A few years ago, after my marketing class, my friends and I discussed what would be an ideal holiday duration to enjoy an authentic travel experience. The one where you dine with the locals, brew an authentic local beverage, experience the crafts of the community, and immerse in the surrounding folklore.  

 ‘3 weeks maybe’. ‘Not less than a month’. Answers poured. 

The problem? How do you carve such time windows from your ever-busy, time-scarce lives!

Airbnb, the world’s leading travel brand, solved this unique, real-world traveler’s problem. 

The Airbnb idea was conceptualized during an unplanned in-home experiment. In 2007, two friends, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford their San Francisco apartment rent. So, they decided to make a quick buck by renting out an air mattress in their living room to people visiting San Francisco for a big conference.

They set up a simple website with pictures, and 3 people ended up paying $80 each for a good night’s sleep and homemade breakfast. The founders soon realized that they were onto something bigger than a stopgap arrangement for rent.

After a series of trials and errors and multiple growth hack experiments, Airbnb came to be what it is today – a cornerstone of ‘experiential travel’ and a driving force in the global travel industry. Take a look at the brand’s journey here. 


Marketing Strategy & Brand Pillars of Airbnb

1st Brand Pillar: Airbnb is an accommodation booking engine that allows homeowners to host accommodations and travelers to book accommodations. 

But, is that all?

There were so many booking engines when Airbnb started, and there are so many now. What is so special about the business model that gives Airbnb a one-up against other brands such as hotels.com, Trivago, Expedia, and more? 

If you have ever booked accommodation or visited the Airbnb website, you could argue it is the price. But, you are only partially right! 

2nd Brand Pillar: Although Airbnb accommodations are cheaper than hotel accommodations in many instances, the brand also features accommodations that are more expensive than hotels. In fact, Airbnb Plus, a premium offering by Airbnb focuses on the highest quality homes, best-in-class maintenance by highest-rated homeowners. Watch the below video to relate to what I am saying!!

Airbnb’s booking engine and the pricing strategy are only the two pillars of the brand. 

The third pillar that strengthens and distinguishes the brand in the market is its experience-based marketing strategy. 

Airbnb, Making “Experience Marketing” key in the business model to unlock growth

Before we move ahead its important to understand What is Experience Marketing.

Experience marketing also referred to as “experiential marketing,” is a strategy that uses in-person events to promote products. The goal of experience marketing is to create a really good consumer experience, increasing your customer value optimization.

Source: Andrew Davis

To understand how Airbnb uses ‘Experience Marketing Strategy’, we need to first understand who Airbnb customers are.

Airbnb speaks to authentic travel experience seekers. People who envision traveling to a foreign place but living like a local. And like many of you, I am on the list! 

Definition of an authentic experience depends on an individual. To me, it means learning the local dressing style and mastering their coffee technique. To you, it could be playing cards with the locals, exploring street art or baking a local pastry.    

It is this unique desire for authentic exploration that Airbnb taps into with ‘experience marketing’. It not only gives you the option of booking travel accommodation but also an opportunity to experience a destination like a local.  Take a look at the below Airbnb campaign.

The campaign title, ‘Don’t Go There, Live There’ with a candid and persuasive style conversation beckons you, invites you, and folds you into the city, like it is your own. 

The campaign was supported with multi-channels interventions which included social media, blogs, podcasts, collaborations and contests, personalized social content for different countries, and celebrity engagements. 

Source: DigitalReady.co

According to a study by Nielsen Brand Effect, as published by Instagram, the campaign led to a 4-point lift in purchase intent in the UK and India, and a 6-point lift in the purchase intent in Germany and Australia.

According to a case study published by Twitter, Airbnb Australia was able to drive remarkable engagement on Twitter with a view rate 30% higher than the Australian benchmark across the videos among audiences

Once Airbnb became a linchpin of experiential travel, the brand added and evolved its offerings. They did all this while staying true to the core of the brand. 

Cross-sell at Airbnb

Airbnb went beyond its core product offering, accommodation rental booking, to launch ‘Airbnb Experiences’. 

‘Airbnb Experiences’ are a series of curated activities designed and hosted by localities. From local market visits to wine and dine experiences with the host, Airbnb Experience offers a traveller a chance to truly immerse in the world of the host. This is a great example of cross-selling an offering that is closely tied to the brand philosophy of letting travellers experience a destination as a local. 

Recently, during the COVID-19 lockdown when offline experiences came to a halt. Airbnb pivoted to let its Experience hosts offer unique tours and experiences through online sessions. 

Now, you can book an online video session to experience sangria and secrets with drag queens in Portugal, cook Mexican street food with a pro chef or visit India’s largest street art colony, all while being in the comfort of your homes. 

Take a look at this video to check out how Airbnb hosts offered unique Online Experiences.

Source: Airbnb

What’s next?

Airbnb continues to explore and tap into new opportunities to stay relevant and appeal to the unique needs of travellers. With the travel industry hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbnb is tapping into trends that will shape travel in the coming times. 

Most recently, the brand launched ‘Go Near’, an initiative to support economic growth through local domestic travels.  

While we are yet to see how the future of ‘Go Near’ unfolds, I believe a new frontier in local hospitality is about to be discovered.

Do you think new local destinations will emerge on travel maps? How will local communities and small businesses benefit and participate in such experiences?  What protocols will finally emerge in the home sharing industry?

I will just end this story with a cute “Saifeena” video on Airbnb

Source: Airbnb

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Sarahana comes with an across-the-board experience in Advertising, Research, and Marketing. She has led marketing for marquee brands such as Tropicana, Slice, Kurkure, Danone, Chai Point and Swiggy. She loves to write, paint and meditate.

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