– Case Study –

Vantage Vacation Rentals

See how our experience as a CMO for this multi-state, 500+ property vacation rental management company can translate to helping yours.
Vantage Resort Realty Logo
Vantage Resort Realty, as it was branded initially, was founded in 2007. Recognizing that vacation rental guests don’t just want an amazing location; they want a fantastic experience, Vantage sought to stand out amongst its competitors. In both Ocean City, Maryland and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Vantage Resort Realty was on a quest to be the best, providing memorable vacations and high-yield investment properties.


With over 550 managed properties, Vantage was in no shortage of inventory. However, with many properties to manage, book, clean, repeat, and earn revenue on each, it needed to create better efficiencies throughout the entire organization.

Although, as anyone in the vacation rental business knows there is no real “off-season.” While guests are splashing around in the summer, VRMBs are deluged with housekeeping and maintenance inquiries. And while guests are shoveling snow at home during the winter, VRMBs work hard to retain property owners and pick up new inventory.

4 seasons icons

Vantage was no different. Finding time to assess its people, processes, technology, and brand promise as a whole would be no small task. Not to mention implementing changes, for fear of disrupting the existing ecosystem. As a result, these initiatives were consistently put on the back burner.

Leading up to 2019, Vantage held fairly steady due largely to repeat seasonal guests and retained property owners. However local competition was heating up on both the guest and property owner sides of the business. Commission fees and policies from the OTAs continued to take a bite out of earnings, and 3-star reviews were not helping to boost the brand’s reputation. It became more clear that Vantage needed to make some changes. They looked to marketing for help.

Vantage had gone through a few CMOs and marketing personnel over the years and was currently without anyone at the helm. A webmaster, email marketer, writer, and graphic designer were doing their best to keep things afloat. However, the marketing efforts in place had been too heavily weighted on guests, leaving the business development team feeling underserved and on their own. Additionally, the marketing department’s quality and effectiveness were misaligned with how Vantage wanted to be perceived by its target audiences.

Recognizing the critical need for marketing leadership, Vantage’s CFO sought references and was introduced to Incite Creative. Impressed with our process and 20-year track record of success, we were contracted as Vantage’s outsourced CMO to fill its marketing leadership void and build a department that delivered positive results.

Discovery & Strategy Development

Before we could confidently address any branding, website, or paid advertising tactical changes, we first needed to establish a baseline. Our process included several steps, many of which are bulleted below:

  • Conducted interviews with the executive team, department managers (reservations, guest services, client services, business development), and the existing marketing team members to obtain perspectives, priority vs. longer-term strategic needs, specific goals, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
  • Conducted target audience & demographic research
  • Reviewed and evaluated industry data, company financials, as well as reservations and revenue details including rate and fee structures
  • Conducted online competitor research
  • Interviewed outside consultants (CIO & the incumbent website/SEO partner) and other internal and external team members who played an active role.  The intent was to establish a successful working relationship and to be able to evaluate the ROI of their role
  • Reviewed and evaluated current technology in place
  • Reviewed and evaluated existing marketing materials, channels, event, advertising or event commitments, and methods of distribution
  • Established clear, measurable goals and methods for tracking them
  • Created a 12-month comprehensive Marketing Action Plan and corresponding budget
how far in advance do you book survey
hospitality survey favorite booking method

USP & Brand Study

After completion of the Marketing Action Plan and budget approval from the CFO, we began to chip away at the action items in priority order, starting with the vacation rental company’s:

  • Unique Selling Proposition (USP):
    • Where people find their happy place. Why do people go on vacation? To get away, to laugh, to smile, to celebrate, have fun, relax, recharge, reconnect with family and friends, etc….to find their symbolic/metaphoric happy place again.
    • Where do people stay when they go on vacation? They want a place that is clean, convenient, comfortable, affordable, etc….to find their literal/physical happy place.
    • This also applies to the property owners. They want to find their happy place – a stress-free, income-generating scenario, and a provider to help them manage their investment property. And when they come to use it themselves and want to find their “happy place“, now or when they retire, it will be in good shape because it’s been in good hands over the years with Vantage.
  • Brand Identity (Name, Logo, and Tagline)
    • The name, “Vantage Resort Realty”, with particular emphasis on the second and third parts of the name, did not accurately portray who we are, what we do, or whom we do it for/with:
    • We are not a resort, as consumers typically define it (“all-inclusive or destination resorts”).
    • We do not directly assist home buyers and sellers with their residential property needs. In fact, we need realtor partners to introduce us to their vacation property owner clients in need of rental management services.
    • The word, “realty” in our name opens us up to regulatory and compliance
Vantage Vacation Rentals website

Understanding Personas & Visualizing the Customer Journey

All guests and property owners are not built alike. However, there are some common attributes. Understanding our guests and owners beyond just demographics, but also getting in their minds and hearts, enabled us to map out a plan to meet them where they are, and serve up the right information in the right way at the right time.

By creating a customer journey map for both the guest journey and the property owner journey (current and prospective), we were also able to more clearly see where we had gaps in both technology and customer service.

The Critical Role of Technology to Provide One Source of Truth

One of the primary challenges we uncovered was how disparate the data was between all departments. The lack of integrated, reliable data created redundancy and manual effort that consumed the team’s valuable time. It also meant that valuable opportunities were not being pursued.

We worked closely with internal and external IT consultants to identify all of the tools in Vantage’s tech stack. From there we determined which ones we needed to keep, which ones to be replaced, and those that should be omitted altogether. This process required demoing numerous platforms and mapping out a clear implementation schedule to avoid downtime and any disruption across all departments. The core Property Management System was at the hub of our decisions, from which we identified the best means of integrating best-in-class solutions. This required significant collaboration and facilitation between reservations, revenue, guest services, and marketing.

The websites (one for each geographic location) were the second-most critical piece of the technology audit. 

The sites were not as contemporary or visually compelling as they could/should be, given the industry we are in and the market we serve. We needed to incorporate more “experience” branding, not just property marketing.

Additionally, since the initial websites launched a few years prior, there had also been significant advances in the way websites can be designed and the way the content can be managed (CMS). The current CMS was built on a proprietary platform. Although the platform provider was responsive to our needs, the current platform was outdated, inflexible, and required their assistance for 80% or more of what we want/need to edit/maintain. As a result, we were spending between $1,500-$2,000 on average each month, just to band-aid the site. Over 12 months’ time that equals approximately $24,000 — about 50% of the investment required to start from scratch on a new platform that is future-proofed and flexible.

Although we met some initial resistance to change, again due to fear of disruption, we were able to successfully implement the change that stands in place today. The results included better overall performance, saved the company money and time, and also allowed us to have more control and autonomy over our own assets, and therefore, provided more visibility into what was driving our analytics.

Our team audited the historic booking patterns in Google Analytics and based on those patterns, we were able to make informed recommendations on how to best allocate our 2020 annual Google Ads spend (ie. flexing spend up in peak booking months, flexing down in months were bookings slow).

By sharing this information with the reservation manager (Barefoot data) and revenue manager (Key Data & Transparency data), together we were able to make strategically sound decisions about what to offer, to whom, when, how to adjust rates, and how best to promote properties to get the best results based on booking trends.

Realistic dark laptop mock up with analytics dashboards. Charts and graph. Business, financial and digital marketing account administrative panel.

Reputation management was a significant part of the need for change as well.

User-generated content (UGC) can range from photographs and vacation reviews uploaded onto review sites, Google images, and content on social media sites. The power of experience, reviews, and visual proof of a ‘good time’ can be more persuasive than a strategically placed CTA, a last-minute deal, or high-ranking SEO. This is why we recommended adding a reputation management platform into Vantage’s tech stack. Once again, we met some resistance to change but ultimately the team embraced the concept. After seeing the positive results and having the visibility into where there were breakdowns in service affecting the reviews, the team was able to be much more proactive. As a result, 80 reviews averaging 3.2 stars, soon turned into 244 reviews improving its overall average rating to 4.0 stars.

reviews after

The marketing department had its own technical challenges as well, particularly when it came to organizing all of the various moving parts.

We addressed this issue by creating a cloud-based, collaborative database that was visible across all departments no matter where they were geographically. Each initiative was strategically aligned with the booking seasons and customer journeys (both guests and owners) so that we could measure success. In real-time, all team members could access and interact with each other and have 100% visibility into every initiative and its results, allow us to be proactive instead of always playing reactive catch-up. The database could be sorted and viewed as a kanban board (below), table, or traditional calendar view.

From blogs to social posts, events to downloadable ebooks and email campaigns, we could see it all! This insight helped us be more responsive to guests because we could see their travel trends (shorter booking window), and drive more direct bookings all because we were better at personalizing and tailoring their experience.

Vantage Airtable Kanban view

We took this database an additional step forward by incorporating a field for “featured properties” so we could keep track of which properties were getting more promotional time than others and shift accordingly as needed to balance what was renting versus which units needed more attention. The business development team loved this because it gave them an additional piece of quantitative data to share with owners and convey value.

Furthermore, as a recurring seasonal business, having this intel was setting Vantage up for success for the following year since we had captured results along the way. No more reinventing the wheel each season and no more guesswork. This proved to be a huge time saver and drove bottom-line results.

With Processes in Place, We Turned Our Attention to People

As in any organization, having the right butts in seats is critical to success. Hiring, reassigning, and unfortunately, firing, was also part of our role as CMO.

We worked collaboratively with the executive team and the HR department, however, we led the marketing department’s personnel needs. We identified where there were gaps, created job descriptions, managed salary requirement expectations, interviewed and onboarded several new team members. To resolve prior breakdowns in communication, we also developed a communications flowchart that documented everyone’s role and chain of leadership.

Combined with a transparent, omnichannel strategy in place and a well-organized initiatives database, we were able to create a culture within the marketing department (comprised of both internal and outsourced providers) that was inspired, excited, collaborative, and happily accountable for the vital role they played. As a result, together we created quality brand touchpoints that obtained positive results.

Executing the Plan

With the heavy lifting, foundational work complete, now it was time to put the plan in motion and develop the tactical brand touchpoints at each stage of the customer journey.

Personalization was one of the key ingredients to our plan. Most people like to work with someone they know, like, and trust. That’s why we utilized video to introduce our team and convey the many benefits of booking direct. Of course, this also meant fewer OTA commissions going out the door and better data capture for Vantage.

Thanks to our aforementioned, comprehensive content marketing calendar, we also took advantage of social and national holidays to help promote our USP and inspire bookings. For example, the video below focused on National Plan for Vacation Day, encouraging the working world to make the most of their “use it or lose it” vacation days.

Not to be overlooked were our team’s email signature lines as an effective means of promoting special offers, rates, and the benefits of booking direct.

vantage banner

Our content marketing strategies also included blogs. Vantage had not previously been taking advantage of this SEO-boosting benefit but we super-charged site visits by adding a total of 8 blogs per month. They were optimized and added to the websites, incorporated into a new monthly e-newsletter, and shared through social media.

Furthermore, as a recurring seasonal business, having this intel was setting Vantage up for success for the following year since we had captured results along the way. No more reinventing the wheel each season and no more guesswork. This proved to be a huge time saver and drove bottom-line results.

Best Blogs of 2019

We also utilized animated GIFs and illustrations to help tell our story through email and social media. Special offers, strategically planned throughout the booking season helped drive open rates, click-throughs, and bookings.

Specific Focus on Retaining & Acquiring Property Owners

Although the business development and owner relations teams had been a bit let down by marketing in prior years, we made sure their needs were well-tended to as much as the reservations side of the house.

Historically, November started the property owner push, as that was the time of year when owners were evaluating how their peak season unit(s) performed. This was previously met with a lot of scrambling to gather data (that may not be available) and convey value all in hopes of retaining existing owners and showing prospective owners the benefit of listing with Vantage.

Instead, we implemented a collaborative calendar for the BD team as well, that included year-long touchpoints that they could use with their property owners.

Cautiously optimistic, the team slowly adopted our strategy. Some team members were quicker to try things such as video property walk-thus, but as other saw positive results (709 video views on the example below), others dipped their toes in the extroverted waters as well.

We developed numerous touchpoints that the BD team used to communicate with existing and prospective property owners, helping convey value year-round, minimizing the stress of fall/winter turnover and challenges with a questionable inventory.
Three Easy Ways postcard
How to Maximize your Rental revenue
Why Rent Your Home Mailer

Our CMO role was strategic as well as tactical and involved countless initiatives and constant collaboration.

We are proud of the many results we obtained, which included at last reporting, helping Vantage get to 94% of its booking goal with 2 months to go. We worked with Vantage through February 2020.

Client Feedback

“In the competitive hospitality and property management space, Incite Creative achieved great things in the face of many hurdles. Their marketing leadership, strategic perspective, and ability to juggle multiple priorities put us on the right track. They mapped out an actionable plan and budget to address each step of the guest and property owner journey — from attraction to satisfaction, retention, and reviews — and raised the bar on our brand messaging and integrated marketing campaigns. They are appreciated tremendously!”

Kevin Hodgkiss
Former CFO, Vantage Vacation Rentals

dreaming planning booking

We’d Love to Put Our Knowlege to Work for You!

What used to include three steps — Dreaming, Planning, and Booking — is now much more complicated. Instead of dreaming of a destination that requires a plane ride, vacationers are looking for drivable destinations. When it comes to planning and research, vacationers want to know the details of their rooms in terms of cleaning and refund policies. And bookings that used to be done much more turnkey from a good vacation rental web design, now benefit from online chat and live reservationist to address timely questions and concerns.

From guest and property owner acquisition to satisfaction, retention, and reviews, the hospitality game has changed. Your marketing strategy needs to change with it. Incite Creative can help!

Incite Creative is a member of VRMA

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