Ready, Set, Brand: Branding Means Business With Amber Hurdle!

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Ready, Set, Brand 🚀

Are you thirsty for some killer branding strategies? Then this episode is for you! 💯

Contrary to popular belief, companies don’t sell products. They sell experiences, feelings, and ideologies. Businesses that have amazing brands, like Nike know exactly what experience they want customers to have when they make (or consider) a purchase. Being able to control the purchasing experience at this level is the power of branding at work. 💡

Branding is important because not only is it what makes a memorable impression on consumers but it allows your customers and clients to know what to expect from your business. It is a way of distinguishing yourself from competitors and clarifying what it is you offer that makes you the better choice. Your brand is built to be a true representation of who you are as a business, and how you wish to be perceived. ✨

There are many areas that are used to develop a brand including advertising, guest experience, social responsibility, reputation, and visuals. All of these elements (and many more) work together to create one unique and (hopefully) attention-grabbing brand. 🤩

Our guest on the Accommodation Show, this week is a seasoned brand architect and a renowned marketing expert, at the top of her game, Amber Hurdle. In this insightful episode, Amber walks us through how she views brand strategy, the principles she uses to build brands, create memorable guest experiences and to inspire her teams to success. We outline all the steps you need to follow to craft an authentic brand narrative that will help you get noticed, remembered and yield results. 💯

What we cover in this episode:

Why is it important to brand your business? 🤔

How to create a successful brand identity. 🎨

Should you create a brand identity for yourself as an individual? 🤔

How can you amplify your brand message? 📢

How to create a compelling brand story. 🎭

What are the most important elements of building a strong brand? 💪

What should you include in your business constitution (goal, mission, vision) to define your brand? 📝

What resources can newly formed companies utilize to form their identity on a minimal budget? 💰

How to grow your brand with AI. 🤖

Amber Erickson-Hurdle is a longtime hospitality veteran with proven hotel, vacation rental, F&B, and event production chops. She has been recognized among the top 30 branding professionals in the world for four years, ranking #4 for 2023, thanks to her proprietary branding philosophy. As an engaging and high-energy professional speaker, Amber teaches the combined value of personal brands, employer brands, and business brands to increase market share and profitability, reduce turnover, and amplify satisfaction among customers and employees alike. She is a featured expert in an upper-division college public relations textbook. She has won multiple business awards and has been covered in Entrepreneur Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, and beyond. When she is not at the dog beach or being a hot-wing snob she is leading Employer Brand Central, a branding agency focused on middle-market businesses that need to optimize their talent to increase operational efficiencies, reduce costs, and fortify their brand reputation.

If you are a brand builder looking to operationalize, align and motivate your whole business around brand thinking, this one is for you. 💯

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🎙 Listen to the episodes here

Transcription:

Bart: Okay, welcome back to another episode of the combination Show. This week I’m joined by the amazing the wonderful, the gorgeous, have a hurdle Welcome to the show.

Amber: Thank you, Bart. I love being here and I love that I will now be sending you a check to Australia to thank you for making me feel pretty today.

Bart: it’s not hard to do at all. It really isn’t. And folks Amber is an absolute legend. And my first introduction to you was in Miami. I had never heard of you in my life before. I had no idea who you were. And you are a lady that likes to make an impression. This isn’t the book direct show. It’s kind of that before the show starts everything’s kind of quiet. The lights are dimmed. And then the music gets going. Dad’s has come out. And Amber Hurdle makes her way to the stage to do a presentation at the book direct show. This was the first I’ve been to the US before but my first real kind of experience of this and I was absolutely blown away. So first off, thanks for that introduction. Second off, what prompts someone to jump in and do that kind of an intro? 

Amber: Well, to my version of branding, which is, from a statistical standpoint, the way that branding is done by everyone and is the best practice for everyone. Post-COVID is just how I’ve always done it and that is creating an emotional connection. So I knew that there would be a big contingency of international visitors to Miami. And so I was like okay, well pitbulls from Miami so we got to play a pitbull song. And then you know what else is Miami? Well like Latin dancing, so you know we really broke our necks to find just the right Latina dancers and get on the same page as them and really come in to make a point that everything that you do and your business every choice that you make can move your customer towards an emotional connection with you or move it away. Now I guarantee you as you move towards obviously because we’re friends now. But some people probably also turn them off like what is happening is nine o’clock in the morning like I was out late last night. There are dancers everywhere. Pitbull and people are dancing in the aisles and on the stage and like they’re probably turned off by it. And that’s the point because the way that I brand I want you to land on my website or look at my collateral material or experience me in a sales conversation and I want it to be a hell no or a hell yes. Like that and move on.

Bart: Yeah, amazing. And I think that most brands that actually we think about it is actually like that and we’re gonna come back to all of this. Yes, because today’s episode is all about branding. And what’s great about this episode is that I find that you’re an absolute legend of branding, right? Like I don’t even call you an expert. You are branding, right that’s had the way that you live in the way that you are. So we’ll come back to the brand new part. So what I love to do for those of you or for those in the audience that haven’t heard about or heard or I would love you to do us a bit of an introduction and tell us a bit about your journey as to how you got to where you are right now.

Amber: For sure. Well, I always like to start it out by saying I got knocked up at 16 years old. And that’s the truth. I was the girl that that wasn’t supposed to happen to I was very involved in my school. I had just been on the channel for news and the Middle Tennessee area in the United States and they featured me along with other students, high school students at six and 10. Monday through Friday because we were leaders and we were having these conversations with that long story but so I’m like such a good kid. I’m on TV until I wasn’t a couple of weeks later I found out I was with child. So that was such it’s just shaped everything about my life. And so the way that I approached branding is because I had to figure out as a teen mom, how do I get ahead. How do I get an extra shift at the restaurant where I work because I need to pay for daycare on Monday are my kids getting kicked out? Like how do I make sure that I’m I find favor from one of the four jobs that I had to ensure that they’re going to be flexible with the fact that I have all these things going on and if Brittany got sick I couldn’t come to work like how did I position myself so that I could still have the opportunity and grind it out and provide for my daughter? 

It was it really was life or death it really was my car being repossessed or not. It really was I’m not going to have a place to live or not. And so when you have that amount of like pressure on you you start really getting outside of your normal personality tendencies and you’re in survival mode. And so what survival mode taught me is I had to position myself in the world to have opportunities that I did not actually deserve. So because I didn’t have the degree or I didn’t have the experience or whatever that was all I had was that people knew I was a hard worker and had great work ethic and they knew that I was amazing with people. And at the end of the day when you’re in hospitality, which has been the core of my personal work experience. We do more than that in my agency now. But the core of my personal work experience is in hospitality. So if you’re a hard worker and you’re great with people, you’re kind of winning. 

So taking that and then moving into my more into my professional career. I started just doing things that felt natural to me again, it was creating that emotional connection. And not making it about like super business, you know, objective type things, but really weaving in stories and opportunities of aligning with nonprofits or you know, a myriad of things. And eventually, I was like, oh, that’s called Public Relations. That’s a thing like I could go back to college and like get the piece of paper that says this is what I do. So I went as an adult returning student, I got my public relations and advertising degree I got a minor in marketing or minor in organizational communication, and realized that my sweet spot was internal publics and how that impacted the external experience. And so that could be employees that could be members that could be fans that could be alumni. And, I just found a lot of success and kept building on that success and building on that success. And I’ve had a tonne of failures too. That’s where all the lessons get learned and so now here I am doing it for lots of different companies. 

And really, you know, one thing about the VRS TR world is there’s just so much m&a activity going on and you know there’s companies who are acquiring smaller companies, there are companies that are merging, there’s more private equity that got dumped into that world and 2022 No 2021 than in history. So, you know, we’ve got a lot of this happening. And so when you’re merging cultures and you’re merging businesses and you’re merging processes, it’s like oh, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot changing, and we’re about to lose our staff because of it. So we got to get y’all on Southern you got to get your people in the group. As a boy more gentle way of saying that, you know, I want to say but you got to get your group. You got to get your team swimming in the same direction. You have to have them bought into their gifts being used in something bigger than themselves. And if you can do that, if you can see your employees if you can help them see their value, they’re gonna crush it for you. And that’s as important from a branding perspective as making your customers feel warm and fuzzy. Because who’s serving your customers guys, you know, that’s kind of the Fast Forward version, but that’s how I got here.

Bart: Wow. My brain is swirling. There are so many different questions that I have for you and what I find really interesting is we talk about guest experience right and how that gets experience goes from all the way through from the start from sort of any kind of marketing that you’re doing or social media and the kind of the dreaming of a holiday phase all the way through to the booking website. Then to check in or the pre-check any emails or communications and then the check-in then the stay and then the process afterward. And that whole guest experience part and what we all know is that it needs to be holistic and needs to stick itself together. 

Otherwise, the journey doesn’t really make sense. And what I want to talk to you about today as well as that brand, okay, so that branding it needs to make sense not only externally to people but internally as well with all your people, your culture, and everything that you do. And I’ve seen some unbelievable property manager companies and unbelievable hotel companies as well do this incredibly well just really understand that it’s not just about all those kinds of external communication points or all the nice things in the roof that you need to align your brand as a business and as a leader to kind of tie it all together.

Amber: 100% Or you just hit the nail on the head and if you think about like we spend, we’ll say a more scaled company. I mean, a super small company will you know, not super sure about this but a more scale company like you have a decent number of employees you have an annual revenue of a certain amount. It’s highly likely that on your p&l the biggest chunk of your expenses is your people. So that could be payroll. That could be benefits that could be taxes that can be professional development that could be you know, lunches and events and things like that. 

I challenge you as you’re listening or watching this to see how much of your operating budget is for your people. But then here’s what happens. We’re like, let’s go get market share. And so we dump all this money into marketing, and we’re trying to gain market share and we want to retain our customers but then we don’t do anything. You know, you talk about that whole customer journey. We don’t do anything financially or energy-wise to invest in the employee journey that starts the second they even are aware that they want to work for you and ends only when they part ways with you. And so what does that journey look like? And are you treating your employees in the way that you want them to treat your customers? That’s the question. And if you’re not, then you’re probably not going to have a good customer experience. You’re going to have churn not only in your employee base, but you’re going to have churn in your customer base. And then you’re dumping all that money over here. And read about your tech stacks and all these other things. When if you get the people part right, they’ll deliver your brand promise for you.

Bart: Amazing and look. So let’s rewind a little bit because I want to get some of those foundations set up. Because if we’ve got scale we’ll have done some branding part some branding pieces, maybe getting ever getting to scale as well. There are some foundational elements that we can set up and those branding elements can tie into both more sales, and more revenue, but also then tie into the company and the company culture overall. So tell me like when you’re thinking about brand, and when you’re thinking about, well, you know where to get started? What are the key things that you would impart to people?

Amber: First and foremost, your culture is the birthplace of your brand. There is no expression of your business which my definition of business is you have a problem I solve your problem. You give me money, that’s business. But how do we do that? How do I know that I want to do business with you and not Joe Schmo down the street is because how you do business with me is how you prefer to do business and there are values that align and there are different emotional triggers like I’m an Amazon girl I don’t care if they’re taking over the world. I don’t care if you’re listening in my house when I ordered a rug yesterday. I got it today. I’m happy convenience, emotionally drives me because as you know, my life is crazy. So we’ve got to start there. And if you’re a small business owner, you need to think about that as your constitution and you’re the president. 

What is your constitution going to say? These are the things that we value. And so that’s the mission, that’s the vision that’s values that service standards. You know, I know that you have so many people in the hotel world as well as the STR world. And like you can think of the Ritz Carlton you can think of Marriott you can think of Gaylord hotels that what their team knows to live to deliver on the brand promise is when somebody’s within 10 feet of me I’m gonna look them in the eyes and smile. When somebody’s within five feet of me. I’m going to speak first and last. That’s one example you can go to Ritz Carlton’s website and check all those out. But that ensures that there’s a consistent brand experience so without that, how do you deliver a consistent brand experience? If you’re not telling your team come hell or high water? Here are the five things you have to do in order for all of us to be delivering this promise. I don’t know how you how do you even navigate that. How do you maintain a consistent brand experience? 

So once you have that down now we have to understand okay, well what’s the personality of the brand? What is it that we want people to believe about us because as a brand all that is is your reputation? So when you think about Nike, just do it a hard-hitting athletic brand. You’re thinking of aggression, but not negative aggression like positive like empowering aggression. And the thing about it is Nike’s brand never changes but if they are selling or marketing to a performance athlete like a competitive athlete, performance gear, that’s a whole different conversation. Tone doesn’t change, personality doesn’t change. But the messaging changes, if I’m going to talk to a competitive athlete versus a soccer mom wanting to wear dude athleisure, wear so she can pick up her kids from school, go to soccer practice, go to youth group shop at Target, go to Pilates, whatever that is. She doesn’t want to hear about shaving a second off her time. She doesn’t care about you know the technical part of the fabric. Do I look cute and will this wash well in the end so when we’re thinking about our brands, it’s okay now that we know what our constitution is? 

Now we understand how we’re going to collectively make sure that we’re being consistent in delivering this and then who are we marketing to? Who are we serving? Do you have competitive athletes and soccer moms both great, then we have to segment those audiences to talk to them in a way that’s emotionally compelling to them. Once you have that, then it’s like okay, then what is the message, we know what the message is. Now what’s the tone, no matter if you’re internally handling your marketing, you hire a social media company. You know, you’re working with a website team, and you should hand them the bible of your brand, not go down the discovery path of XYZ company and then XYZ company has a different discovery. And now you’ve got five different interpretations of your brand back that you’re in charge of. Tell them what your brand is this is the tone and when I say fun, this is what I mean by fun not I’m gonna leave it up to your interpretation of what fun means to you because words have connotations. So we just keep going down that and we keep massaging that until we get to the employee experience. 

And then it’s a whole other thing. Well, how are we communicating what are the communication channels that we can count on? What are the type of events that they can count on? How are we how are we getting feedback? Do you have a two-way feedback mechanism? How do you know that everybody has the tools and resources they need to get the job done? And as you grow and the further away your senior leadership gets from that frontline? That’s where the President and the Vice President and the Constitution start getting a little bit murky because now we’ve got all these people in between that hopefully have been fed and our culture focused and are focused on their personal brands, delivering the employer brand in a compelling way so that the employees with the employer brand happiness are then delivering the business brand as expected by your customers. That’s a lot I hope everybody was taken.

Bart: That’s, that’s amazing. And look, and that’s the great thing about recording this is that people can rewind and re-listen to it and I think it’s absolutely critical to get a piece of paper and a pen or to use a tool like chat TPT to transcribe this and to get the bullet points, because you’ve delivered kind of like almost like a masterclass in branding in a couple of minutes just going Hey, from top to bottom, these are things you need to think about. And I encourage everyone who stayed to think about these to do more research to learn more and to think about it. I think today would be really interesting to try to empower people to make some positive steps from wherever they are in their particular journey right now. And the things that I need to think about. If we go back to establishing the Constitution and your voice, there are two questions that I have. 

But the first one is, you know, where were you? You’d always say you should start straight away and you should do it. And I would say, you know, like for someone that’s just getting started or starting a brand vision and so they just do it. The issue is right, I’ve got 101 other things that I need to do and I’ve got no money because my business is struggling. I’m starting to grow. I just need to get some properties on and that sort of thing. So we were limited on time right to do everything and we also might not even know what it’s gonna look like completely. So what are your best words of advice in terms of, you know, how much time someone should take what are the what are the basic bits that they can start to work on? To create something a little bit bigger later on, particularly when they don’t know what it’s going to be?

Amber: Yeah, so good. So I’ve in hospitality in general, but specifically in vacation rentals, I’ve helped birth brands and I’ve helped rebrand and I’ve helped the Evolve brands and it can be done in a day. That’s how we do it. We give some free work and then we show up or like get your Ritalin, get your coffee, it’s important to let go like we don’t have time to your point. We just don’t have time to willy-nilly. Around so my urging to you is if you’re a brand that is brand spanking new, and maybe you have like one property that you own or you’re that person like so many in the industry where it’s like well, I was marketing mine while I took it away from you know this terrible property management company and then my neighbors were like, What are you doing? Can you manage mine and before you know it, oops, you have a property management company. So if you’re that person, then take a step back and go to you know, even just your family and say like well what do we value? What is important to us? What are the guiding principles and how do we make decisions? What type and I’ll tell you I’m trying to think who was it on LinkedIn. I want to get the person right. So Venturi has this, they’ve got this series that they’re doing on LinkedIn right now. Yes. Phillip is asking what are the Yeah, but it’s I’m trying to remember the person

But the property managers across the board have said I wish I would have known not to take on every property that I could. I wish I would have been more discerning about which homeowners I do business with. And so how do you make that decision? If you don’t understand what you value? Because what happens if you don’t? If you don’t create, like, why are we in business, your mission? Where are we trying to go with your vision and what is it that we value? How do you know what direction you’re going and how do you know who is eligible to share in your values to be on board so we serve so many different masters in the VRS your industry and so you’ve got your homeowners, you have your staff, you have your guests, and then you even have your community and your regulatory boards. That is you know, that’s a huge part of even being able to express your brand in your community to keep it safe from ultra regulation because Airbnb is like, unhinged, you know, so like we’re not Airbnb like we are a family-owned business who has been contributing to this community. And these are the things that we value and so you can trust us that we’re going to keep our community in the goals of the community and clear focus. But if you don’t have a brand and a culture, how are you ever going to communicate that and fight for your right to do business in your community?

Bart: So how often do we review this, because for us with I booked online and the accommodation show and in all the products that were doing, it feels like a six-month sort of period is a good time for us to review everything that we’re doing, and just go you know what we’re not quite where we want to be. And we’re not even identifying our audience and who we’re talking to. That’s kind of adjusting and changing as times evolve as things change as market dynamics change. Ie you put a pandemic in the mix of it and all of a sudden, the people you’re talking to actually change the people that we were talking to at the very start completely different because those people have sold their businesses and kind of left the industry and they’re not as interested in being educated but then you’ve got all these new waves of people coming in so you have to constantly be reviewing. I imagine as a short-term rental company, that’s one thing as a hotel brand as well, I mean, you’re not going to be changing that often because you’ve already got a bit of scale. What are your what is your advice in terms of looking at things and thinking about whether whatever you wrote at the start still rings true? Yeah, I

Amber: I think you should audit that annually at least. If you are going through massive growth and yeah six months. Every six months, kind of check-in. You don’t want to change it too often though, because then it’s like okay, team, memorize these new values, like want to try to stay close to the knitting. But to your point when things do change significantly, that’s the time to take a step back and say you know, do we need to put an amendment on this constitution? And I mean that societies evolve and businesses evolve. And in the hotel space like yeah, there they are a little more established. They might have been around a lot longer, but listen that m&a activities go on there too. And there are entire private equity firms that are buying old hotels, retrofitting them, turning them into something new, selling them moving on, so you kind of have like this culture that’s, that’s changing. Your culture is the same, but it’s going to show up differently in the different zip codes, both geographically and theoretically, of like, okay, well, this hotel is in Las Vegas. And so that vibe is going to be a little bit different. We’re going to have that going. We’re still you know, getting it ready for sale. And then you know, we just acquired this in Utah. Well, those are different markets. 

Those are different types of employees. Those are different from everything. So you have to have your sub-brands, but then you have the parent brand, which is the employer brand, that then gives an informs, you know, how are we delivering the service no matter who our customers are? So it’s an ever-evolving thing that you have to stay on top of but definitely, once a year when you’re working on your annual operating goals and you’re working on your budget for the new fiscal year. Also, take a look at your culture and your employer’s brand strategy. I mean, you should have should I hate that word? Let me back up in the people who really get the value of the full pull-through from personal brand employer brand new business brand, are the ones who not only put together a marketing strategy and a marketing plan with tactics to support the strategy. They also put together an employee engagement plan. From their recruitment marketing to their onboarding to their engagement, which is the majority of the time are you recognizing Are you? Are you providing professional development? Are you making sure everybody has the tools and resources to do the job then also the onboarding in hospitality we deal a lot with on-call and seasonal workers. Are you staying in touch with them throughout the year or is next Christmas in the hotel space? Are they going up to the retailer because they can make $1 more whenever you would have just sent them a newsletter or put an option into a text thing upon exiting where they’re saying yes, I want to stay in touch with my employer? Just like hey, great news. We just won this award because of you. We hope we get to see you back this year. Like emotional connection much. I’m going with my family, not this place over here. There’s probably going to be miserable but I’m going to make a buck more an hour.

Bart: Absolutely. I’ve got there were three things that you said I’ve just been trying to hold on to the business brand, personal brand, and employer brand. We’ve kind of been talking a bit about employer branding, the business brand is probably more consumer-facing and what consumers should expect from the personal brand is one which is I find can be quite contentious because some people don’t want to have themselves as the center of their brand, which I don’t know whether they have to or not, which we can talk about. Some people don’t want to be on Instagram.

I just did a presentation yesterday to a group of 100 people and maybe I said Who here likes to do social media? These are all the hospitality professionals right people at the top of their game, maybe four of them said yep, I can I like it or I’m okay with it. Most people just don’t want to be doing it. And obviously, I’m getting into the weeds a bit is to you know, the practicality of building a personal brand. I’d love to spend a bit of time talking about personal brands because you’re so effective at using a personal brand to build your business. So I want to talk about that. The advantages of it. And I’ve seen some great examples of hospitality and accommodation of people leading the brand. I don’t want to talk about musk and stuff I want to talk about sort of our vertical. So I would love to kind of so so there’s that but then also if we don’t want to be that person, what are our options so so if we can kind of deal with those two, I think people would really benefit.

Amber: So first and foremost whether you want one or not you have a personal brand. A personal brand does not equate Instagram-famous LinkedIn icon. It doesn’t have external external facing so the thing is your personal brand. This is Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon’s definition but your personal brand is what people say about you and you’re not in the room. We all have one of those. And Carl Jung. I’m going to butcher his version of it but philosopher Carl Jung says you can tell the world who you are or they will make it up for you. So your choice. And so what we want to do is we want to make sure that whether you are leveraging your personal brand to generate sales like I do or you’re leading your team internally and trying to build influence and trust so that engagement increases and turnover reduces. Either way, you’ve got to be clear about what people believe about you. And so if you know that authentically, this is who I am and then this is how people perceive me if there’s a gap in between those two things, and we need to make sure that we’re strategically taking actions surrounding ourselves with the right people putting ourselves in the right opportunities so that we have the chance to show people who we are at our core and what we value. So that same kind of branding experience is the same thing. 

So let’s just back up a little bit and say “I am a business owner.” So you know, we can talk about, you know, Alex Hubner in Annie Holcomb Okay, so they both worked for regional companies or more regional companies, they had, I think, a little bit of a national presence and they really worked their personal brands to benefit the companies that they worked for. And then there were some changes in both of those companies. So at a certain point, they have built up their brand, by their podcast, by their active involvement at conferences, by their networking by their social media presence. They put themselves out there and we all believe things about Alex and Annie and their podcast, and now they have a top hospitality podcast. They both work for national brands. They’re both fulfilled, the companies are winning, they’re winning, and everybody’s winning. 

And so that’s a powerful external example. And then you have maybe somebody a little more subtle about it, but let’s talk I’ll give you two examples. So there’s Valerie Ganga has Juniper vacation rentals, and she’s great about putting herself out there. But she’s not like, she’s not she doesn’t have a podcast, things like that. But she is using that to draw awareness to Juniper and then you have Robin Craigan of moving mountains out of Colorado. And that’s a great brand like Forbes talks about they’re the best luxury vacation rental company for skiing in Colorado. They’ve got growth going on. And he also doesn’t have a podcast he’s not you know, writing articles for Forbes. They’re covering him but what he is doing that really impacts that brand is he is active in the VR space. He shows up to conferences, and he does speak on panels. He ensures that his team understands who he is and he makes sure that his team and Heather too, his wife, they make sure that they see their employees for who they are. So now they’re building trust internally too and then they get voted best places to work, which then makes it easier for them to recruit. And then that’s why they have such an amazing customer experience and Forbes and all these other national publications are like hey, that’s the place to be. But it starts at the top. It starts with Robin and Heather doing their jobs as business owners to ensure people understand what they’re about what matters to them, how much they care, and when that trust is built. Everything else falls in place.

Bart: I love it. I love it. And I think from what I’m hearing you say is that that personal brand helps you build expectations holistically across your company across your team, so you get and get a lot of advantage out of it so you get better employees. You can create that alignment. You’ve got a if everyone’s rowing, they’re rowing at the same pace in the same direction rather than in different ways.

Amber: And why are we on this together right now? Why were you on my podcast because of what I believe about you from my limited exposure to you like you said we just met in October but let’s be honest, we spent there were two conferences and there’s a short amount of time and stayed in touch but like what I believe about you through you not telling me this through me not reading a bio. I know that you’re cutting-edge avant-garde, which I appreciate because I value innovation, and tech-focused I am a tech junkie. I know that you’re kind you’re fun to be around that you genuinely care about people I watch how you interact with other people and how you light up just because you have the opportunity to engage with somebody like that’s my kind of person. So your brand is on brand for me so I know I can trust you to be me and to have an experience with you that I can count on. Now not everybody’s that way. It’s like hot and cold. You don’t know how they’re showing up that day. You don’t really understand what drives them. And so you can’t really trust them. And you know, you’re not going to break your neck to like help them be successful because you don’t even know what they’re about.

Bart: And I think that’s been something that’s been quite conscious from my perspective is to be quite revealing of who I am so that when people see me they go you know, if I’m going to do business with someone I say don’t trust me just have a look. Just have a look at what I’m doing and why I’m out there. Super vulnerable in that way because also if I’m not being genuine or if I’m not delivering on my promises, then it’s out there. It’s exposed and people can see it. I want to move on to something because one of the things that happens but Jamie he was we start talking and then the time just goes like there are just so many questions that I’m left with and I’m super cognizant of the fact that I want these episodes to be as impactful as possible to as many listeners as possible. And one of the things about this branding stuff that we’re talking about, which I think is a big struggle is okay, great. I think a lot of people understand where we’re at. But now when it comes to getting more bookings when it comes to actually interacting with potential guests. There are different schools of thought and I obviously have my own opinions Here’s yours first, you actually have more experience in this in terms of what we’re showing to a customer from a leader’s perspective. I’m not talking about company brands, I’m talking about individual brands and what we’re showing our customers. What’s good practice, what do we need to do? Do we need to do it during the show with our customers who we are? Where does the personal brand sit within delivering to customers? 

Amber: So guest for the way that I do it is not it’s not the way it’s my way and listen, that’s marketing right? Like you’re a marketing guru, you get it like not everything’s for everybody and you have to understand your customer. So if you are a very transparent brand, and you want to tell the brand story then Yeah, put that front and center like this is you know, this is us. We’re a family-owned business. We’re the third generation, whatever that looks like. And then you would weave that through your storytelling and that emotional connection through all of your content on your website, your email sequence, and your onboarding. If you have like a guest guide like a Touch Stay or something like that. Then you’d want to put that like these are our family’s favorite restaurants around here. weave it in throughout if you are built on brand intimacy, if you’re not built on brand intimacy, then that might feel invasive like I don’t care who you are. 

And please dear God, no matter who you are, don’t put your family pictures in where somebody’s vacationing, they don’t want to see your kids. Okay, so just get that out of the way. A rookie mistake. I’m like, you always know when you’re in a professionally managed vacation rental based on what you see in the home. But there is a place for you for your team. I would say pull back the curtain, about 15 to 20% and your content and show your team members highlight your housekeepers talk about so and so just got a new dog and this has nothing to do with your next day but we knew you’d love it like if you know that your audience is a certain generation or from a certain area you can make general assumptions that you know it’s a pet-friendly location. So yeah, we’re gonna show her dogs pull back the curtain enough to create that emotional connection but not so much where it’s all about you and not about your customer. Everything should come back to what’s in it for your guest. First and foremost. So what is it in your guest if you show behind the curtain they know that you care about your business, they know that your employees are hungry to serve. They know that you care about your employees and so the assumption is if you take care of your employees employees are gonna take care of your guests. So it’s a win win win because then your employees are also like ooh, we’re getting highlighted in the recognition which is one of the top two ways to retain your talent is proper recognition so.

I guess my answer is first It depends. on exactly how much you do. And second, like the rule of thumb 15 to 20% pull back the curtain that could be the owners that can be the team that could be your mascot, whatever it is, but just show what does it look like behind the scenes?

Bart: I love it. I think that what epitomizes that system and helps to build trust, right? So they go yep, I trust this particular person. So you can trust in a brand or logos and images and that sort of thing, but trusting a person is a lot easier. One of the things I want everyone to take away from what Amber just said is that you’re thinking about your guest, and how all of this relates to them. As long as you’re meeting that criterion and you go well, the reason why you want to deal with me or that because I am this kind of person and it’s relevant to your state into your experience, then you can definitely do it. And I think that the thing that I guess what I was saying what we’re talking about as well because you’ve got the business-to-business side of things. 

You’ve got a business consumer and I think that that that part there quite often I find that there are experts that come along and they say you’ve got to build your brand and people need to see you and you need to be on all the social media, which is something that I disagree with wholeheartedly. Not all brands have to be built in that particular way. I don’t sometimes I can be super unhelpful, especially if it’s not something that you as an individual want to do right? You want to you need to want to put your brand out in that way for it to actually make sense right?

Amber: And if it’s not necessary, like if you think about the Outer Banks, as an example, generations of people have been vacationing and vacation rental homes, and the Outer Banks is just what they do. So they have a much higher rate of direct booking, which is fantastic. But they also don’t have to like to do as much of a dog and pony show because they’ve got a reputation that is built generation over generation of happy guests so like. You’re delivering and, you know, I’m not saying don’t be on social media. And another advantage of pulling back the curtain is if you’re recruiting, then your candidate can be like, Oh, well what does it look like to work there? Can I see myself working there? Well, I don’t see anything except for the commodity of this as a house with this view and yada yada. Like if I can’t see what the vibe is or somebody that I might be working with, and I might go on down the road to this other place where I can envision myself working there. So I don’t think anybody’s off the hook entirely. But I do think that based on your direct bookings, your geographic location the volume that you need to do.

Bart: It’s such a fascinating topic and I was actually watching a movie with my family over the Easter break. And I’m kind of diverging a little bit I know we need to finish but I just want to I want to get your thoughts on this. And the movie was about a writer and brilliant writer that you know, that had incredible talent that he was born into the wrong name. Because his mom’s name was known as a writer. But then he was born into the dad’s name so you had to carry that name and he couldn’t do the switch it just wasn’t possible at the time. You needed that switch for him to be able to be recognized even though he’s a talented writer. The name was what carried in that reputation that in the lineage as well that kind of came from that. And I find that that’s quite interesting is that when we think about you know, back in the past, so your surname and your family name, that would be your brand, right? That was your brand newborn into the brand or whatever that family is achieved, for and that sort of thing and I think that’s quite relevant, right? Is that you it takes a while to build a brand and you’re kind of creating a legacy, and people recognize you for being a certain way or having a certain reputation. What are your thoughts?

Amber: I wholeheartedly agree and I hang on to my Sicilian heritage. Because it is so much of who I am. So I feel like the minute I say like, oh, I’m Sicilian. That comes with some markers in and of itself of identity. You know, I’m female, so I have to carry my ex-husband’s name because that’s fair, but SEO man, SEO, honorable one, you know, one of the awards, wrote the book like I can’t get rid of it. It is what it is I got from a brand perspective, each name, but that’s not who I am. And so I do think that when we let people into our worlds just a little bit then we can start making those family connections. We can start saying like, I mean, my daughter is, I mean, not biologically but she was adopted by my ex-husband and you know, she has she’s fourth generation that’s relevant to people in the land industry because you’re not some whippersnapper who’s jumped on the bandwagon. And this is very true to an STR right now because like look at the bandwagon that people like, this year, we’re experiencing, you know, flooded markets, you know, too much inventory because everybody wanted to get into the space and they didn’t even really understand what they’re getting into they just have some cash cow. And so how do you differentiate yourself from Joe Schmo who has five listings on Airbnb or you whose family has been creating these experiences for generations? There’s something about that family name that I think is important.

Bart: I could keep going on but I just probably could go for another hour without.

Amber: I see everything through the lens of branding.

Bart: What I’ll do is I’ll hopefully see you in Orlando in a few month’s time and we can maybe schedule some good drinking time. We can talk about all these different things. You’ve created so many things for people to think about. And that’s what’s really critical about the accommodation show is you know, we talked about STR hotels different things, but I can guarantee you there are different parts where people haven’t spent enough time to think about sitting down, go back and go, okay, my branding, where is it? Are we doing all the things we could be doing? I would encourage people to follow you to get in touch with you if they’ve got any more questions and that sort of thing. What is the best way for people to interact with?

Amber: I have a LinkedIn junkie. It is the water cooler of the vacation rental industry. There’s never I’ve never seen an industry like it on LinkedIn and LinkedIn is where you go to do business. So I’m not I’m terrible at Instagram. So your business and that’s LinkedIn. And you know and I want to add to like, did we one time in this conversation about branding talk about logos or fonts or colors?

Bart: We did not.

Amber: Okay, so I’m just gonna let that hang out there and let people wonder why is that you don’t illustrate a book and then write the story. You have to write the story and then illustrate the book. So just keep that in mind and you can ping me on LinkedIn if you want to talk about that more.

Bart: Amber thank you so much. I appreciate you and the work that you’re doing. I appreciate the fact that you take some time out of your busy schedule. I know how blessed you are for time, so it means an awful lot. I’m looking forward to seeing you in a few month’s time and hopefully, we can bring you over to Australia at some point as well. When we do the day.

Amber: I appreciate you sharing your audience with me and letting me serve them.

Bart: For all of you that are tuned in please make sure that you like and subscribe. I want your comments. I want to know what you think about branding, and what you’ve done until Friday. Do you have brand guidelines? Do you have principles that you follow? Do you use a personal brand? Make sure that you have a review as well if you are on any of those podcasting platforms. Thank you so much. See you later. Have a good day.

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