As publisher of Resort Trades and our digital publication, Resort Trades Weekly, I’ve been forced to become a student of marketing, especially online marketing. (Our print and online media is provided to readers absolutely fee-of-charge, making us solely dependent on selling advertising.) While many readers of this article will have an abundance of knowledge on the topic, perhaps with the constantly changing nature of digital marketing tools, including website design and functionality, social media and email marketing, we could all stand a brief review of various strategies.

The most productive use of today’s Internet marketing tools for resort professionals is in lead generation. Trying to sell timeshare over the Internet is an uphill climb. As we’ve all heard it said in the past, no one gets up in the morning saying, “Today, I’m going to buy a timeshare.” Plus, the competition can be pretty stiff. Remember, you’re competing with every hotel and other resort within a 60-mile radius.

It makes a lot more sense to use the Internet to build a classic “sales funnel” to which you can selectively market. With today’s Facebook advertising, in particular, you can segment your audience according to age, income and a number of other factors. But for any leads you generate, you’ve got to be able to respond immediately, preferably by telephone, and persuade them to visit your resort.

This is the point at which we see a number of resorts falter, particularly ‘sold-out,’ independently managed resorts. The minute you get a phone number, you’ve got to have an enthusiastic sales-oriented person on the task! The most successful results come from an inside sales representative who works hard and puts in the daily effort.

For example, let’s a family books a discounted vacation rental through an online travel agency (OTA) such as Great! Now you’ve got a prospective buyer. Your concierge/sales representative can then give them a call as quickly as possible to welcome them and express how delighted the whole staff is to hear they are coming. “And oh, by the way, you can save ‘X’ dollars on your vacation if you attend our 90-minute presentation.”

How can resorts make sure they are on top of google search results?

The very first thing to consider is how effective are your landing pages (more about these later) and website. Highly respected studies have shown that the design of a web site can build trust or turn someone off quickly. So either hire a qualified designer or, if it must be a DIY project, use a one-column theme from WordPress or a similar, trusted provider to build your site.

Here are a few rules for building your site: 1) Use customer testimonials whenever possible; 2) keep it as clean as possible by using just a few colors, form fields, calls to action, etc. and 3) make sure your phone number and contact information is easy to find. There are blogs, galore, that can coach you. But I’d advise you to compare the cost of hiring a professional to the cost of lost sales.

Blogs are the best proven method of how to stay on top of the search engines. Your objective is to build an audience by providing interesting (and NEVER advertorial) articles. Typically, resorts are finding blogging once a week or so to be the most effective. Consistency is important. Check with Buffer and Copyblogger for hints on how to find interesting content and avoid pitfalls that might be a turn-off. And remember that storytelling is always the best approach to capturing your reader’s attention. SerpIQ and Medium reviewed blog posts and found that lengthier content ranked higher in results. The recommended length is more than 1,500 words – the goal being that search engines view time spent on a page as more favorable.

Landing pages to obtain data

The entire purpose of any online activity is to capture prospective customer information. By providing an incentive through your online promotional devices, your goal is to direct visitors to a gateway or landing page, which requires them to provide data as a quid pro quo before they can receive a reward. The reward might be an e-book, such as “When is the Best Time to Visit [Your Destination]?” or “How to Travel With Children.” Or it might be a monetary incentive of some kind.

You get the gist: Your landing page should have some sort of hook such as an e-book, an informative video, a discounted vacation, a test, discounted tickets to an event or attraction, a survey or quiz…something that will motivate the viewer to give you their email address and, possibly, other vital contact information.

Facebook advertising

Once these steps are in place, you’ll find Facebook to be the premier avenue to reach new prospects and even reconnect with current owners or past guests. Despite news headlines decrying its effectiveness and declaring that it’s dying, last year Facebook still has billions of users.  In the opinion of many experts Facebook advertising is the way to go, even though the space has been discovered and is beginning to get overused.

As you set up your resort’s profile, try to make sure people aren’t going to feel they’re being ‘sold to.’ Be authentic and be interesting. Next, make your posts frequent (some experts recommend once a day, which others may feel is too frequently).  If you decide to post weekly, make your posts extremely interesting. But make an effort to be extremely genuine. Remember, your audience is not the business world! So share posts with pictures and videos frequently. And track your posts to see what’s popular over time so you can continue producing similar items.

Share the good, bad and the ugly for that element of authenticity. Is your resort in an area with a high incidence of crime nearby? Your prospect will probably already know about it, so face it directly by letting them know steps your resort, government officials and police are taking to protect them. Let them know how much fun they can have while under your protection through customer testimonials, video and photos.

After Facebook, we like YouTube, followed closely by Twitter. Instagram, SnapChat and Pinterest are all getting widely popular. Take a look at your current owners’ or members’ preferences and focus on those vehicles. All of these avenues are best utilized by studying tactics such as what and when to share and how to use hashtags.

What are the best tools for email campaigns?

For Resort Trades, we use Constant Contact to broadcast our newsletter, Resort Trades Weekly. Another popular service is Mailchimp. Both of these have analytical tools and there are plenty of online articles and blogs about how to use them to the best advantage. In the case of Constant Contact, we are able to automate a welcome message to new subscribers. Creating great headlines and good, useful content is vital to keep users interested so they will continue as subscribers. Some of our best open rates in the past have been for headlines such as “ARDA World Attendees: Win an Amazon Fire!” or “Timeshare & Branded Residence Budget Development,” for example.

If you can get phone numbers, you can use SendHub to automate sending SMS messages such as “Hi [so-and-so]. Are you available for me to call you for a brief chat?” You can try texting out a group of as many as 25 of these at a time to ask for the best time to call.

After you speak with a lead, you should also send an email or text to say thank you.  This is plain old Salesmanship 1.01, as is the admonition to follow up any leads immediately/ASAP/right away. Think of each lead as being your only way to get your next meal!

As far as following up on old leads, stick to a simple subject line such as “just checking in” and a one-sentence body such as, “are you still interested in visiting [your resort’s area]?”

The bottom line for any ad, email or missive is authenticity. Skip the gaudy artwork, the overly young and attractive models posing as desk clerks, the ooey-gooey  gushing over how your resort is ‘nestled’ somewhere. (And never, ever, NEVER use the word ‘nestled’ again as long as you live! I mean it!) Keep all your communications conversational, educational and/or entertaining and above all, [in case I forgot to mention it], authentic.

Sharon Scott Wilson is publisher of Resort Trades magazine and the digital publication, Resort Trades Weekly. She is CEO of PR/marketing firm SharonINK. Wilson is a registered resort professional (RRP) and Chairman’s League member of the American Resort Development Association (ARDA).