People don’t just book a bed. Ready to learn what they REALLY want?
First and foremost, I want to tell you how proud I am that you’ve read until here. I assume you’re already through the marketing plan and how niche marketing works. By doing so, you’ve overtaken more than 90% of all hostel owners.
If you haven’t read these articles yet, I highly recommend doing so before we dive into researching your niche.
Okay, let’s go.
I recently talked to other hostel owners at a conference about marketing. Specifically, we were talking about the importance of entering potential guest’s mind with their message and creating the impression of “hey, that’s for me!”. As soon as I finished my sentence one of them mumbled a silent “easier said than done”.
This sentence really hit me, because I’m firmly convinced that this is a doable task for everyone… at least for those who know how to approach it correctly 😉
That’s why I’d like to share with you proven methods that I’ve used myself to get to know your target market better than they know themselves.
Let me be honest. This research might take some time. However, every single minute you invest in studying your target market comes with EXPONENTIAL results in your marketing.
With this in mind, let’s first start by clarifying the purpose of your work.
At the end of your research, you should be able to create a persona, sometimes also called an “avatar”. A persona is a fictional person that carries the characteristics of your target market. It’s basically the “average person” in your niche.
At this point don’t worry about what it all includes – we’ll cover that later on in detail.
However, this detailed description is KEY to put yourself in your guest’s place, to fully understand their perspectives and desires. It can also include real pictures.
While a persona contains many different information about your niche, I recommend to set your focus on two specific topics:
1) Pain Points
All decisions of human beings are made to avoid pain or gain pleasure.
Think about it.
Why do you brush your teeth?
Most likely, you brush your teeth so that they look good (gain pleasure), you don’t have any pain when eating (avoid pain) and don’t need any expensive treatments (avoid pain).
It’s all about pain and pleasure.
But why do we focus on the pain points rather than putting our focus solely on the pleasure aspect?
There are two reasons for this:
1) People are willing to do much more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure
Imagine you’re in a 100m race. On what conditions would you be faster?
- a) You receive a bag with a million dollars if you beat a certain time
- b) A hungry lion is chasing you
I reckon it’s the latter. That’s because we’re all hard-wired for survival. For our marketing purposes, it means that it’s much more effective to speak to the existing pain rather than the potential gain of pleasure.
2) People don’t know WHAT they want, but they know what they DON’T want
Have you ever asked someone what he wants to eat for dinner only to hear them say “I don’t know. What do you want?” in return?
The reason is, people just don’t know what they want! Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, put it straight when he said:
“If I had asked people what they wanted,
they would have said faster horses.”
So, what would be a better question when asking for dinner suggestions?
“What do you NOT want for dinner?” – Boom! Be prepared to get an audiobook with an introduction, body, and conclusion as a response. 😉
Hence, focusing on the pain points is not only much more effective in your marketing, it’s also an easy thing to spot and cuts right to the chase of the matter.
Your guests buy on emotion and justify with logic after they’ve made a decision. And focusing your message on all the pain they get to avoid by choosing you is what makes your offer so damn compelling. Or put in other words:
Emotion trumps logic.
That’s why we still eat that cookie even though we know too well that it’s not going to support our weight loss goals: We just eat it through emotion and find appropriate reasons afterward.
The second aspect you want to focus on is the language your target market uses. It’s much easier to relate and engage with potential guests when you speak their language:
- What words do they use?
- What phrases do they use?
If you’re able to address the pain points of your target market in their language,
they’ll automatically and subconsciously think you’ve got the solution for it.
By revealing their pain points you’ll get their full attention. With this in mind, here are proven methods to get to know your target market inside and out.
7 Proven Ways To Study Your Niche
#1 Online Surveys
I’m a huge fan of online surveys and there’s a reason for that.
Online surveys are
- a) low cost,
- b) time-efficient and
- c) super convenient – for BOTH sides!
Since my master thesis was about conducting an online survey, I’ve experienced first-hand how incredibly powerful the results of surveys can be. In fact, I’d call it the most hassle-free way to get insights into your target market.
The only real drawback is that it can lead to a low response rate, especially with longer, more time-consuming surveys. Therefore, I advocate offering a win/win by giving something back. This can be a small present, a free report of the results, a lottery, etc.
In any case, make sure that you are genuinely offering value for your participants. Moreover, this strengthens your relationship and creates trust. But that’s another topic.
To conduct your own online survey, you need to follow these 3 steps:
- 1) Create your survey
- 2) Reach out to your target market
- 3) Analyze the results
1) Create your Survey
A tool I love to use to conduct surveys is Google Forms. It’s free, includes all the necessary features and is super intuitive.
While there are many other free survey tools online like Survey Monkey, Survey Planet, SoGoSurvey, etc. with additional features, their free versions all have restrictions. Typical limitations are defined upper limit on questions and responses as well as how your data can be exported.
In my personal opinion, this is the wrong place for any hostel owner to invest money. Your money is better used elsewhere. With Google Forms you are able to create your own survey within 5 minutes and get your data in an excel file – what more can you ask for?
Examples for survey questions:
- What is your #1 biggest challenge when it comes to staying in hostels?
- What do you find frustrating when staying at a hostel?
- If you had a magic wand, what would you change about hostels?
- What do you fear when staying at hostels?
- What do you like least about hostels?
- If you could change one thing about hostels, what would it be?
You may also want to include some demographic questions to be able to evaluate the results for different groups.
Examples for demographic questions:
- Age group
Just be aware that the more questions you include the less likely is it that people actually finish your survey.
2) Reach out to your target market
How easily you can get in touch with your target market will largely depend upon how well established you’re already in the hostel industry.
If you’re a seasoned hostel owner, you have the advantage of an existing network, regular guests and an existing network (e.g. email list, social media followers, etc.) that you can ask. If you just opened up your hostel, you might have to find more creative ways to get in touch with your target market.
Since the hostel industry is an ever-changing branch, I suggest to make surveys a consistent part of your guests’ stay. An easy method is to include your survey on your website where visitors click on a button, aka “Call To Action” (CTA).
My favorite method for websites to get maximum attention is to use the WordPress plugin “Icegram”. This tool allows you to design various types of non-intrusive pop-ups within seconds.
Here’s an example from my website:
Apropos survey, did you already take this quick survey here? 🙂
Your opinion matters and is highly appreciated.
If you’re still in the process of setting up your own website or your website looks “old school” and isn’t based on WordPress, go check out my resources page for recommendations. It has never been easier to create a hostel website without knowing a thing about coding.
If you’re an aspiring hostel owner, building a joint venture with other hostel owners, semi-popular bloggers or influencers to send out your survey link might be worth a thought. That way you can reach out to thousands of people for a few bucks.
3) Analyze the results
That’s the part where it pays off to have some basic excel skills. A general recommendation is to generate an overall result as well as the pain points for different demographic groups (e.g. male vs. female).
Make sure you collect any unusual and special words or phrases you read and note them in a list. That’s going to be the kind of jargon you want to use in your marketing.
While online surveys are my absolute favorite tool, I don’t want you to walk away with this new knowledge thinking that this is the best thing since sliced bread.
An online poll has one major drawback: it can come with a low response rate which is why it sometimes pays off to conduct offline surveys.
#2 Offline Surveys
Although offline surveys can be very time-consuming, they can be a super powerful tool to discover the REAL pain points of your target market.
Depending on what medium you use (e.g. personal contact, phone, mail, etc.), you can benefit more or less of Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule.
Mehrabian studied the way humans communicate. He came up with a percentage of how much we communicate through words, tone of voice and body language.
The bottom line: by conducting an offline survey, you’re able to get up to 13.3 x more relevant data per answer compared to an online survey. It is worth the effort.
Due to the amount of additional impressions you can get, offline surveys are suited best for small pools of participants. No matter which type of survey you choose, make sure it’s a consistent part of any guest’s stay. I can’t stress that enough.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that simple 5-star online reviews do the trick! They don’t. There’s always room for improvement. Be consistently proactive when it comes to change. That’s where real ‘wow’-factors are born and guests become fans.
Online reviews are a blessing when it comes to revealing problems. If you’re a new hostel owner, I suggest you look around for hostels that are similar to the place you aspire to build. If you’re a seasoned hostel owner, you also want to analyze your own reviews.
But what website is best to analyze reviews?
A fair question.
I’ve taken a precise look into all Hostelworld.com “Hoscar winners” in 2019 and the reviews they’ve received across all common online travel agencies (OTAs). Below you find the two winners of my analysis.
#1 Hostelworld.com Reviews
- By far the highest quantity of reviews online (average of 2484 reviews per hostel)
- Shows age groups (18-24, 25-30, 31-40, +40), gender and nationality of reviewers
- Only verified guests can write reviews → no fake reviews possible
- Reviews are limited to max. 500 characters → reviews are relatively short
- No filter options for star-category possible
- No feature for researching keywords
#2 Tripadvisor.com Reviews
- 200 characters as a minimum requirement for a review → detailed information!
- Filter option for specific words → e.g. “I hate” / “I love”
- Allows filter for traveler type (families, couples, etc.), time of year and overall rating
- Photo upload possible
- Everybody can write a review (not only guests) → fake reviews possible
- Age or gender of reviewers are not indicated
- Low amount of reviews compared to Hostelworld.com: 412 (17%) vs. 2484 reviews per hostel
The best strategy is to research both OTAs because they complement each other PERFECTLY! You’ll get a mixture of short and long answers, demographic information like gender and age and you can search for keywords.
Quick tip for saving time on TripAdvisor: Look only for 2- and 3-star reviews. Oftentimes, they’re more objective than 1-star reviews and give you more valuable insights.
You also avoid to read fake reviews of competitors since TripAdvisor allows everyone to post on their website – as you can see in this review here:
P.S. Of course, I deleted the review shortly afterwards. I just wrote it to prove that it’s possible for everyone to post on TripAdvisor – without having to actually stay there.
#4 Niche Forums
Forums are one of the most overlooked places when it comes to getting valuable insights. Your target market will determine the amount of available related forums online.
Researching niche forums is a 2-step process:
- 1) Find forums
- 2) Filter forums for pain points
Let’s assume you want to start a hostel that focuses on people of the fitness community because there’s a high demand in your region and you’re passionate about it.
1) Find forums
The first thing you need to do is to find suitable forums. A good way to achieve this is by searching for:
- [Your niche topic] forum
Make sure to take a quick glance across all comments to get a feeling for the topics and to see if it’s the right fit. If you decide in favor of the forum, copy the link in an excel sheet.
Depending on the niche size, 2-5 forums are a great starting point.
2) Filter forums for pain points
Since you don’t want to read through thousands of posts, the question arises how you can find relevant pain points in a time-efficient manner.
The following technique is something I’ve learned from reading “Will it Fly” by Pat Flynn, who essentially wrote an entire on how to find people’s problems and how to solve them.
Here’s what you want to do: Open up Google.com and type in:
- “I hate” site:[link of the forum]
As you can see, Google then lists all forum posts where people wrote the words “I hate”. You can do the same for similar expressions like “I don’t like” / “I dislike” / “I cannot stand” / etc.
You also notice at first sight that “cutting” (=going on a diet) is one of the main problems of the targeted fitness sector in our example.
I recommend reading all the posts on the first two Google pages to really understand what the pain is and what it feels like. You want to find the root that actually causes the pain in order to be able to offer an appropriate solution in your marketing message.
In the example above ‘cutting’ is not the real issue. Just by reading the first forum post, I was able to make out the actual problem: They feel “f-in hungry” and tired which turns them to “grumpy sobs”. Notice the language.
List all the problems in your excel sheet. Also, include the special words and phrases that are used to describe the problem.
At this point, you might wonder – “What are we doing all this for? What does it have to do with my hostel?!”
Let’s refocus and holistically look at where we’re at and what we’re trying to accomplish.
As a general rule, great marketing focuses on your guests’ problems and offers a solution. Therefore, your job AFTER you’ve listed all the pain points of your target market is to find ways to solve it.
Keeping our above example – how can you help your fitness guests to never feel hungry, tired and grumpy while “cutting”?
Well, an easy and cost-efficient way could be to offer sugar-free jello at your hostel. It has only 10 kcal per cup, fills the tummy and massively increases the mood.
Heck, how do you find awesome solutions like that? – It’s written in the forum.
So your offer for your fitness hostel could say something like this:
“You’re cutting and feeling f***-ing hungry and tired at all times? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve got the antidote for grumpy sobs: FREE (sugar-free) jello – every single morning! With only 10kcal per cup and zero carbs you can bang as much as you want and still work towards shedding pounds and your ideal ripped beach shape.”
Instant pain relief while using their own language and speech patterns – that’s what you’re aiming for. By now, I hope you are at the point where you’ve developed an in-depth understanding of the importance of knowing and continually studying your target market.
Lastly, if you’re a new hostel owner, you might also want to apply the same technique for general traveler forums to get a feeling for their basic needs and struggles.
#5 Social Media
When it comes to social media, you want to look out for networks where your target market resides. Especially Facebook groups are often the most helpful resources.
That said, finding groups on Facebook can be quite challenging. You’ll probably join and leave 10 spammy groups before you stumble upon something worthwhile. However, the insights you’ll get are well worth the effort.
Example: If your hostel is located in Australia, you definitely want to be part of the “Australian Backpackers” group. This not only helps you understand their actual needs but also can be a great tool to attract potential guests by contributing valuable tips.
An important piece of advice. Don’t skip the groups where you have to fill out an application form. These groups are usually the ones that are free of spam, offer reasonable discussions, and give you the most value over time. This is where the extra mile pays off.
#6 Websites / Blogs
If you simply use Google and type in [keyword] + “blog” (e.g. fitness blog), you’ll come across many websites and blogs. Chances are, the people who run these websites know exactly about the pains and problems of their audience.
Oftentimes they address them not only in their blog posts but also in emails. Hence, I recommend you search for blogs like “the top-X challenges” and additionally subscribe to their email newsletter.
If they’re good marketers, you’ll likely receive emails in the language of your target market which can serve as an ideal template for your own offerings.
Where pain points are being talked about in a forum or blog post – solutions are usually just around the corner. In our “cutting” example, this could be a blog like “Cutting: X Tips To Z”. Just visit the blog and use CTRL + F to search for words like “problem”, “challenge”, or “mistake”.
Yep, it’s as easy as that.
In a matter of minutes, I’ve found more than 30 problems, frustrations, and obstacles that fitness people are facing right now.
From all the pain points you collect, you’ll later choose the most urgent matter and find creative solutions for it. Once you have a solution, it’s time to craft your offer.
#7 Your Environment
This list wouldn’t be complete without the bloody-obvious: your environment!
I want you to be hypersensitive when words like “I hate”, “I don’t like”, “Why is it that…”, etc. come up. Whenever you hear your target market talking about such issues, make sure you listen carefully or even join the conversation when needed and appropriate.
Another recommended way is to actually live as a guest in your hostel or a hostel that’s similar to what you’ve planned. What daily frustrations do you notice yourself? What are your roommates complaining about? Just one single sentence can be the key to crafting a compelling offer!
Now let’s turn all these valuable insights into a lifetime investment.
Create Your Persona
To recap, a persona is a fictional person that carries the characteristics of your target market. You need to do this right just ONCE, refine it from time to time and it will pay dividends for the rest of your career.
It’s a super powerful tool that allows you to see the world through the eyes of your ideal guests.
Depending on the niche you’ve chosen, some characteristics are more or less important. Therefore, consider the following list as a collection that can help create your own individual persona.
– e.g. 30% male / 70% female
- Age / Stage of life
– e.g. 22: in between studies and work-life
- Income level / social class
- Education level
- Marital or family status
- Ethnic background
- Sexual orientation
- Geography / location
- Pain points & problems
– What keeps them awake at night?
– What are their top daily frustrations?
– What words & phrases do they use?
- Wants & needs
– What do they REALLY want?
– What do they secretly desire?
– What’s the one thing they crave above anything else?
- Attitudes / Opinions
– What’s the typical attitude and opinion about certain topics?
– What’s important to them?
– What do they care about?
– What do they do in their leisure time?
– What books do they read?
– What music do they listen to?
– What movies do they watch?
– What does a typical day look like?
– What are their goals in life?
- Anger & fears
– What are they afraid of?
– What do they find annoying?
- Online location
– Where do they reside online?
– What websites do they visit?
– Which social media channels do they use?
– What do they look like?
– Do you have a picture of them?
If you have a picture of them, print it and look at it for several minutes before you write your offer. This might sound creepy, but it’s incredibly powerful in practice.
Remember: This is where it pays off to be a geek 🤓.
Do your homework and you will be rewarded.
7 Ways To Uncover Your Niche's Needs
The Ultimate Checklist
Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.
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P.S. If you haven’t read this article on the hostel marketing plan, be sure to check it out. Both articles go hand-in-hand.