Tuesday Tip: Learn from the best in brand strategy, Airbnb

By Chloe Mark | April 2017

Branding is sometimes thought of as your company name, a one-and-done logo design and maybe a style guide. I think most of us know better than that, but it's hard to know when it's necessary to give more attention to your brand strategy. Is it only when you're redesigning your site? And should this happen every few months or every few years?

Airbnb's chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall, recently highlighted the tremendous potential in a solid brand strategy in, "The What, Why and How of Building a Better Brand." This is further explained by Head of Brand and Chief Strategy Officer in an interview by FastCompany. For today's tip, we're going to learn a thing or two from the best in branding, Airbnb.brand-strategy.pngAirbnb's branding study mainly focuses on why they are allocating a large amount of time and money towards building their brand. Through this effort, a goal is to become comparable in brand authority as Coca-Cola or Nike.

Now, seeing as the majority of our readers come from mid-size or smaller companies, we are not trying to compare you to the enormity that is Airbnb. However, the ideas within this document can serve as tips, each of which are pretty timeless and can be applied to nearly every brand.

Acknowledge that a brand can be more powerful than a product

In the interview, Fast Company points out how a common argument in Silicon Valley is that you don't need to invest as much in your marketing as you do your product. They say the product should speak for itself. However, both John Stuart of Quaker Oats (circa 1900) and Nancy King of Airbnb would counter that.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 12.34.12 PM.pngImage source: Airbnb Study


Our biggest barrier to growth was that people thought we were weird.... The barrier that they faced was not something we could solve at the product level. It was an emotional challenge. – Airbnb's head of brand, Nancy King

It's not always about investing more and more into your product. People need to also understand your product. You can help them do so by framing it within your brand. Once your brand has taken off, as the Quaker Oats example points out, it becomes even more powerful than your service or product.

Follow the five consistent attributes to an iconic brand...

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...and we can learn from them even for our far less-gigantic company.

  1. Instantly recognizable: You're likely not as prevalent as the Nike swoosh, but you can keep your branding consistent so at least your customer-base gets accustomed to it. This will create familiarity both visually and with your messaging and tone.
  2. Universal Value Proposition: Maybe your value doesn't pertain to as many demographics, but you do need to offer something unique at least to your audience. This is what makes them know they need your product or service specifically. Essentially, it's why they care to listen and to come back to you.
  3. Plays a role in culture: Does your brand get involved in what's happening in the here and now? You don't need to be in the limelight, but by responding to current industry news or offering an opinion to your audience, you keep your brand alive and engaged. Start doing so through your social media efforts or in your email messaging.
  4. Emotional connection: This is where it's especially vital you understand your audience. If you don't know what pulls on their heartstrings you might not ever establish this. It doesn't have to be as deep as your emotional connection to Disney (because we know that goes WAY back). It could be as simple as offering better customer service or setting up a happy birthday email campaign.
  5. Higher-order values: This is when it's really not about your product or service anymore. It's about what you stand for and what you're doing in the world. Participate in earth day, take a political stand that aligns with your company values or go volunteer. Whatever you do, make sure you are in touch with your company's beliefs.

Recognize and measure how brand strength impacts your competitive value.

Your brand will prove valuable in terms of...

  1. Finances: Airbnb has measured a correlation between brand strength and stock-market performance. Once you start investing in your brand strategy, track it and measure ROI.
  2. Consumer behavior: Brands drive consumer behavior. In what is sometimes an inexplicable way, people choose products based on brands.
  3. Growth potential: A strong brand will attract new customers, create opportunities in different verticals and can even help manage your PR.
  4. Cultural clarity: If your company understands your brand, it can help frame your company culture. This clear voice and personality can also encourage other companies to want to partner with you and take part in your culture. 

You can download the full whitepaper from Airbnb here » 

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Topics: Tips and Tricks, Digital, Design and Technology

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