EPIC STORYTELLING: Why ‘Words Only’ Don’t Convert to More Direct Bookings

EPIC STORYTELLING: Why ‘Words Only’ Don’t Convert to More Direct Bookings

Ever since I can remember, I have been unwillingly labelled as a ‘wordsmith’ among my friends and peers. And while their intentions have been nothing short of noble, I do flinch (just a little) each time they say this to me.

As a storyteller, I work with feelings more than anything else. In fact, some of the most credible storytellers in the world will tell you, that the best stories create magic with emotions – not words. If you think about it, it’s a more than plausible statement to make. As a professional writer, I do not have the keys to a treasure trove of secret words for my writing. I simply understand how to manipulate feelings – and please note, I use the word ‘manipulate’ in the best possible way.

It’s been a year since I wrote the last article of the Epic Storytelling series. However, this too has been a blessing in dis-guise; because there’s been plenty of learning in the process – which I am excited to share with you today.

You see, when I shared the first article of this series, my business was in a very different place to where it is now. But 12 months, numerous articles, hundreds of stories, and even a live presentation later – and requests for my services have gone through the roof. So much so, that I’m certain I’ve become a bit ‘flakey’; and annoyed some prospects in the pro-cess (I’m still learning, after all).

You might be wondering why I’m sharing this with you. You might even be questioning my sense of humility as I ‘boast’ about being inundated with projects. But I assure you, this is not the case.

The truth is, the epic rise in demand for my services, has correlated perfectly with my epic use of storytelling – in pretty much everything that I do.

I understand wholeheartedly, that many of you who are reading this article are property managers, property hosts, or any other kind of operators within the vacation rental industry. But the lessons I have learned over the course of the last year (and actually, throughout my entire writing career) can be of excellent use to any business – when applied correctly.

Before we dive in, the first thing I’d like you to remember is that your words mean nothing when it comes to marketing. Now, that might challenge everything you’ve believed in up until this point. But trust me, I’m a writer – and I will show you exactly what I mean.

Stories are Like Tomato Ketchup

My daughter was just under 3 years-old when I first became a single parent. We didn’t have much money to get by on, so planning mealtimes in advance became a mandatory weekly task for me.

I quickly realised that ‘eating healthy’ is quite hard to do when you’re broke – with fried chicken dinners and instant noodles being the cheapest options. Nevertheless, I used to keep money aside for small portions of fresh vegetables every other day; and I would cook them into the instant rice or noodles – so my daughter was getting the nourishment she needed.

Unfortunately, my darling daughter was on a completely different page. She detested the taste of anything that was good for her, and would spit mouthfuls of her greens out at me, as if she was a blitzing food processor, without the lid screwed on.

These fresh vegetables were putting a substantial dent in my weekly income, so I was determined to get my daughter to eat them (for her health, and for my sanity). So, one evening, I dipped her veggies into a little bit of tomato ketchup. And lo and behold, she licked her dinner plate clean that day.

Sometimes, you have to persuade people to digest things that they perceive as boring, bitter or unrelatable. Consider for example that you have launched a new Breakfast Menu at your Bed and Breakfast – how can you make smoked mackerel sound sexy; and justify dedicating an entire social media post to it?

Or perhaps you’re marketing insurance to travellers in the vacation rental space. How would you go about making all those numbers, facts and statistics memorable and shareable?

It is believed that of all the images, ads and content we are exposed to in today’s noisy world, we tend to remember only a small part of it. An article I recently read on Forbes taught me that the average human being who reads content filled with facts following a good night’s sleep, will only be able to recall 5% of those facts 10 minutes later.

Stories, on the other hand, have the opposite effect.

A well-narrated story that makes people ‘feel’ things is 21 times more likely to be remembered and re-shared. This is precisely why huge companies like Apple wrap stories around their newest products in ads – and how they’ve built a loyal fanbase, who don’t even think twice before parting with their money.

Do you remember the iconic ad for the Apple iPod by Steve Jobs? The slogan ‘1000 Songs in Your Pocket’ has gone down in storytelling history.

Why ‘Words Only’ Don’t Convert To More Direct Bookings

So, imagine for a moment that the amenities at your vacation rental property or the features of your industry-specific product are the green veggies in your business. The ‘tomato ketchup’ in your case – which will sweeten the message and make it far easier to digest, is stories. The smartest business leaders in the world wrap stories around data, facts and statistics. Inherently making people absorb information (that maybe they didn’t even want to absorb, at first) – and ensuring that they have a pleasant time while doing so.

With the same approach, your content will lead with purpose, emotion and intention – and you’ll prioritise looking for superfluous adjectives less. This brings me back to my opening point about ‘words meaning nothing’ (on their own) in marketing. Instead, they need be fashioned, repositioned or in this case ‘disguised’ in the right manner, to ultimately ‘trigger’ a reaction.

For further reference, I have written about guest memory and storytelling in the first article of the Epic Storytelling series here.

A Chemical Romance

The best place to learn about the science of storytelling is from the likes of Disney and Pixar. They employ some of the most creative minds in the world to be their ‘story people’ – and their responsibility is to figure out the core story of each film and animation series.

Much of my own work involves creative writing and fiction stories (outside of the vacation rental space); and I take great inspiration from the creative geniuses of our time. Aside from my favourite author Stephen King, I enjoy following the creative story team at Pixar a lot. In other words, the brains behind Toy Story, Monsters Inc, and Up.

Storytelling consultant Mathew Luhn – who has also worked with Pixar for many years, famously describes the impact on our chemicals, every time our brain digests a good story. Luhn explains that the best storytellers play with human chemicals to make them actually ‘feel something’ and consequently, take action.

You might have noticed yourself, the most memorable stories aren’t just ‘good, good, good’ or ‘bad, bad, bad’ – they usually involve a rollercoaster of emotions, allowing the audience to release both endorphins (happy vibes) and cortisol (sad vibes). This technique of building ‘tension and release’ in storytelling is what keeps readers at the edge of their seats, and hooks them to the plot line, or whatever brand that story is representing.

Take the simple example of the story-led content below. This would ideally sit on the homepage of a vacation rental business’s website – the colour of the text changes, as the mood does (to release alternating chemicals among the audience). The blue text signifies happy chemicals being released, and the red text signifies sad or fearful ones.

You’re in the mood for a woodland escape; but damning work errands are holding you back. Luckily, our treehouses are located near fast and reliable WiFi spots, meaning that you can connect with the birdie on Twitter, as well as the real-life ones singing outside your bedroom window.

Thought you’d always be enslaved by your business schedule? Ah. Think again.

Without you even having realised, as you were reading the story-led example above, your brain was placing you on some kind of a ‘journey’. This involved highs and lows, and peaks and troughs – and ultimately, that happy ending you had emotionally invested yourselves in. This makes the chances of you taking action (or at the very least, remembering this brand) far more likely.

The key is, not to go overboard here. For example, if you only have 100 words to play with on a section of your website, you don’t need to pack it in with a series of ups-and-downs. As vital as these storytelling techniques are, your content will still need to have good flow and readability.

Sell Feelings, not ‘Stuff’

We are far beyond the stage of using marketing as a means to just ‘sell something’. The biggest hospitality brands are now spending more time in studying the psychology of human emotion and behaviour, after they have been exposed to a carefully crafted story.

When you attach a purpose-filled or highly shareable story to a product or a service, its value automatically increases. Take coffee shop chain Starbucks for example – the reason why they were able to sell Caramel Lattes for £4.50 each in 2019 (as opposed to just £2, which is what you would find in a local cafe) is because they attached a story about gender identity and inclusivity to their main marketing campaign for hot beverages that year.

Why ‘Words Only’ Don’t Convert To More Direct Bookings

As a vacation rental business owner, your first point-of-call should certainly be a professional writer, who specialises in storytelling. However, if you don’t have the budget for this, then there are a number of things you can do yourself now – to help connect with your audience’s emotions. Remember, it’s these emotions that determine that final direct booking decision.

Your Website: Is the copy on your website homepage simply using words to sell your product/ service? Or are you placing your target audience’s needs and feelings at the heart of everything you write?

Your Email Marketing: Do you call this your ‘Company Newsletter’? Ask yourself, why? Why would your target audience be interested in learning about the news of your business? Could you wrap stories around your business’s latest ongoings, instead?

Your Social Media Posts: Are you posting beautiful photographs of your vacation rental property on Instagram, and hop-ing that will be enough? Or with each photograph of the beach (for example), are you telling the story of beautiful landscaped sunrises, and how they represent the notion of ‘new beginnings and opportunities’ in life?

If there’s anything that I would like you to take away from this article, then that is to stop relying on the use of pretty words alone, to generate more direct bookings for you. Lean on the benefits of storytelling a little more; and you’ll find your vacation rental brand become far more memorable in the process.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this article and what you’ve done in your vacation rental business lately, to lev-erage the power of epic storytelling. You can write to me at neely@neelythere.co.uk with any comments or questions – and I will gladly respond, to the best of my ability.

In the meantime, let the stories be your light.


Neely Khan