Airbnb’s Marketing Strategy: What Your Company Can Learn

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No brand embodies disruptive innovation quite like Airbnb. With a unique business model that has shocked the traditional hospitality industry, this home-sharing service has made accommodation more accessible and affordable than ever to travellers across the globe, allowing them to 'belong anywhere', as its slogan boldly states.

Airbnb's marketing strategy has undoubtedly contributed to this impressive growth. Boasting an extraordinary global value of $38bn, the company adopts numerous digital tactics to generate demand among target audiences, engage with customers, and drive loyalty. Moreover, it expertly utilises offline marketing to empower memorable experiences for its users.

To illustrate these methods in more detail, here is a closer look at Airbnb's marketing techniques.

The Airbnb Marketing Approach

Founded in 2008, Airbnb is now the world's largest holiday rental site, offering guests the choice of more than 7m property listings in over 220 countries. While travellers benefit from more short-stay rental options at cheaper rates compared to hotels, hosts also profit financially by monetising their available spaces and keeping revenue from this tourism within their own communities. 

Airbnb's marketing approach focuses on building and maintaining a strong community among its users, targeting the long-term loyalty of both customer segments: guests and hosts. To recruit new users, the brand generates demand using exciting content and embarks on strategic influencer partnerships to enhance its digital delivery. 

The offline nature of the travel and tourism industry, however, means that the home rental service depends heavily on users' positive physical experiences to reinforce its reputation. Therefore, out-of-the-box offline techniques are also adopted to this end.

Customer Demographics

Airbnb's guests are both male and female, predominantly between the ages of 25 and 44. They are characterised as being active participants in the peer-to-peer 'sharing' economy and are motivated by the possibility of enjoying unique holidays, as well as securing competitive rates. Indeed, Airbnb's listings are between 6% and 18% cheaper than hotels across both the US and Europe.

Hosts, meanwhile, are for the most part female, with a share of 56% compared to 44% males. Senior women over the age of 60 constitute the service's fastest-growing host demographic and are consistently the best-reviewed hosts on Airbnb across regions. As a result, female hosts have earned approximately $32bn since the company's inception, receiving an average income of $185 per guest in 2018.

The brand invests in market research to keeps tabs on its continuously developing user demographic and notes their rapidly changing needs. Significant data is collected via primary research through Airbnb's site and mobile app, capturing customer behaviour, preferences, age, gender, location, and more. The company has historically used analysis of this data to identify niche markets, conceive new offering categories, and adjust its marketing delivery with great success. Secondary research is also utilised to monitor changes in the wider hospitality industry and arm the company with competitive analysis.

Marketing Mix

Utilising an impressive annual marketing budget of approximately $1bn, Airbnb invests heavily in digital marketing, focusing on sharing impactful content to its target audience through various channels. Its offline advertising, which aims to bring broader attention to the service and recruit new users, complements its elaborate digital marketing strategy.

Content Marketing

Airbnb uses content marketing to help develop a user community around its brand. The main objective of this tactic is to strengthen the relationship between the brand and its customers, continuing the engagement before, during and after transactions and, therefore, influencing long-term loyalty.

The company features its own blog, too, targeted specifically to hosts. It is frequently updated with tips for home improvement, Q&As with Airbnb experts, and relevant platform updates designed to engage users.

The blog is also tied to Airbnb Citizen – the advocacy channel of the brand – for both hosts and guests. This channel shares positive user stories with the brand, as well as methods of making its 'belong anywhere' objective viable.

Influencer Marketing

Airbnb's successful influencer marketing has supported its phenomenal growth over the years. The disruptive brand uses collaborations with high profile celebrities to broadly advertise its services to new, targeted audiences. These partnerships typically involve celebrities posting images of their luxury Airbnb stays on Instagram, sponsored by the company. This is successful in driving online traffic to the Airbnb website, with 91m visits in January 2020 alone.

Now an integral part of its digital marketing strategy, Airbnb's influencer marketing began in 2015, with the brand hosting its first high-profile guest – the US singer Mariah Carey – at an upscale Malibu mansion. The resulting Instagram post garnered over 44,000 likes and was the first of many such successful collaborations for the brand.

Referral Programme

Airbnb has a comprehensive referral programme that gives community members rewards for inviting new users to the platform. This marketing tactic helps the brand expand its pool of customers through existing users, reducing the high cost of customer acquisition.

Executed via the company's main website and mobile app, the programme ensures that customers receive travel credit for each successful referral which can, in turn, be spent on Airbnb stays and Experiences. To incentivise new users to accept an invitation, they also receive credit for their first trip.

Airbnb Experiences

Understanding that guest loyalty is closely tied to satisfactory offline experiences, the company launched Airbnb Experiences in 2016. The service offers customers unique activities – including tours and workshops – hosted by local experts. Today, over 50,000 Experiences are available in more than 1,000 cities worldwide. 

This approach demonstrates the brand's ability to respond to its target market's preferences noted through market research, with 94% of users preferring to book and pay for vacation activities online, and 69% of global travellers preferring to spend more money on memorable experiences rather than accommodation.

Experiences benefit hosts as well as travellers, too, with Experience hosts earning approximately $10,000 annually.

Online Experiences

The fast-thinking brand exemplified its adaptability to market changes in April 2020, when it launched its Online Experiences in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hosted over Zoom, virtual activities include cooking and dancing classes, city tours through photography, guided meditation, and much more. With the tagline "Fun Without Leaving Your Home", Online Experiences offer guests digital escapes during social distancing and provide hosts with a means of income at a time when the travel and tourism industry is suffering significant financial losses.

Guerrilla Marketing

Airbnb indulges in other offline marketing strategies to build brand awareness, including guerrilla marketing. This low-cost technique is utilised by the brand on an ad-hoc basis, either coinciding with its entrance to new geographical markets, or as a supplementary tool to garner additional valuable attention in existing markets. 

Past guerrilla campaigns include Airbnb's floating house, which sailed along the River Thames in London for five days in 2015. This exciting, unexpected display attracted a significant response from passing locals, resulting in phenomenal coverage throughout the UK. Over 340 local publications discussed the feat in the following days, and some 200m reactions on social media ensued. The campaign was ultimately attributed with bringing 10,000 new users to the platform overall.

Airbnb's Marketing Style

The company adopts several supplemental digital marketing techniques to drive forward its mission of becoming – and remaining – a hospitality industry leader. While its marketing and advertising spending is predominantly dedicated to the online segment, a number of effective yet inexpensive offline methods contribute to the brand's awareness and demand generation efforts.

Airbnb's non-traditional business approach means it seldom seeks the support of marketing agencies – or, indeed, any external experts – preferring instead to utilise in-house expertise and leverage valuable user content, experiences and feedback to empower its marketing execution.

The 'We Accept' Campaign

In 2017, Airbnb embarked upon one of its most impactful marketing campaigns to date, entitled We Accept. The campaign communicated Airbnb's core values to audiences, promoting its commitment to honouring diversity and fighting prejudice, not only on its platform and in the tourism sector, but also globally.

We Accept aimed to promote Airbnb's then relatively new policy of equality, which mandates that the company's users agree to "treat everyone in the Airbnb community – regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age – with respect, and without judgment or bias." This was an important step in addressing negative perceptions of the company which arose in 2016, when users accused Airbnb of discrimination. 

The campaign's objectives were to raise positive brand awareness among minority groups and to ignite a global discussion around equality and compassion, particularly in reference to the migrant crisis, using the hashtag #WeAccept.

We Accept included television adverts – first aired in the US during the widely-watched 2017 Super Bowl – as well promoted and organic content on social media. To further emphasise its significant messaging, the brand decided to halt regular promotional posting for the duration of the campaign.

Its videos and banners utilised simple yet powerful imagery to portray the message of equality accurately, merging portrait photographs of individuals from varying nationalities, ethnicities and religious beliefs, overlaid by simple white text stating that "we all belong". This message linked back to the brand's slogan 'Belong Anywhere', as well as its mission statement to "help create a world where you can belong anywhere and where people can live in a place, instead of just traveling to it."

Airbnb also donated $4m to the International Rescue Committee during this time, and committed to offering housing to 100,000 displaced people over a period of five years. Furthermore, the company invited the general public to join the initiative by sharing their homes with someone in need through Airbnb, or donating to relevant charitable organisations.

Unsurprisingly, this highly emotional campaign received impressive results and succeeded in conquering any lingering doubt of the brand's commitment to equality. #WeAccept garnered in excess of 87m impressions online, with an overwhelming response from global audiences. Campaign content received over 500,000 engagements on Facebook and Instagram alone, supporting the 13% increase in Airbnb site visits during the week following the campaign's Super Bowl release, and the 7.2% increase the following month. Finally, the global discussion around the campaign encouraged a total of 15,400 global civilians to volunteer in opening their homes to displaced people.

This powerful campaign is an excellent example of how brands can make a statement regarding global issues, positively address criticism, and action their approach to this topic in a way that inspires discussion and contribution from their audiences.

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As one of the iconic disruptors, Airbnb has brought impressive innovation to the global tourism industry since its founding in 2008, transforming the concept of traditional accommodation and travel experiences for millions of people around the world. Now boasting over 2m guests staying in an Airbnb property on any given night, its trajectory has been driven by its thorough marketing strategy – in particular, its ability to nurture an inclusive community of guests and hosts through clever digital marketing. Despite its digital nucleus, the brand's colossal advertising budget also funds its sporadic offline and outdoor marketing, as well the mixed media delivery of its primary campaigns, to incredible success.

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