What Airbnb can teach businesses about the power of strong storytelling

The home-sharing service puts yarns at the heart of its marketing campaigns.

By Emma Curtin All Good Tales

THE IDEA FOR home-sharing service Airbnb started with a couple of broke students and an air mattress.

To help pay the bills while they were at college, the company’s co-founders – Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk – rented a mattress on their floor to strangers.

Flash forward 10 years and what started as a quirky money-spinner has grown into a multibillion-dollar company.

That’s a pretty good story to begin with. However, when Airbnb celebrated its fifth birthday, the company realised that narrative didn’t really represent the brand anymore.

In 2013, Airbnb’s co-founders – with the help of community officer Doughlas Atkin – decided to look for a new ‘brand story’.

It had created a series of videos centred around birdhouses called ‘Birdbnb’, but the campaign didn’t fully convey the sense of community that had emerged on the platform.

The team at Airbnb decided to interview close to 500 users from all over the world and there was one word that kept coming up: belonging.

‘Belong Anywhere’ soon became the official tagline of Airbnb and led to the creation of a new brand story and marketing message.

There are a number of lessons for businesses to learn from this exercise:

1. Keep people at the centre of your story

When Airbnb set out interviewing its users, the company realised something very important: no one was going to be able to tell them more about what they do best than the people who use the service every day.

Keeping your customers at your core and learning from their experiences could prove invaluable to finding the essence of your own brand story.

2. It’s never too late to find your story

Airbnb was founded in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the company realised it needed to refresh its ‘mission’ in order to grow.

It goes to show that it’s never too late for brands and businesses to find the story they want to tell, whether they’re 10 years old or 100.

3. Content is key

Airbnb has a passion for high-quality, visually stunning content. Its marketing team consistently add videos to YouTube and publish regular blog posts.

The content is heavily user-driven and centres on stories from within the Airbnb community. High-quality, consistently posted content allows people to engage with your brand.

Airbnb has gone a step further than most companies and started publishing its own quarterly magazine.

The publication offers a mixture of stories from ‘hosts’ and travel articles highlighting some of the more obscure destinations around the world.

4. Strong branding is crucial

Since its creation, Airbnb’s Bélo logo has grown into one of the most immediately recognisable symbols in the world.

This was what Airbnb hoped for from the beginning. The logo needed to be easy to replicate and have the ability to encapsulate the different elements of Airbnb.

The Bélo tells the story of the company in one symbol and reminds people of the company’s central ideas of travel, belonging and adventure.

The consistent palette of colours used on Airbnb’s website, social media and advertisements are also key to the company’s branding strategy.

5. Make use of user-generated content

Airbnb uses its community of host and guests to further its brand story. When you have a passionate user base, why not?

It initially created separate pages to host users’ stories and experiences. Although the use of these has fizzled, it still has an incredible amount of user-generated content to utilise on social media.

Airbnb often requests permission to use pictures and videos taken by their users on their own social media channels.

It’s lucky the company offers a service that lends itself to compelling pictures – it’s fair to say that few people ca resist taking holiday snaps.

Emma Curtin is a content specialist at All Good Tales.

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