For some years now I have been managing The Villa Italy brand, a collection of beautiful villas in Tuscany, Pantelleria and Ischia, a brand I created for one of my clients. I am also the founder and director of the firm that bears my name, a marketing consultancy firm in luxury rentals. My clients are owners of beautiful villas or boutique hotels, investors and even agencies specializing in this niche. I help my clients to launch their properties into the international luxury rental market or to transform their properties when they have the potential to access this much desired niche.
I must say that I am lucky enough to see so much beauty in my work. Contemporary homes designed by great architects, impeccable outdoor spaces and gardens, infinity pools, apartments in historic buildings with exquisitely furnished interiors. But the beauty of a house is not enough to be able to rent it easily and, strange as it may seem, even less in luxury.
There are actually many luxury homes on the market and many of them are beautiful. So how do you get noticed by your potential guests and then be booked? And above all, how do you keep growing and flourishing your rental business over time?
My short answer is by taking care of three aspects: uniqueness, quality, emotion. The way in which I decline these pillars has made the fortune of those who work with me and also mine because I do a job that I am deeply passionate about.
To get to distill all my activity into these three simple words it took some time, practice in the field and of course a lot of study.
One of the books that has helped me a lot in understanding how to refine communication when working with my clients, and therefore, how to improve the quality of their value proposition is The Luxury Strategy written by a brand management expert specializing in luxury. The author is called Jean-Noel Kapferer and if you work in this niche I recommend that you familiarize with his work.
Kapferer, of French descent, comes from the fashion world like most luxury experts. In fact, if you do a literature search you will notice that most of the literature devoted to luxury is related to retail and fashion. There is very little on services, something on the hotel and nothing on vacation rentals. I correct myself, there is a book: How to successfully position luxury vacation rental homes, the one I wrote for Flaccovio Editore published this December. (I couldn’t not say it). (So far only available in Italian). This bibliographic gap is true for any field relating to vacation rentals, and this is the value and importance of the Bed and Business series of which the book is part.
During our training as vacation rental professionals, we had to draw from practice in the field with trial and error and from transversal fields to the vacation rentals. We had to shaping this knowledge and transfer it to our sector. This exercise is what I will try to do in this article inspired by the book by the French author I have previously mentioned.
One of the most interesting chapters of Kapferer’s book is the one dedicated to the anti-laws of marketing. All the marketing rules that are valid for mass-produced products are not for luxury products. A very interesting and reflective chapter when we try to transfer the anti-law to our world.
I would like to take back three of these anti-laws of marketing to put them in the context of vacation rentals.
“Make it difficult for your customer to buy your product” is the first of these anti-laws that I would like to comment on. The rarity, limited availability of the product is what makes it highly desirable.
The mass market has an opulent and redundant distribution. The goal is to be able to easily find its products to the mass consumer. Think of the phone operators shops, clothing chains such as Zara or Calzedonia. Finding their products is extremely easy.
In luxury retail, Hermès bags represent the emblem of desirability even for those who can afford to buy them. The distribution of this product is the exact opposite of Calzedonia. The bags must in fact be booked in the shop. The sales assistant, rigorously trained to manage the sales process of the sublime bag, takes the customer’s data and promises that she will be recalled as soon as the object of desire is produced by the maison‘s skilled craftsmen. And what a thrill the day that the phone call arrives to warn the consumer, or rather the dreamer, that her coveted bag is ready to be picked up in the store!
In vacation rentals, making it difficult to purchase our product is actually a common practice but not for the right reason. Sometimes the owner is not available to answer the potential guest’s call because he has forgotten his phone somewhere (which would be like not finding the receptionist in a hotel because he forgot to go to work). Or the website’s booking engine doesn’t work and the guest’s credit card transaction fails. Or the owner replies to an inquiry after a few days that the email has been sent by the potential guest. This is not precisely the sense of the anti-law to which I was referring.
The limited availability of your property in the current season is a better example. Low availability because your property has a very high occupancy rate so it is necessary to book well in advance to find availability on the desired dates. This is always to be remembered to departing guests because they may want to return. This awareness speeds up the closure of the next booking. It is also good to inform about limited availability those guests who contact us for the first time. Let them know that there are many pending requests. If the guest is interested, he will take care to confirm his reservation sooner rather than later. The scarcity principle is extremely powerful in speeding up the conversion process.
In my book published by Flaccovio I argue that the working method applied to luxury is a guiding light for working with any holiday home. Using this anti-law does not have to be the exclusive prerogative of luxury homes and I invite you to exploit it even if your home is not part of this niche.
The following anti-law that I would like to comment on says: “Your product doesn’t have to be perfect, does it have any flaws?”. A counter intuitive question, right? In reality, what has no defects does not have the requirement of uniqueness, because it presumably comes from an assembly line, a prerogative of the mass market. A serial production is devoid of craftsmanship which represents that part of work that makes each product different from the next. Enhancing the “defects” of a product is a sign of quality and, in a nutshell, a sign of love during the manufacturing process.
Think of a Vacheron Constantin watch, the oldest Swiss watch manufacturer. The cult of perfection… actually a perfection not quite perfect. Work of artisans, technicians, goldsmiths who build each piece of the clock mechanism by hand. Watches that are not sold as high-precision objects, the possibility of discarding a few minutes a year is declared. Declaring absolute precision Vacheron Constantin makes it say to brands like Seiko as they produce quartz watches. Luxury brands have no interest in being the best in functional aspects. Luxury brands have a symbolic value and their “defect” is a generator of great emotion.
Let’s now look at the vacation rentals industry. Let’s think of a historic villa or an apartment in a historic building; renting them to a target of demanding customers is not a simple thing. The renovation must be well done, we must combine the functionality of the spaces and be able to guarantee extreme comfort (renovated bathrooms, super comfortable beds, modern kitchen, comfortable seats). However, the signs of aging must not be hidden, they must be celebrated. The irregularity of an antique terracotta floor or the cracks in a few centuries old parquet are a joy for the eyes and a great emotional lever to exploit. A “defect” of a house is an emotional lever with a strong impact for the construction of your storytelling, both visual and written. The “defects” of the house, seen as the traces of its history or of the handicraft production of some of its structural elements, are the features that will most excite your guest. Comfort and renovation are a must, they must be taken for granted, and they are not the main selling points. They represent a functional aspect, it is the part of the minimum indispensable offer. The signs of time and its beauty are the aspects that generate emotion and are the ones on which to focus communication.
The third anti-law I would like to comment on says: “The role of advertising is not to sell.” First of all make people dream! This anti-law of marketing is perhaps one of my favorites. I find it powerful and very inspiring. Too easy to say: here is my villa, book me! Too transactional, too rational. Do you know what BMW CEO in America replied when asked what his role was? He replied that his mission was to make sure that 18-year-olds could dream of a BMW so that as soon as they had the money to buy it, they would. The dream is the company’s mission. And dreams pay off because they are converted into purchases. It is a different point of view but it is what sustains the value of a business over time. And this logic also goes very well with vacation rentals.
We know that decisions such as renting a vacation home are almost always love at first sight reactions that have little to do with rationality. Our role as rental entrepreneurs is also to create dreams, to make the heart of our potential guest jump.
Being desirable, enhancing the craftsmanship and the signs of aging of our property, making future guests dream are three management aspects that translate back into results. These aspects are inextricably linked to my three mantras: uniqueness, quality and emotion. This is what matters, what supports a project by positioning it as something special. And what is special is desired. And what is desired is bought without discounts or promotions. This is the secret of the success of a vacation rental entrepreneur.
Photo credit I. Niccolai