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Vacation Rental Marketing: How to conduct fast, fun and efficient user research

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Thibault Masson presented at the Vacation Rental World Summit ways for vacation rental and property management companies to conduct fun, fast and efficient user research: Why you should get your developers and web marketing team to book their short term stay through your own website (not your PMS!), why Booking.com sends its developers to welcomes guests at the Amsterdam airport, what affordable user research tools you can use to get user feedback about how easy / hard to book a stay on your website.

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Vacation Rental Marketing: How to conduct fast, fun and efficient user research

  1. 1. Increase Bookings, Guest Satisfaction, and Owner Happiness through Actionable (and fun) Market Research Thibault Masson
  2. 2. These are tech employees in charge of developing our newest website features at our Amsterdam headquarters. Here, they were sent out to wait for Booking.com guests at the Amsterdam airport. -> Why would we waste a day of these busy and expensive people to meet and greet guests who had booked a holiday rental on our website?
  3. 3. Booking.com Homes & Apartments Booking.com Homes & Apartments ● 795,332 holiday rental properties ● 3,000,000+ holiday rental units ● All whole places, all instant bookable ● Not including B&Bs Thibault Masson Commercial Owner, Booking.com Homes & Apartments
  4. 4. Agenda 1. Why is market research important? 2. Internet resources you can use now 3. Empathy 4. Dogfooding (guests and homeowners) 5. Website observation 6. On Steroids: A/B testing
  5. 5. Why care about Market Research? This is not just about buying expensive market reports.
  6. 6. When was the last time that you did market research?
  7. 7. And how?
  8. 8. Why is market research important? ● Understand your consumers ● Expand to new audiences ● Drive business growth ● Drive business development ● Get ready for the future
  9. 9. Common types of market research that we do Desk Research Reading up and staying informed about our industry and trends. User Empathy Actually joining guests or partners on their journey. Monitoring / Recording Look how actual users engage with our platform. A/B tests Split an audience in two and present them a different variant each. Dogfooding Become a guest and experience Booking.com from their perspective. Open Labs Interviews with actual guests or partners.
  10. 10. Common types of market research that we do Desk Research Reading up and staying informed about our industry and trends. User Empathy Actually joining guests or partners on their journey. Monitoring / Recording Look how actual users engage with our platform. A/B tests Split an audience in two and present them a different variant each. Dogfooding Become a guest and experience Booking.com from their perspective. Open Labs Interviews with actual guests or partners.
  11. 11. Need renowned research institutions, local industry stats, influencers, how-to tutorials to make your business grow? All of this is available within an arm’s reach today. Desk research
  12. 12. The digital age at your disposal... ● Research institutions ● Local travel Statistics ● Blogs, forums etc. ● Social Media ● Google
  13. 13. Common types of market research that we do Desk Research Reading up and staying informed about our industry and trends. User Empathy Actually joining guests or partners on their journey. Monitoring / Recording Look how actual users engage with our platform. A/B tests Split an audience in two and present them a different variant each. Dogfooding Become a guest and experience Booking.com from their perspective. Open Labs Interviews with actual guests or partners.
  14. 14. Observe users in their real environment How are vacation rental guests and owners using your website? How do they plan a stay? How do they search on your site? What is on their mind? What are the consequences of your website features on an actual stay?
  15. 15. Be a silent observer Watch and listen, do not react, do not help. Involve everyone Help developers or web agency develop empathy for your users Present findings Gain buy-in by presenting findings face to face to stakeholders Follow up Involving key people from the start makes easier to get the issues in their agenda.
  16. 16. Example: Empathy exercise at Booking.com Developers, marketers, designers sent out to welcome guests at the Amsterdam airport and Central Station to silently observe how they find a property and go through checking in.
  17. 17. Waiting for guests
  18. 18. Diverse profiles of bookers handpicked. Leigh & friends 7 friends from Ireland, students, 1 couldn’t make it in time Philip & Denise 2 retired couples from UK (4 people) Coralie & Brian Couple from AU, *daughter joining later Jamie & Gavin 2 friends from the UK, joining Andrew’s family. *Andrew booked
  19. 19. Following them.
  20. 20. Figuring out the route.
  21. 21. Check-in experience: Why are guests waiting outside the property? Figuring out where the door is? Are they early or is the host late?
  22. 22. When to use it? Tools How do travelers search for a property on your site? Checking-in at one of your properties Benchmarking your competitors What does it take to list a property on your site in real-life?
  23. 23. Common types of market research that we do Desk Research Reading up and staying informed about our industry and trends. User Empathy Actually joining guests or partners on their journey. Monitoring / Recording Look how actual users engage with our platform. A/B tests Split an audience in two and present them a different variant each. Dogfooding Become a guest and experience Booking.com from their perspective. Open Labs Interviews with actual guests or partners.
  24. 24. Dogfooding Dogfooding is a slang term used to reference a scenario in which a company uses its own product to validate the quality and capabilities of the product.
  25. 25. First-hand experience of user pains Stepping into the shoes of your guests or of your homeowners can help notice user pains that can be hard to catch through data.
  26. 26. Photo of Japan Photo of Japan 2 Photo of Jeremie’s wedding 3 Tip: Dogfooding works if you have skin in the game Dogfooding works even better if your team does this in a “real context”: ● Booking a a short-term rental for actual business trip in Japan, ● Booking a place for your friends and family for your engagement weekend.
  27. 27. Getting to the property
  28. 28. Getting to the property was easier than we thought! Using host-provided instructions like video and guides
  29. 29. 4 babies with us. Can we cook for them? Need to buy food Where are supermarkets / bakery? Easy check- in No check-in time Just a lock box Need to store food Is there a large freezer?
  30. 30. Document everything From searching a property to checking out. Yet have only 1 question in mind. Involve everyone Have your developers or web agency be part of a dogfooding trip. Present findings Gain buy-in by presenting findings face to face to stakeholders Follow up Involving key people from the start makes easier to get the issues in their agenda.
  31. 31. Dogfooding as homeowners Your employees who have listed their place on your website are an amazing source of feedback. They can probably also compare your service with that of some of your competitors ;-)
  32. 32. Online forum for Booking.com employees who are also partners
  33. 33. When to use it? Tools Booking on your website Listing a property on your website Checking-in at one of your properties Benchmarking your competitors
  34. 34. Common types of market research that we do Desk Research Reading up and staying informed about our industry and trends. User Empathy Actually joining guests or partners on their journey. Monitoring / Recording Look how actual users engage with our platform. A/B tests Split an audience in two and present them a different variant each. Dogfooding Become a guest and experience Booking.com from their perspective. Open Labs Interviews with actual guests or partners.
  35. 35. Remotely get feedback When a user has a task to do your website, like updating their calendar, how do they go about it? Record their online sessions or give them a task to do.
  36. 36. Record online sessions (anonymous data) -> Get your developer to install code
  37. 37. Pay users to test your site -> No code required, just give a task to do
  38. 38. Video sessions with your users (Open Lab) -> Even 6 user video interviews can bring you a lot
  39. 39. Tools ● Tools like UserTesting.com, UserTest.io and TestmyUi. : paid user are asked to do a task (i.e. book a trip for a family of 3) ● Tools like Hotjar, Fullstory: unbiased, actual sessions ● Open Labs: present a concept or look at how they use current features -> Skype with recording option Tools Observe Record Act
  40. 40. Common types of market research that we do Desk Research Reading up and staying informed about our industry and trends. User Empathy Actually joining guests or partners on their journey. Monitoring / Recording Look how actual users engage with our platform. A/B tests Split an audience in two and present them a different variant each. Dogfooding Become a guest and experience Booking.com from their perspective. Open Labs Interviews with actual guests or partners.
  41. 41. All experiments OFF All experiments ON
  42. 42. How hard is it to predict customer behaviour?
  43. 43. A: No tabs opened from search results B: New tab opened for each hotel clicked C: No difference Test 1
  44. 44. A: No suggestions B: Suggestions for alternative weeks C: No difference Test 2
  45. 45. A: Shadow B: No shadow C: No difference Test 3
  46. 46. USER-CENTERED DESIGN. “We tested that, and it failed.” ● Making large, small and/or unnecessary changes not inherently linked to the raw concept, which may have unintended consequences ● Noisy tracking ● Who’s the audience? ● Low traffic ● An idea ahead of its time? http://blog.booking.com/concept-dne-execution.html
  47. 47. A/B testing 1. Failure is inevitable, so be transparent about it 2. Iteration is inherent in innovation 3. Ideas can come from anybody 4. Don’t be afraid to retest and mix things up 5. Testing isn’t just about technology development http://www.cmo.com.au/article
  48. 48. Conclusion Show that you care about guests and homeowners by better understanding their needs and pains. Empathy and dogfooding are easy, yet record everything and act on it. Use available technology and services (e.g. uster testing websites). If advanced and high traffic, A/B testing gets you live research results.
  49. 49. Thank you! All references to “Booking.com", including any mention of “us”, “we” and “our” refer to Booking.com BV, the company behind Booking.com™

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