airbnb: changing the world with a word

June 9, 2015

Last week I went to the School of Life‘s Business Wise conference: a day where some scarily brainy speakers explored how business can help us to lead more fulfilling lives.

It was just brilliant. We heard how startups like BlaBlaCar and TransferWise are contributing to a Sharing Economy, where customers are responsible for delivering the brand experience to others. We explored the idea that great new businesses offer the highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – instead of things like shelter and transport, which are already well catered-for, new brands such as airbnb offer friendship and connection.

I’m particularly fascinated by this airbnb example. On the surface of it, going on holiday and staying in a stranger’s house is, well, kind of insane. (Although perhaps not so crazy as letting a bunch of strangers come and sleep in your spare bedroom.) And if the airbnb pitch had been about all the functional stuff – the house you visit, the bed you sleep in – maybe the idea would have sounded crazy too.

But, obviously, that’s not the airbnb pitch. The pitch is about feeling at home, anywhere in the world.  It’s about being part of a community.

In fact, airbnb sum it up in one word: belonging.

I really, really admire the single-mindedness of airbnb’s thinking. They’ve hit on something that all of us, wherever we are in the world, truly yearn for. And, crucially, they’ve focused their comms on this one idea. They don’t constantly muddy the waters with other messages about quality accommodation or easy booking – even though these things are very much a part of their brand experience. They use the idea of belonging as the golden thread running through everything they say. Just have a look at the Belong Anywhere video on their homepage.

It reminds me of something I read in Made to Stick, a ridiculously useful book about comms by Chip and Dan Heath. The book talks about ‘finding the core’ of a brand – as well as guiding your comms, this core acts as a filter for all the decisions you make day-to-day. For example, Southwest Airlines has decided to be ‘THE low-fare airline’ – and so they don’t offer extra-cost things like mid-flight snacks, even if some customers say they’d like them. This might seem extreme. But it means that customers are absolutely clear about the offering, and therefore more likely to remember it.

Lots of brands try to say too much about their offering – and, as a result, people remember nothing. Airbnb have filtered their thoughts down to a single word. And that’s something we won’t forget in a hurry.

 

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