Marketing and Comms
Airbnb Building Brand Value by Creating Authentic Connections with — and Between — Users

This post is part of a series written by MBA and MPA candidates in Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course, examining the role of marketing in advancing sustainability across all sectors.

Thoughtful content marketing strategies can help companies to promote their sustainability message, expand their customer base and build a loyal community around their brand. Airbnb has aligned smart content marketing with its mission, successfully connecting customer service and engagement with helpful and interesting content, which opens up different avenues for inbound marketing. Airbnb’s content marketing initiatives are a best-practice model for other brands trying to increase authentic connection with consumers.

The Internet has profoundly changed the way in which information is shared, and creative mission marketing has increasingly shifted to inbound techniques. To grow branding and audience, more businesses are finding success publishing original content rather than embedding advertisements within external content. Consistently creating valuable content through a variety of channels is a great way for companies to establish thought leadership and gain trust with customers. According to Forbes, content marketing will be the number one online marketing trend in 2014.

Airbnb, the community marketplace for listing and booking private accommodations around the world, last year expanded into the realm of content marketing with dedicated neighborhood guides and the creation of its Hospitality Lab. The Airbnb Neighborhood Guides provide destination-specific tips and information, which not only help advise users as they go through the booking process, but also extend Airbnb-consumer interaction. Users visit the site more frequently, before and after having made a reservation on the site. And the Hospitality Lab, developed by new Head of Global Hospitality Chip Conley, features an educational curriculum for Airbnb hosts consisting of offline workshops, online webinars and hospitality tips, with the goal of ensuring a level of consistency in guest experiences around the world.

The company also offers an informative blog, fun videos and recently introduced Airbnb Social Connections, which helps users to find a place to rent within their personal network.

Initiatives such as these can offer important insights for brands on how to build an innovative and authentic content marketing strategy:

  • Content is aligned with company’s vision and mission. Many marketers get so fixated on channels such as blogs and Facebook that they forget about the underlying mission of a company. However, the why must come before the what. Many marketers have no mission statement or core strategy behind the content they develop. According to Conley, Airbnb’s mission is not only to help users find places to stay, but also to connect people to unique travel experiences and even support cross-cultural understanding. The new content offered on the Airbnb site aligns with this community-driven mission.

  • The content creates real value. To develop a loyal following, content should involve relevant information that provides valuable insight or entertainment. According to Jay Baer, author of Youtility: “Smart marketing is about help, not hype.” Often, there is a temptation for brand marketers to use content channels to overtly promote the brand. When customers see just another commercial outlet, they are much less likely to trust the content, see it as a legitimate resource, or return in the future for more information.

In order to provide helpful content, it’s important to know the company’s core audience and make sure the information and resources address their specific needs, and Airbnb does a great job with that. The neighborhood guides solve several issues for users up front – they provide local information for an array of popular cities and help users make educated and informed decisions on choosing a neighborhood for their stay. Quality information about different neighborhoods also draws people who are not planning on booking a stay right now, but who might use the platform in the future.

  • Content and social media are inseparable. A company needs to create trust in order to leverage brand ambassadors. Social media, in the content-sharing sense, will only work if information and stories address customers’ pain points. If content is helpful, users will be excited to tweet it or share it on Facebook. Airbnb took this social currency and word of mouth a step further when it launched its Social Connections feature, which allows users to sync their Facebook accounts with their existing Airbnb account. Once connected, the tool shows if users' friends are connected to the host or have previously booked a place they are currently considering.
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