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Don't Sell. Storytell!

I was out to dinner at Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant Red Rooster last week. (Yes, the same restaurant that was featured in "10 Oxtails.")

Trying to decide on an adult beverage.

When the waitress suggested a wine I had never heard of before.

"So two sisters, separated at birth, one raised in California and the other in New Zealand, eventually discover one another, learn about their mutual obsession with wine, and start what is now the largest black-owned winery in the USA."

The waitress has the attention of the table as she continues...

"Yeah, I think The McBride Sisters Pinot Gris is one of the best, most affordable wines on the market right now."

Now, just imagine hearing that story. At a hip restaurant. From a jovial waitress. And somehow in your right mind NOT choosing to drink that wine!

Of course my table ordered it -- several bottles to be exact.

Here's the video about the story if you have time -- a perfect segue into this week's tip...


Many of you know VRMB's Principle of Help, Don't Sell, which argues that being helpful in sharing your knowledge is the best way to attract quality people to your business. Well, this is a riff.

Don't Sell. Storytell!​

Stories date back to the beginning of humanity as the most effective way to communicate (along with songs, which are kinda stories too).

Prior to any purchase, stories catch buyers off guard. And for niche or boutique purchases like vacation rentals (or wine) stories persuade.

I am not much of a wine guy but you could have told me anything at the end of that story and I would have ordered it.

Storytelling in marketing is not new, but rarely is it utilized fully in vacation rentals, where so many amazing and inspiring owner/manager stories go untold.

Storytelling takes practice: one part identifying the story, and another part (like a comedian telling a joke on stage) repeating your delivery over and over again until you get it tight.

Here are six places to exercise your storytelling muscles:
  1. Origin Story or About Us: Think of this section of your Vrbo/Airbnb listing or website as the chance to tell your company's "Origin Story" as if you were superheroes. In a nutshell, who are you people? Was there an inciting moment that forged this company? How about some challenges? Are you actually a full-time teacher or engineer or Mom and this is your side-passion? Even more amazing! Did your family or neighbors or the area play a particularly important role in bringing you here? What about the other members of your team -- your housekeepers or maintenance or reservationists -- what's their story?
  2. Provenance in Property Descriptions: All vacation properties have a story. It starts with how you acquired it. Did it fall into your lap? Did you have to search for years? Is it the only property in the building that does X, the first on the block to do Y, the best to achieve Z? Think beyond just lists or features (ex. it has a hot tub, it has a great deck, it's large) and think more along the lines of heritage: what do guests find interesting or noteworthy about it? How would an antiques auctioneer describe its 'provenance' or backstory? If the home was a character in the story of your area, what role does it play?
  3. Engagement in Guest Correspondence: While you don't want to completely derail a potential booking, stories can be powerful expectation management tools. With more new vacation rental travelers, telling a brief story in your correspondence (in addition to the answer to their query) can help attract (or repel) the right (or wrong) guests. Did you just return from the property? Did you just update the property? Did something funny or interesting happen at the property recently?
    • Note: Storytelling in guest correspondence is best done over the phone.
    • Note: One mistake you can make is telling too long of a story -- so long that you lose your recipient's attention. So keep it short, sweet, light!
  4. Openers in Email Marketing/Newsletter: If you receive VRMB's newsletter, you know I always try to open with a story that is relevant or fresh. I do this because it leads to more people actually reading the newsletter. Starting your newsletters with a short story about the area or your life -- to recipients who already know and love you is a fantastic way to increase open and click-through rates.
  5. Hooks in Homeowner Acquisition: Inventory is proving to be one of the most precious assets of professional vacation rental management. And to get to quality inventory, you need to get to the owners of those properties. Chances are, they're being hit up left and right with management offers, but chances are few of those approaches use effective storytelling. Start your email, postcard, cold-call, or help-don't-sell content marketing play with a story that resonates or is relevant to set yourself apart. Did you start out just like them (as a property owner in the area)? Were you frustrated others couldn't manage the home to your standards?
  6. Emotional Responses in Social Media: I am still not sold on social media as part of an ongoing vacation rental marketing portfolio. I'm sure there are plenty of people who'll chime in with counter-viewpoints, but if you are using it, these platforms ARE great for storytelling. The posts that are stories always get the most engagements.

Questions:
  • Have you considered using a story in your marketing but never actually pulled the trigger? Share it below!
  • Do you have any incredible guest stories that you find yourself sharing often? Post it below!
  • Is there a story about you or your business that seems to really resonate with people? Would love to hear!
Feel free to use this thread as a gym for your storytelling muscle memory. The more times you tell a story, the shorter and better it gets!

Bcc: @RuthM
 

AlexW

Counselor
Inner Circle
Absolutely spot on my friend. From the spiritual to the mundane, we retain so much more through stories and parables. You want my attention? Start with this "There was once a Zen monk....."
For me, it's our origin story. It's not quite as enthralling as the beautiful McBride sisters (our co-ounder had two STR rentals in Tahoe and Maui and couldn't find anywhere to sell his expiring inventory last minute, so he created his own...) but it humanizes the process and we bags of flesh and bones certainly love a beginning, middle and end.
Terrific post Matt.
 

StaySavvy

Counselor
Inner Circle
Accelerator
We've taken a different approach with one of our newest properties, experimenting with this exact technique. Instead of making the brand experience about us (Savvy), we've pointed the conversation at the homeowner particularly and tailored everything to complement it. Things like messaging, photos, assets (i.e. house guide) and other components of the guest experience are all aligned with the brand story, which is something along the lines of:

"This home has been in our family for generations, my Grandpa first bought it in the '80s, it still has original floors from when it was first built in the '30s, and renting it out allows us to keep this as a family gem for future generations"...

People love it; they really appreciate the personalness of a story like this. For VRMs who were born and raised in the location they're operating in, I'd imagine this kind of storytelling unfolds much more naturally. For us, this one has been pretty easy to do because there actually is a story to tell, whereas most of our other properties are story-less. I don't know that telling the story of how we acquired would appeal much to guests (though might be great for owner marketing/content), and fabricating something just to have a story might feel too hollow. Perhaps this is where we inject our own story as managers, but that's something we're still tuning up.
 

lisafrank

Attaché
Inner Circle
Relevant and timely post!

Our industry can borrow tips from the many chefs, bakers, and foodies who leverage the use of storytelling to support the richness of their recipes. It's almost annoying as sourcing inspiration and a recipe these days requires you to read a blog, book, or consume a Netflix series just to get to the ingredients needed to make your homemade masterpiece. Though, what's beautiful about it, is that you find yourself more connected and in awe of what you've created because the story allowed you to develop an appreciation for the origin of those recipes. That's how I feel about storytelling in the STR world, it's so important.

Consumers are wanting richer experiences and a greater feeling of indulgence, an indulgence that resonates with their values and interests. Bedroom counts, bathroom amenities, and the details about the Smart TV won't cut it. I like what @StaySavvy mentioned regarding VRM's who have an authentic connection to their rentals versus VRM's who own and manage multiple properties that were simply acquired for the purpose of the business and the business only. As storytellers of those types of properties, how do we create a narrative based on our own perceptions and experiences of that space? Similar to food storytelling, you have to experience it, understand it, and know the origins of each part. You're right @StaySavvy - fabricating a story feels gross, but I believe there is an opportunity to share an attractive narrative that reflects the uniqueness and role of the storyteller. Like food, the storytellers don't have to be the proprietor of those recipes, it's also the servers, bartenders, and small business owners who are the gateway to those experiences. Something feels really special about that.
 

AlexC

Envoy
Love it. One thing that I think we do well is communicating the story of local businesses we recommend and why we love that particular business. For example, when a guest wants great local tacos, we send a recommendation for our favorite taco joint in that area along with some of the background of the place. The message would go something like "This restaurant is owned by a local family that started up their business 30 years ago and have been a neighborhood staple with award winning tacos every since. We always grab their breakfast tacos for out of town family when they visit! You should definitely grab some before the wedding you are attending, we know how hectic that day can be!"

As long as you know whats good in your area, you can really leverage it and improve the guests experience when paired with a little story telling!
 

AmberH

Attaché
Inner Circle
I am a new member and just starting out with my short term rental journey.

Storytelling is incredibly important to a brand and to relationship marketing! Vacation rental customers are searching for more than just a place to stay. Many want a connection to a property, a place, and a host. Transparent, honest, heart-felt stories based on company backstories can make all the difference in succeeding in our current “attention economy” where many people feel overwhelmed with the amount of information and choices they have when considering where and how to vacation. Stories not only get their attention, but also elicit an emotional response and are more likely to create customer loyalty and generate repeat stays.

So when thinking about how to craft my story, I came across this article written by brand strategist Park Howell that simplified the process. I especially like how he puts the customer at the center of the story-very clever!
https://businessofstory.com/story-cycle/
 

TeenaNH

Ambassador
Inner Circle
Love this post.

I story tell in almost every email marketing campaign I send. Folks often mention the story I've told when they phone for more info.

Just about when I think I have no more stories to weave into my content, bam! I think of a great one! :)
 

Alessandra

Counselor
Inner Circle
I too love stories! I always have been intrigued to know the background of any business. I always go to the "about" section on websites to see why a certain product or service was created. If it tugs at my heart strings, that's what makes me want to buy the product or service more.
 

ToonTownRob

Envoy
Inner Circle
GREAT stuff @Matt Landau Thank you!

I love stories. I love telling them. I love hearing them. I incessantly weave story-telling through everything I do. (Just look at many of my posts on this forum!) It's become a running gag amongst my family to tease me about it.

I've sold millions of dollars in new home construction simply by telling stories, either cautionary tales of people who didn't use our services, or those of successes of past customers. I now take equal delight in entertaining my grandkids with stories. (But with different subject matter of course!) I never realized it when I was young, but my parents were great storytellers, and their own amazing lives and family backgrounds provided a generation's worth of entertainment and education for me and my siblings. Like Sesame Street, I didn't realize how much I was learning as I was entertained.

Stories have always seemed the natural way to educate, or convince someone of something. Rather than tell someone something and hope to convince them, you share an appropriate story and let them draw their own conclusions. If the story is interesting, and if it applies to your listener's situation it will be, no convincing is necessary. If a good, appropriate story won't convince someone of something, almost nothing else will.

Surprisingly, it doesn't even matter if the subject matter is boring. In a talented storyteller's hands practically any story can become interesting. How do you become a great storyteller? Tell stories! Or hire it out!

There is a long history of stories being used to influence others... from oral traditions of cultural history past down through ages, to children's fairy tales of recent centuries.

More recently, the power of stories as a selling technique was driven home in Frank Bettger's second book; How I Multiplied My Income and Happiness in Selling, which was the follow up to the spectacularly successful classic How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling. In the second book, Frank tells the story of a young greenhorn tagging along with him to try to understand what made Frank the top salesman for Fidelity Mutual for 20 years, and the young fellow's surprise, exasperation and finally admiration that Frank did very little else when in front of prospects other than to simply tell stories.

One of the things that makes experienced people so powerful in business is that they've simply been around long enough to build up a powerful collection of stories. This means they've got a great one for every situation they may encounter.

There have been some great suggestions on documenting our own stories in this thread. One of the challenges with many of our own stories is that we're too close to them, and too familiar with them. This often means that we don't see the value in them, or can't understand how they may be of interest to others. Don't let your proximity to your own stories get in the way of your sharing them. Others will almost always find your stories more interesting than you do.

Simply start by writing your stories down, in point form if necessary, and very badly if that is all you can do. The simple act of documenting them will change how you relate to them and think about them, and open up long forgotten details and new lines of thought and lessons learned from them. Enlist some help from someone who knows and loves you well. You may find that their take on your stories is quite different from your own, and brings you a fresh perspective that makes your stories much more powerful. Be open to their suggestions and influence. We rarely see anything about ourselves objectively.

If the idea of writing anything paralyzes you, or just makes you want to gargle gasoline while smoking... spend an afternoon or evening with someone who lived some of your stories with you, and simply talk about the narrative of what you experienced. It is almost always and enlightening and rewarding experience to do this. And it builds and renews bonds in a very positive way. It can also be an experience that you will find highly motivates you to share your story with others, in one form or another.

Believe it or not, the world wants to hear about YOU!

“Everybody's got a story to tell... Everybody.” – Oprah Winfrey
 

ToonTownRob

Envoy
Inner Circle
So here's a story I heard recently. I thought I would share it here.

Apparently, in 1965 there was a Harvard psychologist doing a study on potential in school children, and he approached a school in California and informed them that he had developed "a test that I can give you that is going to help you identify the special kids... the awesome kids who will go on to do amazing things and be the geniuses of the world." So the school agrees to test their school population, and as in every school, they have special kids and average kids; all take the test but don't know why they're being tested. As part of the evaluation, the psychologist's team comes back in a year and re-test the students, and what they find is that the original test results were incredibly accurate in predicting the kid's rate of success. After a year, the 'special' kids blew the 'average' kids out of the water in every single category; math, science, English... every subject they tested them for! But the thing is, the original test was a dummy. It was false. Which category the students ended up in, gifted or normal, were chosen at random! However, the teachers were fed this narrative that certain kids were special. So they were more patient with those kids... they were more invested with those kids, and they spent more time with those kids. And that's what produced the winning results for those kids after a year.

That is the power of STORY... the power of a narrative.
 
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AlexC

Envoy
So here's a story I heard recently. I thought I would share it here.

Apparently, in 1965 there was a Harvard psychologist doing a study on potential in school children, and he approached a school in California and informed them that he had developed "a test that I can give you that is going to help you identify the special kids... the awesome kids who will go on to do amazing things and be the geniuses of the world." So the school agrees to test their school population, and as in every school, they have special kids and average kids; all take the test but don't know why they're being tested. As part of the evaluation, the psychologist's team comes back in a year and re-test the students, and what they find is that the original test results were incredibly accurate in predicting the kid's rate of success. After a year, the 'special' kids blew the 'average' kids out of the water in every single category; math, science, English... every subject they tested them for! But the thing is, the original test was a dummy. It was false. Which category the students ended up in, gifted or normal, were chosen at random! However, the teachers were fed this narrative that certain kids were special. So they were more patient with those kids.. they were more invested with those kids, and they spent more time with those kids. And that's what produced the winning results for those kids after a year.

That is the power of STORY... the power of a narrative.

Love this story.

Side note, but seriously, we need to invest in teachers and better education outcomes for all.

Shortest rant you'll ever see from me because its that simple lol.
 
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