March 19, 2021
Airbnb is far more than a platform to find inexpensive hotel accommodations. To succeed at an international scale, its founders created an entire business model and rental infrastructure that competes with traditional hotel chains. That’s an impressive feat, but it wouldn’t have succeeded without Airbnb’s marketing strategy — presenting itself as the most welcoming and easiest-to-book option for guests.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Airbnb’s marketing strategy and how it leveraged every opportunity to communicate value to potential customers.
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Airbnb’s founders did not pitch their service as a cheaper alternative to hotels. Instead, they rooted everything in the unique experience of learning to live like locals — even when you’re away from home.
Airbnb’s goal for guests is to enrich travel by providing accommodations with character. Any ordinary property holder can list their home on Airbnb’s platform, creating a massive database of distinct home rentals.Instead of living in cookie-cutter hotel rooms, you can enjoy a space with personality and character. Stepping out the front door introduces you to an entire community, immersing you in a new environment.
This perspective informs every aspect of Airbnb’s marketing strategy:
Airbnb is a popular service for travelers, but as a company, it serves two markets: guests and hosts. While guests are looking for unique places to stay, hosts aim to monetize their property for a large audience while taking advantage of Airbnb’s marketing infrastructure. Airbnb cannot function without hosts, so host acquisition, retention, and support are vital to its continued success.
Airbnb struck upon one brilliant strategy in terms of acquisition: remarketing to guests who enjoyed their experience. Customers who previously enjoyed their stay may receive an email encouraging them to list their property. Airbnb’s account-based platform doubles as a detailed customer data platform to inform targeting and segmentation strategies. These emails communicate the benefits and values of being a host while promoting useful in-app features and listing controls. Airbnb’s messaging also mentions that its insurance coverage can handle guest damages, reducing the risk of listing a property.
Of course, not all customers will be interested in listing their homes. To find promising leads, Airbnb must segment high-value guests, retarget them, and introduce them to a new marketing funnel. This effort is time-consuming, but has immense value when you consider that each host will bring in new paying guests of their own.
Airbnb is one of the best examples of a successful company leveraging user-generated content. While the business certainly develops its own branded materials and listing tools, the primary revenue driver is listings created by hosts. However, just because your service model relies on crowdsourcing and user content doesn’t mean you can be hands-off.
In Airbnb’s earliest days, its founders knew it was making money but showing no signs of growth. Investigating further, they realized most listing photos uploaded by users were unflattering. In response, the founders went door-to-door in New York City to take professional pictures of lists. As a result, revenue doubled, and continued to grow year-on-year.
When your business reaches a certain size, taking a personal hand isn’t necessarily scalable. All the same, don’t underestimate the value of taking direct action when required. Even today, Airbnb’s premium service — Airbnb Plus — uses in-home inspections to guarantee these properties met its brand standards.
Don’t be afraid to take ownership when necessary. After all, low-quality user-generated content can reflect poorly on the parent company.
App design is a core consideration for many businesses and just as important as any aspect of brand marketing. Recognizing these facts, Airbnb made design a priority and took every effort to build its app around practical design guidelines. Since Airbnb’s brand messaging was all about making guests feel welcome, its app did the same — it unified the user interface across Android and iOS platforms, struck a welcoming tone with brand messaging, and even selected its typeface for a warm and inviting style. As Karri Saarinen, Design Lead at Airbnb explains, “It’s important to create an app that is clearly recognizable as Airbnb, no matter the platform.”
One particular consideration worth mentioning is Airbnb’s use of typographic elements. Rather than rely on in-app buttons, which wouldn’t work in a global setting, Airbnb created charming icons from written words. This approach made it easier to translate concepts to other languages without heavily redesigning the interface for each region.
For many companies, the goal of mobile marketing is to convince users to install their app. Airbnb goes a step further — its goal is to drive bookings the mobile marketing funnel extends from installing the app to completing a transaction. Since every additional step risks losing a customer, Airbnb needed to ensure the transition was as smooth as possible.
Many companies use deep linking to sustain the user journey at this crucial stage. This step adds a unique identifier to mobile ads that direct users to a specific screen post-installation. For example, if you click on an Airbnb advertisement for New York listings, those listings will appear once the app opens. Deep linking helps users find what they need without learning to navigate the app, making it far easier to convert them into paying customers.
The Airbnb marketing strategy — to make the process of accommodation booking welcoming and painless — is deceptively simple. There are hundreds of elements to consider and optimize to help guests find exactly what they need. Yet Airbnb accomplished this goal, became a global leader in its field, and even competes with the traditional hotel industry. The lesson for mobile businesses is clear: the more work you put into digital marketing from day one, the easier it will be for your good ideas to succeed.
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