Are you building your success on someone else’s land? Are you putting all your energy and hard work only to build someone else’s business?
Are you tilling the soil and helping grow profits for the Stayz, Wotif, Homeaway, Rentahome, Takeabreak, FlipKey ….only to build their digital dynasties?
If you are a business making itself habitually dependent on another company, you are practising “digital sharecropping” – the 21st century version of 19th century sharecropping in America. Digital sharecropping is not just a recipe for disaster.
It’s long-term business suicide.
After the Civil War, sharecropping became a common farming practice in the Southern States of the U.S. At that time and in that place, survival and success required land, but freed slaves and poor whites had none, so they were forced to be tenants of wealthy landowners. These large landholders allowed individual farmers to work their land and take the bulk of the profits generated from the crops. Not unlike feudalism of earlier centuries in Europe where serfs worked for Lords.
In both systems, the landlord had all the control. At his whim, he could remove you, raise the fees, take a bigger cut, or demand more work. You could go hungry and homeless very quickly. Sharecropping was a labour model suitable for specific conditions and needs. As broader economic circumstances changed, so too did the system of employment. But today, we are seeing businesses with their own land willingly ploughing for someone else’s profits.
Digital Sharecropping is
In the rental property market in Australia today, there are many digital sharecroppers working for wealthy businesses such as Stayz, Wotif and Last minute; in the US, they include giants such as Homeaway, Flipkey and AirB&B. These companies prey on laziness. They give hope to those who think there is a short cut to success in the property management business. Such hope is short term and baseless.
Rental property managers who rely on marketing their properties through these businesses are investing their time; their ideas and their money into helping someone else make a profit. They are sharecropping – much of their labour yields nothing for themselves. They are tending the profit crop of modern, fickle feudal lords. Digital sharecropping distributes workload to the many while concentrating control and reward in the hands of the few.
When these property rental managers create content hosted on websites that they do not own, they take advantage of the free opportunities available while simultaneously increasing the value of the platform they are using. And they take the big risk of losing control of your content – or the entire content if the platform falls over!
It’s important to note that digital sharecroppers don’t just damage their own businesses. They create a situation that draws their competitors into the sharecropping process – just to have a presence on those sites and they become larger and more prominent.
It was a funny day at the forum
In a recent international forum/blog on LinkedIn, individuals from across the property rental sector discussed property listing sites, the merits of websites with free listings, and the range of different payment models. Here are a few comments…
“My pricing has remained the same since 2009.”
“It is impossible to have your website mix it with the big boys.”
“I have my properties now listed on 250 websites.”
“Online Bookings are coming and if you do not take them you are going to go out of business” (…no wonder he was worried: online bookings have been happening for nearly a decade!)
“I get all my bookings through these portal websites but once they come and stay with me the next time they book they will book direct through me”
Rather than use the forum as a way to grow their own businesses organically and with their own fresh ideas, participants dwelt on their struggles and difficulties with the websites they marketed on. They were doing nothing to promote themselves.
There are no single, quick fixes, no silver bullet or magic wand. Digital Sharecropping is a lazy and risky approach to the marketing of rental property. Clever marketing is the key.
Taking back control of your business
One forum participant said, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Perhaps this was the most significant comment in all of the forum discussion!
The irony was that, although all agreed with this comment, most continued to operate in a way that was about expecting something for nothing.
A clever marketing strategy requires a mix of promotional and publishing strategies that set you apart from the rest in your niche. It is more than completing a form, uploading a couple of images and listing properties on every web portal in the hope that it may return a result.
In holiday/vacation rental management, good marketing begins with a visible and friendly website that allows you to take online bookings and payments. Of course ranking is important, but remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and not everyone can be number 1.
Also remember 10 x 1 also equals 10 so here are 10 tips on how to take back control of your own marketing.
Apply some or all of these and you will see that you can match it with the big boys!
1. Work one your own website with fresh, frequently updated content to attract customers that matter and attracts.
Use your site to hold and nurturing your audiences. Build connection, understanding and relationship in your own way, not someone else’s. This inbound marketing is more secure than sending prospects to sites owned and managed and controlled by other businesses that have different purposes and agendas.
When you operate from your own website, you manage your own reputation, you remove the risk of losing your content and following when one of the sites like Stayz or Wotif changes its terms or even disappears. With your own site, you can use the range of popular outlets to your advantage not theirs.
2. Use a property management system (PMS) that delivers branded quotes from enquiries directly to your clients from your website and delivers the users back to your website as quick as possible, take ownership of that enquiry with your brand.
A good PMS collects immense levels of data. Use it. Make sure your PMS makes it easy to book, book and easy to pay. Use your data to grow enquiries from one year into bookings the next. But win the customer service war, more important than any thing else in this day and age.
3. Invest in your customers.
There is an old adage: it costs more to get a new client than it costs to keep an existing one. How many new clients do you need a year, what’s your churn?
If you are paying 10% commission to Stayz, Flipkey, Wotif or one of the other large platforms, you are giving away $10,000 in every hundred. Why not use some of that money instead to encourage loyalty? Monitor your return clients (a good PMS will do this for you), know them, communicate with them, and keep them.
4. Identify what is unique to your properties.
We had a challenge to get the message out for a single property website that had some of the best views of the coastline of Far North Queensland. Last October, we installed a high definition webcam that was programmed to change the image every 10 minutes for Four Mile Beach Port Douglas. After this installation, visits to the site increased ten-fold, “Likes” on Facebook grew, people who never knew of the property do now and bookings have tripled.
Who says you can’t match it with the big boys!
There are some great sites out there where you can list your webcam, that provides links, And Google has great value in the links to it.
5. A story good can launch a thousand hits.
In the FNQ example above, the local newspaper did an article on it, thus marketing the website. This yielded many thousands of extra hits and many extra bookings.
6. Use social media for what it is.
It works, but include it as a part of the mix not the whole mix. Think of social media sites as “road signs” to point people to your site and the information – and inspiration! – They need to book one of your properties.
7. Know that content reigns supreme.
If you want to keep your readership engaged, make sure your content is focused, relevant, interesting – even a bit different to what is expected – and up to date. This takes work. Content will be one of your most cost-effective marketing investments, and quality content has always been a hallmark of effective websites. While content marketing doesn’t substitute entirely for advertising, it reduces the need to buy media space on third-party sites. Content marketing builds internal media in the form of websites, blogs, and social media outposts.
For marketers who are always looking for ways to stretch their budgets, content marketing provides excellent, cost-effective opportunities across an array of platforms, devices, and formats. The caveat, though, is that to be successful, content marketing requires consistent efforts in strategy, branding, creation, promotion, and distribution.
8. Leave lasting impressions of quality.
Think about what ought to be the last contact (for now!) that you have with your customers after a booking. Some property managers I have spoken with send their hard-won client to the website of Survey Monkey rather than their own to complete that final touch point, the feedback survey! Again, this is about your follow-up email after their stay returns customers to your website, not someone else’s. Here’s your chance to also remind them of their experience and good memories!
9. Make them work for you.
Treat the larger platforms (Wotif, Flipkey, Homeaway, Stayz etc.) as opportunities and nothing more than a source of new leads. Include them in your mix of marketing tools: make them work for you, it is 1/10th of the mix, not all of it!
10. I will leave 10 for something of your own imagination and not mine, but I will provide you with a clue. What can you do to assist holidaymakers who going looking for a new place to stay for their next visit to your holiday destination?
Ten great idea’s and we didn’t mention email or SMS marketing…
Sharecropping was always a sucker’s game and continues in this digital age when there are other more powerful ways to market. It’s up to you to take control of your own business success. Connect directly with old and potential customers. Make your brand so strong that it’s your website they associate with the destination you reside.
“The future of marketing resides not in the power of our technology, but in the spirit of our human intent in implementing that technology”
Glenn Smith is the CEO of GENKAN Pty Ltd.
The most complete and productive marketing software for the rental of holiday and short term property management.