Persona-Based Marketing: The Small Tweak That Delivers Massive Results

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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.

Use Common Sense, Past Inquiries, & Templated Niches to Get Started

If you are new to online marketing, don’t let that discourage you! Developing buyer personas doesn’t mean you have to be an internet marketing expert or a Google Analytics whiz kid.

Below are some fairly universal traits that can be deduced simply based on a property’s size:

Traits Related To Property Size

Small Property
  • Young Couples
  • Small Families
  • Elderly Couples
  • Pet-Friendly Traveler
Mid-Size Property
  • Large Family
  • Family with Grandparents
  • Two Families Traveling Together
  • Small Groups
Large Property
  • Family Reunions
  • Corporate Retreats
  • Sports Teams
  • Church Groups
The following niche groups are based on our in-market experience here in the Smoky Mountains. These can vary slightly by market and oftentimes these traits will be applied one of the property niche groups above to laser-target a specific demographic.

Niche Groups
  • Foodies
  • Active Lifestyle/Outdoor (Hiking, Kayaking, Surfing)
  • Pet Friendly
  • Shopping
  • Bargain Hunter (wants a deal on lodging)
  • Local Experience
Now, depending on the type of property you own or manage, you can match up a represented group with a typical lead traveler for that type of group. Later on, that representative lead traveler will become the persona for the niche group.

If you want to dig a little deeper, make a list of the top five questions you receive about your rental(s). These questions are a HUGE clue to the the traveler niches that are represented in your market.

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.

It’s time to stop throwing darts blindfolded. Get ready to tear off the blinders, take a darts lesson, and start throwing bullseyes! Google Analytics helps us get past educated guesses and start making extremely informed decisions.

In the steps below, we will go through how to research the age, gender, location, and interests of your website visitors. We will use this information to custom tailor our marketing approach to properly meet the needs of our actual demographic.

For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to assume that you have already set up Google Analytics on your website (check this beginner level analytics post out if you haven’t). Now, let’s go turn some of that collected data into cold hard cash and a competitive advantage!

Step 1) Choose Date Range

Prior to drilling down into each category, look at the top right corner and select a date range that includes the last year.


By selecting a large date range, the data will be normalized and more representative.

In case you aren’t super-familiar with the Google Analytics user interface, all of the data that you will need can be easily accessed in the left sidebar:

Step 2) Identifying Age


Let’s use the above menu options with the red arrows to achieve a better understanding of our website visitors.

By clicking the Age option, I quickly determine our top three age demographics and get some pretty graphs:
  • 35-44 makes up 24.23% of our total visitors
  • 25-34 makes up 21.28% of our total visitors
  • 45-54 makes up 18.28% of our total visitors
Step 3) Understanding Gender


Next, we need to determine the gender makeup of our demographic. Clicking the Gender option provides us with a ton of useful information.

At a high level, we can quickly determine our demographic is as follows:
  • Females make up 66.6% of our total visitors
  • Males make up 39.4% of our total visitors
Step 4) Understanding Location


Now, that we properly understand the age and gender of our visiting demographic, we need to better understand their location.
  • Tennessee is 20.09% of our total site visitors
  • Georgia is 9.71% of our total site visitors
  • North Carolina is 6.90% of our total site visitors
Finally, we want to research the interests of our prospective visitors and drill down into that data.

Step 5) Understanding Interests


Click Interests and Affinity Categories to land on a screen similar to this (right):

By clicking on any of the interests, you will get further information on what demographics make up that specific interest group.

The interests we see here will help us further refine our personas. The combination of age, gender, location, interests, and our personal knowledge of our individual market and the broader vacation rental space will help ensure our personas are highly targeted.

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:


*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 author
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.
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David Angotti
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