Branding Disruption: Lessons Learned from Airbnb’s Rebrand

A look at the company's fresh, more mature, brand.
airbnb logo

Airbnb has been making more headlines than usual, with a new partnership and the launch of its new brand. The privately-owned company offers a service that challenges the established order of rentals, lodging, and travel. It’s simple: Airbnb’s website connects users who have spaces to rent out (hosts) – whether they be entire homes or individual rooms, or even tree houses or private islands – with users who are looking for a place to stay (guests). Users and locations are reviewed and recommended by each other, so reputation is important – this is what the new sharing economy is about.

The brand has been known as a resource for those looking for a deal, those looking for a more authentic and homely cultural experience, or those simply looking for an adventure. Yet as the company matures and as the market grows more comfortable with “sharing economy” resources, business travelers have become a more viable target for Airbnb. With an update to the Airbnb mobile app and a partnership with Concur, an online travel booking tool used by 70% of Fortune 100 companies, the sharing economy is beginning to dip its feet into B2B. And as eMarketer notes in a recent report, though business travel spending on Airbnb is small, it’s certainly growing, and “if it takes hold, could pose a threat to the broad hotel business.”

As well as partnering with Concur, Airbnb also recently unveiled a fresh, more mature, brand. We’re firm believers in aligning business strategy with brand strategy, and Airbnb seems to be hitting the nail on the head. Airbnb’s video, below, demonstrates the three core values that the new brand is built upon, all of which come together in the logo: people, places, and love. The new logo and color scheme is playful, but simple. The messaging adds an element of belonging, within a global community.

 

Who in particular does this new brand resonate with? Think about a generation who grew up with the world at their fingertips, who finally has the means to travel it: millennials, who are defined by their strong sense of community – local and global – and technological prowess. And as Forbes puts it, “millennials, the ascendant economic force in America, have been culturally programmed to borrow, rent, and share.” So when this generation inevitably begins to dictate work travel policy, Airbnb hopes to be a viable option.

The technology industry today is less about competition and more about complete disruption: a product or company, or even just an idea, can completely alter the competitive landscape and threaten the very survival of legacy players. And so, there are two lessons to be learned here: one for disruptors and one for incumbents.

Start-ups enter an established market with a big idea. At first, the industry dismisses these small companies, considering the startup to be more of a nuisance than a real threat. But these firms are often more nimble than legacy players, and adapt quickly. They notice the flaws – or rather, the opportunities – of the established market, and shift their offerings quickly to fill these niches. And at some point, a successful startup – achieving substantial scope and scale – must mature: though their products and services may still be changing, the company needs a brand that stays consistent while communicating vision. These disruptors must continue to build credibility with a brand that demonstrates strength and incorporates attributes that can support future growth and a strategic evolution.

On the other side are the incumbents, where a strong corporate brand is likely closely tied to the dominant business model. In the case of Airbnb, the legacy players (hotels) who had initially dismissed the disruptive model will begin to see real impact to their business as the new model gains traction and scale. The traditional leader is so often caught off-guard that by the time they care to swat away the fly buzzing in their ear, they realize it’s actually a bee with a deadly stinger. The lesson is then that if established behemoths want to stick around, they need to think and act quickly, but smartly. Oftentimes, this a tall order, but not impossible, as recent experience with a prominent technology provider has shown us. Established companies need to be aware and perceptive, so that they can adapt and continue to differentiate within the changing market landscape. Part of this ability to adapt is a strong corporate brand, which can become an asset to growth (as opposed to an albatross of a tired business model) that can drive a constant promise or experience across a product or service line, even as features and offerings adapt and change.

Airbnb, around for only six years, has surely had its fair share of growing pains. But the company – which started off small but now boasts nearly a million listings in 190 countries – has remained levelheaded, thinking strategically about its own future, as well as that of the travel and lodging industry overall. This disruptor is maturing successfully, and now it’s up to hotels to make the next move.

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