Brand Insight: Airbnb
Four or five years ago, the thought of spending your vacation in a stranger’s spare room or empty house might have conjured memories of awkward high school French exchange trips. These days, though, it’s as much a part of travel as forgetting to change your currency and packing at the last minute. The catalyst for all of this is Airbnb, the accommodation platform launched in 2008 in order to help the San Francisco-based co-founders pay their rent. These days with a million listings and 26 million people having found accommodation through the site. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Holly Clarke, Airbnb’s European Marketing Manager, to discuss the challenges that come with marketing a brand that’s a poster child for the sharing economy.
LBB> The growth of Airbnb, particularly over the past two years, has been pretty stratospheric. (We were pretty blown away by the stats that 550,000 people used Airbnb on New Year’s Eve…) Shaking things up in quite an established market means that there isn’t necessarily a blue print to follow and also constant, fast growth must mean constant change. From a marketing point of view, what challenges does that present?
HC> One challenge that arises amidst fast growth and constant change is planning – trying to anticipate the shape and needs of the business ahead of marketing timelines. That said, it’s an extremely exciting landscape and it’s safe to say there is never a dull moment!
LBB> In the summer, Airbnb launched its new logo. How has that new visual identity evolved the brand? And has it helped you refine or re-focus your marketing strategy?
HC> The belo, our new logo, has solidified our belief and brand identity: Belong Anywhere. It has re-focused our marketing strategy and provided a north star to which all of our marketing efforts work towards.
LBB> As Airbnb has grown, how have you found the demographics using the platform have changed (or perhaps diversified) as it’s grown?
HC> Since Airbnb was founded in 2008, we have seen huge growth – both in terms of our community and the diversity of accommodation available to book. To date, 26 million people have stayed with Airbnb, and we are proud to have 1 million listings in over 190 countries – including 80,000 villas, 4,000 castles and 9,000 boats!
LBB> One European project that the team here at LBB really fell in love with last year was the ‘Wall and Chain’ Berlin Wall anniversary film . It was incredibly touching and human. Why was that an important story to tell?
HC> We felt it an important story to tell as it moved us so much. Cathrine’s story represents that sense of belonging through Airbnb in a way we couldn’t even imagine before. We were so touched by it that we decided to make a short film around it to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and share it with the rest of the world.
LBB> And how did that project fit into the wider Airbnb European marketing strategy?
HC> There are still many walls that divide us between nations, ideas, and cultures. But there are also thousands of strangers every night around the world who are meeting for the first time, getting the chance to share their stories, making friends out of strangers. We hope to deliver this sense of belonging, which is embodied in this project, through the wider Airbnb European marketing plan.
Airbnb has also just launched a competition to win a night in a luxury cable car in the Courchevel ski resort in France.
LBB> I imagine Europe’s an interesting market to work on – cheap flights and long weekends (and more annual vacation time than other markets like North America) means that there’s always plenty of people on the hunt for interesting places to visit. What challenges and opportunities are unique to working on the European market?
HC> Europe is our largest market, but with its variety of cultures, languages and accommodation types, the challenge lies in this fragmented landscape. However, with this variety comes opportunity – in terms of fantastic locations, cultural centres and holiday accommodations. Variety is the spice of life!
LBB> As a brand and platform that’s something of a poster child for the digital economy and which has totally re-energised and revolutionised the travel sector, I imagine the bar is raised pretty high when it comes to marketing innovation or digital and social marketing. How does Airbnb make sure it keeps innovating and continues to be fresh and relevant as it becomes more established and popular?
HC> We like to embark upon innovative and unique campaigns that act on our core principles of hospitality, belonging, and opening doors around the world. As a community known for embracing the spirit of belonging, One Less Stranger was a particularly popular campaign as it actually engaged our global community and challenged them to turn strangers into friends.
LBB> I love the ‘origins story’ of Airbnb – a simple solution to pay the rent, air mattresses on the floor. Obviously these days it’s a far bigger and slicker operation. From my own personal perspective, the brand seems to balance the endearing authenticity and quite romantic ‘footloose’ vibe of its roots with a feeling of trustworthiness, reliability, professionalism. Quite a tricky undertaking I’d imagine – how do you do it?
HC> At Airbnb, we are all about being true to our hospitality standards and providing what we think is a unique experience. No matter if you’re an air mattress on a floor or a seasoned host, you will always be providing what we see as an ‘Airbnb experience’. The trick in marketing this is finding what is unique about this experience.
LBB> #OneLessStranger is a platform that really puts people and human connection at the heart of Airbnb. What were the key drivers behind creating this campaign and what do you hope people will get from it? And what are the most surprising stories you’ve seen people share with #OneLessStranger?
HC> At Airbnb we are committed to spreading a sense of belonging across the world so we invited our global community to extend a gesture of hospitality to a complete stranger. Submissions of kind-hearted and creative acts of goodwill have continued to flood in through social media channels – from handing out free biscotti, to knitting hats, even winning over the opposition fans at a football match!
LBB> And how does the interactive map fit in? Did you create it in-house or, if not, who did you collaborate with to bring it to life?
HC> The interactive map was created by Airbnb and was designed to mark our announcement that on New Year’s Eve, 500,000 travellers used Airbnb! Within the map, you can click to see activity around the #OneLessStranger campaign and click on the designated icons to see what our community is doing with the challenge.
LBB> What can we look forward to in 2015?
HC> We have a lot of exciting projects on the horizon so watch this space!