Digital Marketing is a general term for any effort by a business or company to draw attention to their brand and connect with customers through the use of electronic technology. This includes email, mobile marketing, social media, customer community pages, youtube videos and other electronic based content. One way to find what separates good digital marketing from bad digital marketing is to take a look at an example of a digital marketing success to see what was included in a company’s campaign. A company whose digital marketing has had a major impact on the brands success is Airbnb.
Airbnb is a website for people to list, find and rent different types of lodging from all over the globe. The concept came to Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky during the Industrial Design Conference in San Francisco in 2008 after noticing attendees were having trouble finding hotels in the area as a result of the high cost and low availability of the market. After months of crowdfunding, the website Airbedandbreakfast.com was founded, offering air beds in short term living quarters and breakfast – eventually being shortened to airbnb.com and expanding to a wide range of properties to lodge in. After discovering the awkwardness of paying after staying in someones lounge room, Gebbia and Chesky decided to move the method of payment to online thus eliminating the awkward encounters. Schlie, Rheinboldt & Waesche (2011) highlight Gebbia’s enthusiasm for the change as “Facilitating easy, web-based payments is one of the most important aspects of the whole Airbnb experience, which is about a community sharing unique and exciting spaces.” Airbnb has come a long way since then. After only six years, the company has amassed over 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries, with the company now valued at $10 billion dollars. Their success can be greatly attributed to their digital marketing and the approach they take in getting their message across to customers.
The first and most obvious step in creating a successful marketing plan would be to figure out what is essential in order for the business to take off: in this case its having hosts and travellers. Bovikyna (2014) explains that the company used ‘marketing analysis ‘ to find similar ad posting services and that craigslist was an already existing website that enabled users to offer and look for short-term lodging. Airbnb was then able to create a link between the two websites giving hosts the choice to automatically link any listing they add to Craigslist. This worked out in the favour of more than just one party as it sent traffic to both Airbnb and craigslist but also allowed the host to find more interested lodgers for their listing. In order to attract customers, their offer had to be visually appealing. Next, They collaborated with google and invested in google search ads, which resulted in an increase of listings on the website of approximately 70,000. The banner ads featured images of real apartments and rooms from the host’s listing and helped gain an international audience that wouldn’t have found out about the website otherwise. This strategy seems quite straightforward and essentially a sure fire way to help gain a following. It is what was done a few years later that separates Airbnb from other digital marketing approaches.
With hundreds of accommodation websites attempting to sell to potential customers the lengthy sum of “amazing” places to book online that are “like no other”, Airbnb is aware of the growing number of travellers who crave authentic trips that allow them to experience the city they are in from a local’s perspective. One of the ways they emphasise this is through their Neighbourhood Guides, which highlight the subtle distinctions and characteristics of particular neighbourhoods within a city that you choose. From this It is clear that AirBnb values the relationship between themselves and their customer base and they utilise this as a digital marketing tool to expand and engage users as well. In 2013 they developed a strategy that was both wholly unique and engaging by creating and releasing the worlds first crowdsourced vine. The video incorporated 6 second snippets of footage taken by100 vine users around the world to create a story that reflected the message behind the video which Hollywood & Vines: The first short film made entirely of Vines (2014) described as “travel, adventure and finding your place in the world.”. One might argue that this is a lot of work for an outcome with unpredictable effects and could easily flop, but for Airbnb it was a success; the video received a lot of praise through large social media coverage for its uniqueness, it increased their following and clearly communicated their brand message. As the number of views grew, the amount of traffic on their website increased. Hunter (2014) mentions that “a successful customer acquisition campaign includes: a goal, a defined target market, an irresistible offer, a clear call-to-action, and systems to convert new customers to lifelong customers.” Inspiring videos such as this that clearly communicate the philosophy and goals of the brand and combined with the community engagement it has helped establish Airbnb’s reputation for maintaining relationships.
AirBnb noticed the affect that crowdsourcing had on their customer base and decided to stick to it when it came to future campaign strategies. They continued with ‘Stories from the Airbnb Community’ which shares real life experiences of hosts and guests who’s lives have been positively impacted by Airbnb. Here, too, the brand places its focus on belonging by working with local photographers and directors to tell moving stories. And its something that reflects well to consumers through both the content/style of their website and also their engagement with their community. This, combined with the Neighbourhood Guides really differentiates Airbnb from other accomodation brands as it offers a truly authentic experience for travellers and Hearing real stories, seeing real faces and real places establishes a sense of trust between the website, the hosts and the travellers themselves. The neighbourhood guides also reflect the amount of choice that Airbnb has to offer. In explaining this Semmelhack (2013) describes the website as as “international supermarket in a world of corner delicatessens.”. Choice and trust is what draws customers to a business and it is also what keeps them there and Airbnb offers both.
In 2014 Airbnb underwent a huge rebranding scheme that included a new logo that they named Bélo. As a digital marketing technique, users got an interactive tool that enabled them to make Bélo their own. By visiting create.airbnb.com, users were able to customise the symbol’s colour and shape amongst other features. The results were then shared via social media and on an online gallery within the websites that reflects the creators experiences using Airbnb. The creators behind the Create feature also allowed users to create merchandise out of their designs like postage stamps, extending the experience offline and into the real world. The posts that were shared via social media were all hashtagged #BelongAnywhere which enabled Airbnb to add their logo to all the content that their fans produce. This also allowed for Airbnb to select and promote the content that best suits their brand via their own social networking devices. To further encourage engagement with the create tool they also created an infographic highlighting how far the Create feature had travelled in terms of countries and designs amidst other statistics.
As well as using customer engagement to project their brand onto the masses, Airbnb ensures that in gaining user generated content, the users get as much as they can out of creating it. Shortly before their rebranding strategy, and after the success of their short film, Airbnb came up with a video contest called Airbnb shorts. The aim was to get hosts to shoot short, passionate videos that showcase their favourite part of the city which will inspire people to travel to the city. The host would then video upload their submission to their Instagram using the hashtag #AirbnbShorts and it would then be judged by Mike Plante, lead programmer for the Sundance Shorts programme. The winner would be given the chance to fly to London, a $500 voucher for an Airbnb listing, a video camera and a ticket to the Shorts Workshop put on by the Sundance Institute. Those submitting would have the opportunity to win this incredible prize but also Airbnb would get lots of original user-generated content to review. Secondly, it can be easily promoted via various social media channels through the hashtags. As a result, the Airbnb gets the visibility they require and the philosophy of their brand is spread.
After hearing all these strategies, What can other similar businesses learn from air BNB’s digital marketing success? To sum it up in 3 points the keys appear to be: Understanding and communicating the uniqueness of places to experience-driven travellers, establishing a sense of community through storytelling and real guest experiences and crowdsourcing content from fans whilst maintaining control over the brand message. Since 2008, Airbnb has come extremely far. It now rivals big-name hotel chains like Hyatt and Wyndham World wide and is an online room sharing market leader that has completely revolutionised the travel and hospitality industries. Although digital technology deserves an honourable mention for the brand’s growing success, it is the digital marketing strategies behind it which showcases the people and places that make Airbnb truly unique that shines.
E. Schie,J. Rheinboldt,N. Waesche, 2011. Simply Seven: Seven Ways to Create a Sustainable Internet Business (IE Business Publishing). 2011 Edition. Palgrave Macmillan.
Katya Bovykina. 2014. Digital Marketing Success Story: Airbnb | Powered by Search. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.poweredbysearch.com/blog/digital-marketing-success-story-airbnb/. [Accessed 16 May 2016].
Peter Semmelhack, 2013. Social Machines: How to Develop Connected Products That Change Customers’ Lives. 1 Edition. Wiley.
Kurt Hunter. 2014. How Airbnb Created an Amazing Customer Acquisition Marketing Campaign | Kurt Hunter. [ONLINE] Available at: https://kurtahunter.com/2014/02/04/create-successful-customer-acquisition-marketing-campaign/. [Accessed 16 May 2016].
Youtube. (2014). Hollywood & Vines: The first short film made entirely of Vines. [Online Video]. 16 May 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laCLVzWpS0I. [Accessed: 16 May 2016].