First, public relations is not just about press releases. It’s also not even about securing coverage. Public relations is a management function that is concerned with strategic communications to build mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its audiences, or “publics.” It’s also about increasing visibility, developing a reputation, building trust, and engaging in helpful conversation. But where exactly does PR sit within the marketing and sales funnel for a vacation rental management business? What impact can PR have on the guest journey from pre-prospect to lead, to guest, to happy and loyal brand advocate?
Good PR shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. A PR campaign that is successful helps create new leads, but it also moves prospects down the sales funnel to vacation rental purchase, then develops them into vocal brand advocates ready to support the feeding into the top of the funnel again. A strategic PR campaign can (and often does) support the entire guest journey to purchase and beyond by influencing, to a greater or lesser degree, each of the key stages a potential guest will move through.
PR is typically best known for generating positive awareness about an organization. PR is often seen as a “top-of-the-funnel” exercise that creates interest in a consumer (guest) by helping to identify either a challenge or a need. A well-placed editorial, a targeted blog post, or a social media campaign can all help generate a “need” for what your vacation rental management business offers. PR also plays an important role in the discovery phase of future guests starting to think about where they want to go on vacation or on their next business trip.
Consideration and Preference
According to Expedia, travel consumers visit up to thirty-eight websites before making a booking. Other evidence shows that a customer will typically experience twenty-three touch points before they act. In today’s digital age, consumers are savvy, and they do their research. In the consideration and preference phase of the sales funnel, your next potential guests are weighing the pros and cons of the different travel options they have for their stays. They are investing their time on the various booking sites, reviewing accommodations and travel blogs, and visiting the sites of other vacation rental businesses and accommodation suppliers.
PR is essentially about getting earned, not paid for, exposure of your content. One of the key reasons generating “earned” content is so powerful is because what other people or organizations say about you has far more influence on opinion and behavior change than what you say about you. Just ask Google. That’s why online coverage has such a positive impact on search rankings.
Search marketing, search engine optimization, and pay-per-click ads are all essential to ensuring your offering is visible in the research phase of purchase; however, online coverage in the shape of an accommodation review, inclusion in a “Listicle,” a well-placed thought leadership article, a third-party review site, or a friend’s social media page may be just the nudge needed to move a prospect down the funnel toward purchase.
The Purchase Decision
What makes a prospect take the leap, part with their hard-earned cash, and choose one vacation rental business, property, or listing over another? The fact that the product or experience is expected to meet their needs and expectations is obvious. However, customers will do business only with a business they trust, and often one with which they have built some kind of emotional connection. This is where the PR skills of storytelling and building communities can be most powerful.
Consumers are often distracted, difficult to reach, and fickle. A good PR strategy helps to build social communities around a product or experience that fosters emotional connection and feeling “part of.” Developing messages and stories that resonate with your audiences and distributing this through content that educates, delights, and influences can be powerful.
Also, it is in this purchase phase (where timing is everything) that “earned” media can blend with paid media to edge a prospect into becoming a guest. When an editorial review is linked with a promotional offer, the proposition may be hard to resist.
As we all know, the customer journey doesn’t end with purchase. Purchase is just the beginning of the next phase. There is typically a waiting period between purchase and experience, especially when purchasing a travel experience. Your future guests will be continuing their research, getting a feel for you, and anticipating their intended stay for weeks or even months before they actually walk through the door of your property. PR can support positive anticipation and help continue to foster the good feeling that your customer has made the right decision. This can be encouraged through social communities and dialogue. At this stage, your future guests may even start to join the conversation by expressing their excitement about their upcoming trip. Your customers will also be looking to you to ensure they have made the right decision by further researching the experience they can expect to have during their stay.
Customer advocacy is essential for supporting lead generation and input for the top of the sales funnel. This is especially true for travel experiences. Happy customers make the best PR advocates. In today’s digital and social age, the power of customer advocacy can be a force in its own right. This is, as anyone who has had a bad TripAdvisor review knows, also very true for negative feedback. People are highly influenced by what their friends and family think and say, even if these “friends” are tenuous relationships via social media. Each individual’s social platform has become his or her own mini-blog and review site. Happy guests can also become excellent customer-centric case studies that encourage fostering the emotional connection often needed to encourage prospects down the funnel through consideration and purchase.
The Cycle Continues
Again, good PR doesn’t exist in a vacuum—or at least, it shouldn’t. PR works alongside all aspects of the sales and marketing funnel to support the guest journey from awareness to advocate and back again.