell’ comments have nothing to do with selling, but more to do with goodwill. Sure, I will go out of my way to help someone find accommodations if our places are full, and maybe they will come back in the future. What I have taken from “help” is to become more authentic in my own presentation. There is always an endless amount of work to be done in promotion, so much to learn (looking for a Twitter mentor), but I am most gratified to see the Nextdoor group that I organized in our vacation area taking off. I see neighbors connecting in ways they never have before. The Airbnb host group which we created to offer a platform for meeting each other and sharing has just reached 50 members. There is enough for everyone and as we share our best, we all just keep getting better.

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