Creating memorable AirBnB local experiences

When AirBnB launched their “Live There” campaign in April, I thought they were featuring an idealized scenario. I’ve dreamed of traveling to some exotic location and staying with a local family who could show me their town like no hotel concierge ever could. I would love to eat at the local hole in the wall and discover incredible foods that only someone who lived in the area knew. How wonderful it would be to discover a small gem that I’d never find in a travel book.

I have booked a room with AirBnB several times in the past, but all of them were pretty much low-cost places for me to stay while traveling. All of the hosts were nice, rooms were neat, but I would not consider it living like a local. Is that AirBnB local experience really out there?

At the end of April, I booked a room through AirBnB in New Orleans to attend a conference and photograph the musicians at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I searched the site and found a place that was a third of the price of a hotel stay and within a reasonable bus ride or Uber to the main attractions.

When I arrived, the place was a bit better than most bedrooms that have I stayed in – it was a small studio with a kitchenette that had a refrigerator with some juice, milk, and enough food for my first breakfast. Nice touch.

After a couple of days passed, my host asked me if I was interested in attending ChazFest – a small jazz festival made up of mostly local musicians, the day before the official JazzFest. She knew I was in town to photograph musicians and this gave me a perfect chance to photograph them up close in an intimate venue. If I stayed at a hotel, I would have never found this festival. She knew about it because she was a musician playing in the festival! The musicians were incredible, the local food was great and the cozy atmosphere, which was basically someone’s back yard with two music stages, was perfect for hanging out and listening to music.

Neti Vaandrager and Lafayette Saucier

During the official JazzFest, my host offered to give me a ride to the festival since she was also performing with one of the acts. She walked me through the schedule, giving me recommendations on the best musicians to see throughout the day. When the festival was over, as we headed back to her car, we stopped by to tailgate with a bunch of the musicians who were hanging out in the parking lot. It was incredible!

I have visited New Orleans nearly a dozen times because of my love for the culture, the music, it’s history and the food, but I had stayed at a hotel each time and didn’t really get beyond the tourist experience. I had an awesome local experience as my AirBnB host provided me with great insider tips and we had great chats along with her boyfriend who was a Creole who was raised in the area.

So yes, it really is possible to live like a local and sometimes get a hyperlocal experience.

But was it just a fluke?

Crawfish BoilI enjoyed my experience so much I set out to see if I could deliberately replicate the local AirBnB experience. My flight didn’t leave for another three days after JazzFest so I decided to drive up to Cajun country in Lafayette. When I booked my second visit, I found a host who had received several rave reviews for her Cajun home cooking. When I arrived we had two days of incredible local meals and I got to chat with her Cajun friends who she had invited over on both evenings.

So, not only was I able to find a local AirBnB experience but with a little more effort and attention to detail, I was able to replicate a great experience on my next stay. I don’t think I will always want these kinds of great experiences every time I travel. I value my privacy and many times I’m just looking for a reasonable place to lay my head. And just because I had awesome experiences with these two hosts, we also had common passions in music and food. Even if they were both super hosts, it doesn’t mean that the people staying with them will share their interests.

Guests – tips on living like a local:

  • Do your research – read the host’s biography and their reviews. Many hosts rent their space for the money and don’t expect to spend much time with their guests. That’s okay for many but if you’re looking for that local experience look closer for clues on common interests and comments about the experiences guests had with their host.
  • Be open, be friendly but respect your host’s boundaries – feel out the host when you first get in. I’ve always had friendly and helpful hosts but get a feel for your rapport with them to see if they’re open to hanging out and chatting or if they want to keep some distance.  It’s like a first date, you’ll get more when you show interest in what the host cares about than what you can get from the relationship.
  • Try living outside the box – finding common ground is great, but memorable experiences are better. Be open to finding hosts that are completely different than you. Push your comfort zone whether you’re halfway across the globe or doing a short stay-cation.

Hosts – tips to make prospective travelers feel like a local:

  • Provide basic travel resources – I would imagine that most of the people renting your space are not from the area. My host in New Orleans had a bookshelf of various travel books from common tourist guides, backroad travel books, photography books and history books of the area. She had a collection of brochures for popular landmarks and the latest entertainment newspaper.
  • Know the restaurants in your area – be able to recommend the good places for breakfast, lunch and dinner within walking distance, within a couple of miles and up to 5-miles away. I’ve had hosts recommend that I eat at Dennys! Really? If I’m passing through, help me find a place that I’ll remember. Help me find wonderful foods that I can’t find in a national chain. Even if it’s a hole in the wall with something special.
  • List the things you enjoy in your biography – it will make it easier for guests with common interests to find you.
  • Create memorable experiences – It doesn’t have to be fancy. Sometimes being helpful is all we need. If you’re open to entertaining your guests it will show in your reviews. The founders of AirBnB made lifelong friendships with the first people who stayed with them and I know where I’m staying the next time I’m back in New Orleans.

So it is possible to have a great local experience using AirBnB. As AirBnB co-founder, Joe Gebbia puts it, “it’s commerce with the promise of human connection.” Many hosts are great with managing the transactional part of the stay. With a little work and desire, many of them can help facilitate the human connections. As guests, we can do a little bit of research beyond the room and the cost to see if the host is open to providing interesting experiences. In an increasingly digital-centric world, it will be our human experiences and connections that will define us.

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Transactional versus Nurture – Why I Unsubscribed to Your Email

I’ve spent the last few months doing lots of personal travel and got on the mailing list for a number of online travel agencies and airlines. So this weekend, I went through my inbox and unsubscribed to a number of weekly, sometimes daily, travel emails but kept the one that stood out from the rest. Most of the travel companies treated me as a transaction – Sale, Special, Save, Book Now, etc.

These companies continue to use old-school interruption marketing of Plug and Pray – plug your brand over and over again and pray that I buy from you. The problem is my attention span is very short and I’m a Boomer – I can’t imagine how Millennials react to these kinds of emails. I actually go out of my way to subscribe to newsletters and distribution lists that add value to the things I’m interested in. The one travel agency that I did keep in my feed does exactly that.

World Nomads is a travel agency that sends me regular emails but most of the content is interesting and valuable with travel tips, stories of great travel adventure and community members’ experiences. Sure, they promote their tours from time to time but they’ve earned my trust to stay in my feed.

World Nomad

It’s time for brands to move away from transactional emails and take a more strategic content marketing approach to email marketing. Email is still one of the most important arsenals in the marketer’s toolkit but we’ve got to get better at nurturing our audience instead of hitting them over the head with our offers and promotional content.

Some tips for transitioning from transactional emails:

  1. Focus on the customer – know what your customers want or like. What is valuable to them? Yes, I want a good deal and competitive prices, but having the same promotional messages week after week in my inbox is infuriating. If I’m already a happy customer, don’t make me want to drop you from my inbox. Make me want to subscribe to you.
  2. Create content along the Customer Journey – If you’re constantly pounding away with specials and offers you’re only hitting the latter part of the sales cycle. The problem is I’m not always in the buying mode. By creating content along the customer journey you will have content that you can nurture me with and when I am ready to buy, you can move me down the funnel. Make sure you have the proper tools in place, such as Marketing Automation and content personalization, so that you can take action when I’m ready to buy. Follow the 4-1-1 Rule of Content Marketing – Popularized by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, the 4-1-1 Rule says to create four bits of content that the customer cares about, one that is soft sell and one that is more of a promotional hard sell. That’s a good cadence to keep me interested in what you have to offer.
  3. Create content that will make prospective customers come to you – How awesome is marketing when the customer searches you out instead of you having to always push it in front of them. Create content that is so compelling that customers will come to your site, social channels or join your community so they can consume, engage and share it. Great content can be repurposed across many of your communication channels including your email.
  4. Measure and Optimize: Define and track KPIs that help determine the health of your email program over time. What is your open rate, how often are people taking action with your content, what is the unsubscribe rate compared to the add-on rate, etc. A/B test content and continually adjust your program to optimize your email effectiveness. Find a balance between short-term sales and long-term life time value of your customer.
  5. Think across the Customer Experience – Integrate content across all of your company touch-points with a focus on keeping it interesting for your customer. You can include common questions from the Support team, interesting content that your Social team, great behind the scene stories from your community efforts and content from employee & customer advocacy. Your mail list is a valuable asset to build your brand reputation – don’t let it live in a silo of self promotion. Create a strategy on how to best mix in content that will ultimately drive revenue and nurture the customer at the same time.

Your subscriber list is marketing gold. Protect it with everything you’ve got. If you’re creating content that’s pissing off your audience and making them unsubscribe, it’s time for a change.

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The Essence of Content Marketing: Engaging the Empowered Customer

Over the past few years content marketing has beeniStock_000021690268XSmall coming into it’s own right as a marketing channel much like digital marketing, social marketing and mobile marketing. Content has been around for for almost as long as we had sales people in the form of customer evidence, testimonials, video and white papers. The Internet has made it easier to distribute content to a wider audience and social media has helped marketers to extend the reach. But it’s not just the tools that will make content so valuable for marketers but how these tools have changed the way our customers behave and make purchase decisions. The empowered customer no longer sits passively in front of the TV or newspaper and magazine consuming advertising. They are taking a more active role in researching their purchase decision. Recommendations from their peers and other trusted sources are becoming as important, or more important, than the company they’re purchasing from.

I love this quote from Clark Kokich, former Razorfish CEO, as a foundation for engaging your customers with content:

“Consumers no longer move neatly from one touch point to the next, from branding to promotion to sales. Instead, they snack on a dizzying array of digital content delivered through a dizzying array of devices. They share ideas about products companies, and brands, with their brand awareness & purchase consideration formed by their peers as by a national branding campaign.”

This ain’t your Father’s customers – they buy differently, consume media differently, get information differently, build trust differently. Understanding your social and digital channels will be important but understanding the dynamic nature of your customer buying behaviors will be golden.

Some thoughts on getting to the essence of content marketing:

  • Understand your target customer’s behavior(psychographic & social technographic) – Are your customers engaged online or are they more like traditional consumers? Are they influenced by traditional advertising or by online reviews and peer recommendations? Are they creators, commenters or consumers of online content?
  • Re-imagine your sales cycle – it’s no longer a linear path with a clear beginning and end. Create multiple touch points, owned and 3rd party, along the customer journey so that your empowered customer can choose their own path.
  • Connect the dots – Provide great content that resonates along the customer touch points and connect it to your customer nurturing and sales cycle.

The tactics we use in content marketing are secondary. Understanding your customer, what influences their buying decision and how they want to learn and buy are an important first step before creating content and determining where to syndicate it.

Posted in Content Marketing, Customer Centricity, Empowered Customer, Empowered Marketer, Social Marketing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

SMS Marketing to Build Customer Satisfaction and Brand Loyalty

I haven’t seen many companies who effectively usSMS Screenshot 2e SMS marketing  to engage their potential or existing customers. I’m not saying they’re not out there, I’m just not their target audience and treat all unsolicited text messages as spam. So it was a pleasure when I ran into a restaurant who did a great job of using SMS to facilitate my dining experience and provide an opportunity for continued engagement. I was told by a fellow tourist to check out the food at the Crab Shack while visiting Savannah, GA. I love a good crab boil so it was a no brainer.

When I arrived at the restaurant I was told there was a 10-min wait by the host. I was asked for my phone number and permission to text me when my table was ready. I thought it was an interesting alternative to giving me a pager, so I was happy to have them text me. When my table was ready, they texted me to return back to the host – so far, interesting but no big deal. My favorite part was when I left. Before I could step out the door they sent me a third text thanking me for the visit and provided me with a way to get on their VIP list for discounts and updates. Wow, a timely text that made me feel appreciated and provided me with a channel to become a loyal customer. If I visited Savannah often enough I would have taken advantage of their program.

Some thoughts about SMS marketing based on my experience:

  • Reimagine your customer experience and think of new ways to engage your audience. I like the idea of replacing the restaurant pagers with my cellphone since it’s one less thing to carry around. There are lots of customer touch points that we might be able to change using new technologies or processes.
  • Engage in a timely manner. What made this a great experience was the text I received as I was leaving the restaurant to thank me for dining there and offering me discounts in the future. It would not have been as effective if they texted me the next day.
  • Look for ways to engage in complementary channels. My guess would be their VIP program was SMS based as well, but it would be great if they executed it through email or social channels. You don’t need to stick with the channel you first made contact with your customer. Don’t treat your marketing channels as a silo – integrate them so they work in synergy.
  • Be authentic. The one downer of this experience was that the host told me the wait was 10-mins and they texted me one minute later telling me my table was ready. I got the feeling they artificially raised the wait time just to get my phone number. I’m fine if you’re faster than the time you quote me but please be in the ballpark.
  • Monitor the social channels. I love to tweet or update my Facebook with photos of food I love. What if I tweeted a photo of my meal and they acknowledged it while I’m still eating? What if they gave me a desert or free soft drink just for checking in on FourSquare? Don’t advertise it, make it a surprise to delight. I don’t know, maybe too creepy? But if done well I think it would work.
  • Provide excellent customer service. For me, this only works well when all of the other parts of your business are in great shape. If the food is not top notch or the staff is not friendly, all of the marketing technology will not help, and with the empowered customer it can do more harm.

SMS marketing will only work with a certain percentage of your audience. Not all of them will have SMS-ready phones and many wont give you their phone number for many reasons. So look for great alternatives or do the usual processes very well. It’s important to know your customer – understand if this is something that they would appreciate and enhance doing business with you. Try it out and get feedback as you roll out the program.

Have you seen any other great examples of companies who have effectively used SMS to improve their customer experience?

Posted in Customer Centricity, Customer Satisfaction, Digital Marketing, SMS Marketing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Good Storytelling Starts a Conversation

The most effective marketing story isn’t the one you tell to someone in your audience, it’s the one the person tells himself. – Seth Godin

Good storytelling is less about “telling” and more about starting a conversation in your audience’s head. Most of my favorite movies and books are not those where they spoon feed me the plot or action but those that make me think and replay the story over and over long after it has ended. Seth Godin has a good post on creating The Theater of the Mind.

As you create your marketing story – are you telling your audience about your features or does it start an internal conversation about the challenges they have in their business and how your solution can help resolve it?

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Integrating Digital Events Into Your Content Marketing Program

[This is a reprint of a guest post I made to the INXPO Virtual Event Blog]

Virtual and Hybrid events can be much more than a digital extension of your in-person event program. The field of content marketing has been evolving quickly for both large and small businesses. Companies have always used content of various types in their marketing efforts but new digital, social and mobile channels have made organizing and communicating the content much easier. Instead of treating content marketing efforts as siloed experiences, marketers need to integrate their efforts to tell a story that resonates with their customers.

There are several advantages of using digital events (virtual/hybrid events, webcasts, live chats, etc.) as a centralized point for content marketing:

  1. Digital events are a natural integration point for traditional and new marketing channels. When developing a virtual and hybrid events we already leverage many types of rich content and marketing channels:
    1. Traditional marketing – e-mail, newsletters, whitepapers, case studies, etc.
    2. Social media – blogs, micro-blogs, online communities, etc.
    3. Digital – streaming & on-demand video, websites, banner ads, etc.
    4. Mobile – streaming video, apps, location-based services, etc.
    5. Partner integration – leverage your existing vendor/partner ecosystem
  2. A regular cadence of digital events is a good source of fresh content for building and nurturing a community. One of the challenges of keeping your community active and engaged is providing valuable content on a frequent enough basis to keep them coming back to your site or social account. Developing a spectrum of low-cost to high-quality digital events can help you increase your frequency and provide value to your audience.
  3. Fish where the fish are. Digital event content can be distributed in places where your audience naturally congregates – that could be your company’s website, social media site, or 3rd party sites. Live streamed events and on-demand content can be syndicated through a number of channels with calls-to-action back to your assets.
  4. Nurturing your existing customer community. Content marketing is not just finding and converting new prospects. Rich, customer-focused content is a great way to build advocates, thought leadership and build lasting relationships. Digital events can add real-time engagement with your company’s subject matter experts and provide a proactive way to build customer satisfaction.
  5. Build a 365 environment. Digital events are a great starting point to build a year-round ecosystem for customers to find out about your products, get support, find knowledge base information, engage with your community, etc. Look for ways to mash-up many of your other content marketing efforts to intersect with your dynamic digital event efforts to create a vibrant customer engagement environment.

Content marketing can be an important touch point for marketers to engage with their audience by providing information customers value in a number dynamic ways. Look at ways to leverage your digital event program to bring your content to life and drive traffic to your sites. But what if you could take that engagement to the next level and use your digital events to power your content marketing strategy? What would you create?

Good resource for learning about content marketing: Content Marketing Institute

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Make Your Customers Your North Star

Framed HandsDoes it ever feel like the earth is moving right from under your feet? Is everything you’ve learned about Marketing is being questioned? New devices, tools and channels keep popping up which break the rules on how we were supposed to communicate with our customers. Videos were things created in TV studios. Social was something you were at parties. Thought leadership was done by industry magazines. Mobile was something you were when you bought your first car. Tweets were something birds did. Tablets were how you took your vitamins. Viral was something you avoided.

With so many changes, how do you do you stay on the edge with your marketing efforts? I found that through thick and thin, success and failure, the best way to come up with a new marketing strategy or manage engagement challenges is to keep your customer as your North Star. Make doing what’s right for your customer your guiding principle. They should be the focus of what you do. Know your audience – what are their likes, their behaviors, their pains & itches, their dreams & hot buttons, their technographic & psychographic profiles.

  • If you’re having difficulty defining ROI for a new channel – make sure that channel is optimal for how your customers use it. Your social media channels might work better for engaging your audience to drive satisfaction and community, while traditional channels might work better for your awareness campaign.
  • If you’ve created a digital campaign that’s not getting the response you’re expecting – go back to your customer insights to see if your audience is receptive to the kind of behaviors you’re asking for. Are you asking them to create new content while most of your audience prefers consuming it instead?
  • If you’re driving a lot of traffic to your website but only a few people are converting to your offer – do you understand what motivates your audience?
  • Before you build your mobile app – do you know what percentage of your audience has smartphones and if the app you’re creating will be valued by your audience?

Social/Mobile/Local/Digital are changing customer expectations and behaviors. Do you know how these channels are impacting YOUR customers and prospective customers? It’s so easy to get caught up in the technology and the excitement of the latest bright, shiny objects. By taking a customer-centric approach to marketing it will help you to build your engagement strategies and troubleshoot challenges. Make your customer your North Star.

Posted in Customer Centricity, Digital Marketing, Empowered Customer, Social Marketing | Leave a comment